I did something this morning that would make my mother’s panic level go through the roof: I took multiple subways alone (that means without another person) in the 4th most populated city in the world. But it wasn’t just for the sake of riding the multiple Seoul Metro Subway lines, it was because I wanted to go to church.
Two days ago, on my way back from the Ambassador’s Residence, our group of Fulbrighters passed the British Embassy. Right above the sign for the Embassy though, was a sign pointing the way to the St. Mary and St. Nicholas Anglican Cathedral. As we quickly walked past the British Embassy and the cathedral, an elderly Korean nun in a blue habit walk briskly out of the Embassy area. I knew I had to come back during my time in Seoul.
If you’ve been following this blog and my previous blog, you know that back home I attend a small Anglican congregation when I’m not visiting the old home place. I love the church and liturgy back home and I wanted to experience Anglican liturgy abroad. I also knew that the headquarters for the Anglican Diocese of Korea was located in Seoul, but I had no idea that I would walk right past it on my way back to the hotel. I was feeling bleak about attending services this weekend, simply because the big city is a bit intimidating, especially on top of a language barrier. So, I decided to pray. I prayed that I would easily be able to find the church, that I would find the location of the worship center (a small crypt, actually), and that services would be in session. I was afraid that I would arrive and no one would be there. However, after scraping the Internet clean for information about the Diocese (and some rag-tag translating on my part), I swallowed all fear, grabbed my Seoul Metro Subway Line Map (with appropriate route makings) and headed for English-language Sunday worship and Eucharist.
Thanks to the Fulbright office, all of us were given a 10,000 won (about $10) T-money metro card for the weekend. This means that I didn’t have to pay my fare (about $2.00) for a round trip to the British Embassy via the Metro Line. Since it was early on Sunday morning, the station in Mapo (the district we’re staying in) was relatively empty and so were the trains. After transferring to one more station and riding to the City Hall stop, I disembarked, swiped my card, and walked up several flights of stairs. Luckily, the Embassy/Church was the first site seen by those coming out of Exit 3 of the City Hall station.
I crept past the Embassy sign and walked around the large church, hoping to find signs of life. There were cars and Koreans sitting at the coffee shop provided by the Diocese, but no signs of an English language service. I turned the corner, and there were two Korean gentlemen who greeted me with the traditional “Anneyong haseyo?” (a proper ‘Hello!’) and I responded in appropriate Korean. I kept walking and one of the gentlemen asked me something in Korean, but he quickly saw the “deer-in-the-headlights” look and asked “English service?” I sighed, laughed, and said “Yes.” He quickly gave me directions inside the church basement, and inside I was greeted by an American who informed me that he attended my college’s athletic rival university (“back when it was a college”) for a few years. It truly is a small world.
During the service, I was comforted by the familiarity of the liturgy, but I also realized that if you want to know what Heaven’s like, just go to a Korean church. This morning, there were not only American families (usually serving diplomatic posts or in the military), but many other nationalities were represented. We were a delightful hodge-podge of every corner of the earth. I was also very excited to be able to take Eucharist (or communion) for the first time in over a month.
As per usual in every Korean church I’ve attended, I was invited to go to “Coffee Hour,” where I spoke with a Korean woman about living in a homestay and teaching in Korea. She attended graduate school in the States and her daughter now lives in Idaho. She was excited to learn about Kentucky and invited me back anytime I was in the Seoul area, especially if I wanted to complain or vent about life in Korea. With hospitality and kindness like this, I still have yet to vent about my new Korean life.
In the end, thanks be to God for provision, for appropriate signage, and for the kindness of strangers.
Geon bae from Seoul and may you have a blessed Sunday,