Mystic Congregational Enjoys Long-Time Korean Partnership

Mystic Congregational Enjoys Long-Time Korean Partnership

The Korean Partnership, one of four global partnerships supported by the Southern New England Conference UCC, would like to hear from those who may have an interest in partnering with progressive churches in South Korea for the purpose of cultural exchange, understanding and support. The Partership plans an informational zoom program so those interested can learn more (date TBA). To sign up for updates on this program, please use this form.
Elizabeth “Shinny” Stone presents a prayer shawl to the Rev. Chung, Kye Tak, pastor of Mystic’s partner Dongbusunlin Church during a service at the church in 2005.  Rev, Chung, who had signed the original partnership contract with Mystic, was being treated for cancer
Reflection by Greg Stone:
One summer day some 30 years ago, my wife Shinny and I went on an overseas search for a partner church in South Korea. Our guide was a Korean minister by the name of Kim, Jong Oh, whom we had met earlier when he visited our church in Mystic to introduce us to the Connecticut Conference UCC's new Korean Partnership initiative. Karin Stuart, a leader in the church, had introduced the idea out of consideration of her long friendship with Shinny, a Korean American and the only non-Caucasian in the congregation. Shinny and I had been married when I was serving in the Army in Korea in 1969.

We were guests in the Kim, Jong Oh home in the national capital of Seoul for several days while we were on a family visit. Turns out one of the churches he took us to was located in an area east of Seoul where Shinny had grown up. It occupied a handsome, modern building in Hanam, a town that would soon grow into a city. It was called the Dongbusunlin Church.  Hanam is located in a scenic spot on the Han River and reminded me of Mystic. It had been the site for the crew races in the 1988 Summer Olympics. The riverside was lined with rental swan boats now.
It was love at first sight. The members and church leaders greeted us warmly and before the day was out, friendships were formed that have lasted for decades. One of the church leaders attended our son’s wedding in 1999. It was as though we had walked into a Korean version of our church in Mystic, a vibrant and young congregation that shared our values and outlook on the role of the church in society, a place that would turn out to be a home away from home for any of us visiting Korea.
The greater church to which it belongs is the ecumenical Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea, or PROK, a reform church that broke off from the fundamentalist Presbyterian Church in the country. The PROK is progressive in a country that is conservative. It had taken the lead in the ordination of women in ministry and is widely thought today to be the most likely institution in Korean society to advance the cause of LGBTQ rights. The only thing holding them back is the fear of alienating older and more conservative members in a nation where being gay is taboo. But as a member of our church's Open and Affirming Committee, I know that shouldn’t stand in the way. In fact, the partnership dialogue could hasten such development.

The Korean Partnership has been an experience in learning from each other in the context of our faith and growing in perspective. The international relationship that sprouted from that visit 30 years ago has thrived in ways I never would have imagined:
  • Generations of our teenagers and Korean kids have shuttled back and forth in an exchange known as Sacred Journeys.
  • Four ministers from our church have traveled to Hanam and preached at our partner church. 
  • Delegations of members from both churches have exchanged visits.
  • Their two ministers over that time have made repeat visits.
We pray for each other as we would pray for family. We care for each other. For as long as I can remember, our friend and partner in Korea, Y.J. Kang, has been on speed dial with us and still is constantly in touch. He’s visited numerous times. When we share our prayers, he prepares the manuscript in Korean and English so that they can be read during services in both languages.
The partnership has heightened our awareness of Korea and its relevance to our lives, existing as it does at the doorstep of the most dangerous military frontier in the world left over from the Cold War. We’ve learned firsthand of the anguish this ongoing conflict has caused and we pray together for peace in Korea. But our understanding and prayers go deeper than that. In Korea, attitudes toward the war (it hasn’t officially ended) divide generations, adding to the cruelty. Koreans like my wife, who lived through the war, don’t tend to see a peaceful end to the conflict, while younger Koreans wonder why the U.S. military is still there and are angry at us.
I’ve learned to understand. The long standoff doesn’t make sense to them. But I believe our partnership has fostered a more nuanced and sympathetic outlook in both our churches.  As an editorial writer, I benefited from this insight. It informed my writing on the Korean situation.
We have become not only a faith community, but a cultural meeting place. Our church is decorated in art and symbols from Korea. We have conversations about Korean drama and music. We are more aware of Korea in its vast American diaspora.
From my standpoint, one of the most valuable benefits of the partnership has been the Sacred Journey exchanges among our teenagers. It’s only too bad several of the key players are no longer around. I refer to the Revs. Chang, Ho Jun and Gordon Rankin, who collaborated in the programming for these kids at Silver Lake. Both were gifted, charismatic youth leaders. I still remember the Korean drum performances American and Korean teenagers put on for us in the backyard of Karin and Peter Stuart’s house during picnics that marked the end of a summer exchange. We still have the drums in our basement awaiting another cultural exchange. Considerable thought needs to take place to restore meaningful programming for that exchange.
Right now, the church partnerships that remain are emerging from several years of inactivity due to the pandemic and looking for a home in a new and larger conference. Here in Mystic, we’re examining ways not just to save our partnership but to bring in new blood and make it even better. I’ve always thought that partnership was something like the computer keyboard I’m typing on right now, with all these functions I’ve never used and have no idea what they do.
Church committees could explore programs with partner churches. PROK churches are prodigious missionaries and there could be mission exchanges, for example. Christian education could build upon the partnership in the area of faith formation. There’s a lot we can learn from Christians who go to church at 4 o’clock in the morning, underline and take notes during Bible study, and live on the frontline of a conflict we are deeply engaged in.
Now that everyone has learned to use Zoom, we can engage electronically and get rolling again.
As a Deacon of my church, I’ve taken on the task of not only reviving but expanding participation in our partnership. I believe it’s just waiting to happen. All these years it’s been largely a labor of love of Karin Stuart and Shinny. But whenever the occasion arose, others pitched in to help and take part because it was such a good idea to begin with.
It is no less a good idea idea now than it was 30 years ago. It just needs to come out of hibernation.


greg stone.jpg
Greg Stone

Greg Stone is a deacon at Mystic Congregational Church (CT) and member of the SNEUCC Korean Partnership. He’s retired as deputy editorial page editor of The Day in New London, Conn. and adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut

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