One thing that I had a lot of trouble with when I first arrived in Seoul was finding a church – both finding a church where I could attend on Sundays and literally finding the church on Sunday. I was saved by my best friend’s friend who graduated from Yonsei University and is a Catholic. She gave me directions to the church that she attended and recommended it because the 6PM service was geared towards a younger, college-age type of a crowd.
I went out to find it, leaving with plenty of time (or so I thought) to get there early and tuck myself away into a pew as unobtrusively as possible, but as luck would have it, it took far longer than I thought it would to find it the first time. It is about a ten minute walk once you turn right out of the main gate of Yonsei University, but it is across the street and hidden behind a wall. I had all but given up and started to turn back, thinking I’d walked past it, when I caught sight of the name – 천주교 연희동 성당 – high atop a mostly-obscured building across the street.
Very sweaty but also reinvigorated by the hope that I might actually make it on time (it was 5:56PM), I rushed to find a crosswalk and then joined the groups of twos and threes making their way up a curving little road off the main street and up the steps into the church itself. I was just on time, claiming a bulletin and finding my seat before the opening song had even begun.
I was very strikingly the only non-Korean there. The entire service was in Korean. And yet, I didn’t feel like an outcast or judged for being a foreigner with blonde hair and blue eyes. I could not keep up with most of the prayers, although I was incredibly pleased to discover that they included the Mass prayers in the bulletin and also projected them for easier reading. I was beyond delighted to discover that I could sing the songs easily because I can read music and 한글.
One thing that truly caught my attention, was how one bows rather than shakes hands during the Korean Mass. It made sense as soon as I realized that this was the norm, but I felt like I was truly experiencing the Korean Mass when an adorable halmeoni to my left bowed to me with a very sweet smile and I bowed to her, smiling back freely. I received nothing but very friendly, open smiles as those around me bowed to me in turn and I reciprocated.
Another thing that was a bit different from how the service usually runs was that the offertory part was done by processing up to personally leave a few thousand won or more in the donations basket at the front of the altar. I calmly just followed exactly what the person in front of me did and never felt stared at or uncomfortable – in fact, I felt like I was very much a part of the service because I participated despite the language barrier.
It was also very comfortable because, while no one dressed sloppily, no one was very dressed up. My home parish is the student parish for the University of Michigan, serving the Catholic community there, and people are usually wearing jeans and, more often than not, football shirts to support our team. It is accepted there, but I’ve been to churches where you feel out of place for not wearing a skirt or dress (if you’re a girl….). I wore black jeans and a dress shirt to the Korean church in Sinchon and felt completely at ease and properly dressed compared to those around me. There were also a few women who had veils over their heads, but it was not required and no one looked down on the majority that did not cover their heads.
Also, while my friend’s friend said that it was geared towards people in their 20s and 30s, there were certainly a quite few middle-aged and older couples and families there, which made it feel even that much more alike to my home parish.
It was truly a lovely experience and it made me want to continue attending service there rather than the English services for foreigners in Seoul. While the international parish I also attended was welcoming, the overall atmosphere and tone of the priest at the Korean service was so much more alike to my home parish that I intend to stay with the Korean church – perhaps by the end of my semester abroad, I’ll actually be able to say all the prayers in Korean without looking at the bulletin!
The following are resources I found while trying to find a church.
Directions (a map in Korean) to the Korean church that I attended: http://www.yeonhui.or.kr/page/page01_07.asp
Catholic Services in Seoul (Korean site only): http://cc.catholic.or.kr/
Sunday Masses at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul for different languages (Korean site but with information in English): http://www.mdsd.or.kr/english/service.asp
Information about Myeongdong Cathedral: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264138
Information on churches servicing in different languages (not mine; location of churches not included):
Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful for you if you’re looking for somewhere to attend a Catholic Church in Seoul.
지금 재생 중: