Three in One: Three Separate Congregations Make Up Korean Community RCA

If you were to attend a Sunday service at the Korean Community Church of Lakewood, California, you would need to decide which one of their three congregations to join in worship.

The first is the Korean-speaking congregation, composed primarily of about a hundred Korean- American adults, that worships in the sanctuary of Mayfair Reformed Church (from which the congregation currently leases space). Rev. John Y. Kim is the pastor and primary worship leader of this congregation.

The second is an English-speaking congregation, which consists mainly of youth between the ages of 13 and 25. Though predominately Korean-American, this congregation's thirty to forty members include other Asian-Americans as well. They gather in front of a fireplace in the fellowship hall where they are led in worship by Mr. Jerry Lewis, a local seminary student.

The third congregation, another group of thirty to forty, is composed mainly of children. Like the older youth these children worship mainly in English. They meet in the large fellowship hall where they are led by Mrs. Hannah Kim, director of children's ministries for this congregation.

The Korean church has not always worshiped in this manner. When the congregation began in 1975, the twenty original worshipers gathered in the home of Rev. John Y. Kim, the current and founding pastor of the church. Most of the congregants were recent immigrants. They joined together for fellowship with other Koreans and to worship the Lord in a language that they understood.

By 1983 Rev. Kim knew that if he wanted to be effective in ministry, he had to address the needs of second-generation Korean-Americans. He began by establishing a Bible study for the young people who now form the English-speaking and children's congregations. But he soon realized a study group wasn't enough. If the church of today and tomorrow was to be vital and strong, each generation of Korean-Americans not only had to do worship, but also had to be trained in leading worship.

Ever since then, there have been three worshiping congregations in the one Korean Community Church.

The Three

The three congregations meet simultaneously and are guided by similar orders of worship. The groups assemble, hear prayer requests about the sick and needy, are called to worship, pray a congregational prayer and the Lord's Prayer, sing, give offerings, pray a dedication prayer, hear the Word read and preached, and respond to the Word in song.

But each congregation remains unique.

One of the most obvious differences among the congregations is the length of worship. Both the English-speaking and the children's congregations worship for forty minutes and then break into smaller groups for forty minutes of Christian education. The Korean-speaking congregation uses the whole ninety minutes for worship.

Style of worship is another distinction among the congregations. Both the English-speaking and the children's congregations are much more informal in their worship than is the Korean- speaking congregation. For example, the children's congregation sings "Happiness Is the Lord" while the Korean-speaking congregation sings the hymn "Beautiful Savior" slowly and deliberately to majestic Korean lyrics. Also, unlike their parents and grandparents, the young people and children feel free to dialogue with their worship leaders, to ask or answer a question during the sermon.

Participation in worship is a hallmark of each congregation.

Children, for example, take turns collecting the offering in their service. Also, at the beginning of each month, a child volunteers to offer both the congregational prayer and a prayer of dedication following the offering. Then, on each Sunday of that month, the child offers prayers on behalf of the congregation, including special prayer requests from the worshipers.

Each month the children's congregation holds a singing contest before worship. The children gather on the floor, and one of the five teachers who work with the children's congregation asks for a volunteer. The child then goes up front and sings one of the songs that the group learned in the past month. Children who participate in the contest are given a prize. Hannah Kim, the children's minister for the congregation, notes that the program does wonders for the children's enthusiasm for singing.

The English-speaking congregation ministers to others as well as to each other in the weekly worship service: they take special offerings to support a needy child through World Vision. Like the other two congregations, this group of young people has a member offer the congregational prayer. They pray for the sick, for good grades in school, and—on that Sunday that I visited—that I would have "something good to say about us"!

In the Korean-speaking congregation, the choir remains up front for a major part of the service, giving visible leadership in the vital music emphasis of that congregation. A hand-bell choir plays on special occasions.

This congregation sings at least four hymns per service. Although the words are not familiar to those who do not know Korean, the tunes are. Rev. Kim uses hymns and liturgies that are common to worship in the Reformed tradition. "It is important," he reflects, "that we become familiar with the traditions and styles of Reformed worship." Kim wants the congregation to build on the Reformed tradition's strengths of being connected and rooted.

In all three worship services the sermon is last. All other elements of the service, Kim notes, "build up to the preaching of the Word. This is the central aspect of the service and the highlight of it all." He points out that the Word, so central in the Reformed tradition, is emphasized strongly in Korean Reformed Churches.

The One

In spite of its three separate congregations Korean Community Church is more one than three.

Fellowship opportunities abound in Korean Community. All-church picnics in a nearby park take place regularly. And every Sunday the whole church joins together for a fellowship hour. On many occasions all three congregations worship together for bilingual communion, baptism, Easter, or Christmas services. These are celebrative services. Often a guest preacher will deliver the sermon. Children and adults may dress in native Korean clothing.

The church as a whole has a high commitment to ecumenical and cross-cultural worship and fellowship. In the past year, for example, they have participated as one people in a world-prayer service with a black Presbyterian congregation and in a world- communion service with a Southern California ecumenical group. Worship with Christians from different denominations and ethnic backgrounds is a regular and vital part of their common worship life.

They are also one in service. The church's primary arm of service is the Korean-American Counseling Center, a ministry of the Korean Community Church to the greater Korean-American community in Southern California. The center specializes in helping Korean-Americans in many areas, including language, law, employment, and juvenile delinquency. The people at Korean Community Church see the counseling center as part of their service to the Korean-American community—not to mention, Pastor Kim notes with a smile, that if s an "effective way to gain membership for the church."

Pastor Kim's goal is to have the church open for community service all week long. But that vision will have to wait until Korean Community has facilities of its own. The congregation has moved four times in fourteen years, never finding the right facilities for their ministry. "And it is hard to build a church," Kim notes realistically, "without permanent facilities."

Of all the ties that bind these three groups together as one, however, their commitment to worship and leadership is strongest. As Eddy Choi, a leader of children's worship and youth Bible study reflects, "We believe that young and old alike need to participate and give leadership in worship if the church of tomorrow is to be strong."

Judged by the involvement of people in worship within three congregations, the church of tomorrow is in good hands.

James K. Lankheet is associate pastor of El Dorado Park Commjunity RCA in Long Beach, California.