Yangje congregation finds life-affirming message
Once and for all, what is the meaning of life?
“I don’t know,” answered one passerby in a street survey broadcast to the Yangjae congregation of Onnuri English Ministry. “I started it one day and can’t seem to stop.”
The existential riddles of mankind resurfaced in the Reverend Leo Rhee’s sermon yesterday ― but minus the angst historically induced by such head-spinning queries. Rather, he answered the mystery with humor and ultimately, affirmation: Human beings were purposely and purposefully designed out of God’s pleasure, he said.
“Anyone know why cows moo?” the pastor asked. “Because they’re cows.” Similarly, humans worship because they are created that way. Thus the pastor urged his listeners not just to worship in a strictly spiritual context but to lead a “worshipping lifestyle” ― that is, to strive and succeed in all compartments of life to truly delight God.
Founded in 2002, the Yangjae branch of Onnuri English Ministry claims about 400 of the 40,000 members of Onnuri Community Church, spread out over five churches and 10 languages in the Seoul metropolitan area.
The Yangjae ministry, which stakes out a corner of a colossal church complex in southern Seoul, seems to draw a crowd ranging more widely in age than the very popular main branch in Seobinggo-dong; still, it too fills most of its seats with twentysomethings and young married couples (along with the inevitable screaming babies).
Regardless of their actual ages, churchgoers at Yangjae ― including Mr. Rhee, who celebrates his first wedding anniversary today ― reflect the life-affirming outlook typically associated with the newlywed demographic.
“This is a life-giving church,” said Renee Montgomery, whose visiting mother-in-law, Marge Montgomery of Pennsylvania, pronounced the pastor’s message yesterday “very down-to-earth.”
Added the elder Mrs. Montgomery, “The church embodies the warmth and friendliness we’ve encountered so far in Korea.”
Mr. Rhee’s message struck a chord in another newcomer, Peter Palma of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who traveled one and a half hours into Seoul to attend his first English service in Korea since arriving one month ago. “The part about worshipping God in everything you do really hit home with me,” Mr. Palma said, a newly instated school employee. “Cleaning the school bathroom or supervising garbage duty can get boring, but now I should be thinking, How can I worship God in this?”
Yangjae seems to inspire affirmation on an individual basis as well as an overall human one. “I knew right when I first walked in that this church was where God wanted me to be,” said a longtime member, Julianne McCaughey.
Her visiting sister Carolynne, still dazed from her flight in from Bermuda less than eighteen hours earlier, nevertheless found her own uplifting testimony at the service yesterday. “Being here confirms how across-the-board spirituality is,” she said.
by Kim Sun-jung