Faithful protest razing of church

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Faithful protest razing of church

The 125-year-old Dongdaemun Methodist Church near the Dongdaemun castle walls in northeastern Seoul has recently become a battleground in an intensifying struggle between Korean Methodists and the Seoul city government.

The controversy was spurred by the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s decision to demolish the church and relocate it as part of a project to restore the fortress walls and the surrounding areas. Methodists and Christians decried the move yesterday during a rally, citing the cultural and historical significance of the religious structure and issuing a statement calling on the city government to cancel the project.

“The Dongdaemun Methodist Church was a place where a number of missionaries provided services such as free education and health care at the end of the Joseon Dynasty,” said Lee Kang-jeon, president of the National Association for Lay Leaders in the Korean Methodist Church. “Later on, during the colonial era, pastors of the church committed themselves to the independence movement.

“What the city government is trying to do now is tear down cultural and historical heritage,” he added. “But the building is historically distinguished and merits preservation.”

Some 50 Methodists gathered yesterday at the headquarters of the Korean Methodist church in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, and continued to proceed toward city hall.

Demolition is now under way, with the asbestos inside the building having been removed. The city government has said the demolition process will finish next month.

Since Nov. 12, the day after the church was emptied, Methodists have been holding regular rallies outside the church, often standing together at the site for candlelight prayer vigils.

A fence now surrounds the church, with attached signs reading “No Entry” - an indication that the site is now city property.

The municipal government stands by its position that the church agreed to sell the property in 2008. But members of the Methodist church claim the decision was made solely by former Pastor Seo Gi-jong of the Dongdaemun Methodist Church.

The Korean Methodist church removed Seo from his position last year for “failing to foster reconciliation and harmony among church members,” and many believe his dismissal stems from his decision to sell the church.

Church members have argued that the former pastor’s decision should be nullified because it skirted proper consultation with church members and leaders. “The demolition is unjustifiable because Seoul City consulted with just one person, who is not authorized to speak for and does not solely represent the Korean Methodist church,” Lee said.

Back in 2008, the city government embarked on a redevelopment project aimed at turning the Seoul City walls into a more popular tourist destination. The plan to restore the castle walls and transform the surrounding area into a recreational park is a key part of the project.

The stone walls are part of a much larger structure that connected the major and minor gates and served as Seoul’s perimeter during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Established in 1889, the Methodist church has served as a central place for missionary activities and once offered school and hospital services.

In the early 20th century, many of the church’s pastors joined independence movements.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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