Written by Leanndra Padgett

Resilience. Emmy Mildenberg. Jeju 4.3 Museum, Jeju.

Resilience. Emmy Mildenberg. Jeju 4.3 Museum, Jeju.

The ride home with my Korean host family on the first day of our year together was filled with clumsy introductions and tentative questions: “Do you speak Korean?” “Do you like Korean food?” “What is your religion?” Though unsure of where this last question might lead, I was glad that they had been the ones to initiate this important conversation. I answered honestly, “I’m a Christian,” a response that was met with excitement and the claim that “Halaboji (Grandfather) will be happy!” I soon learned that my host family (following Halaboji’s devout example) is Catholic. Though Protestant, I quickly made the decision to attend Mass regularly thinking that joining my host family in worship was a natural step on both my quest for community involvement and my commitment to practicing my faith.

Concerned friends and family typically ask if I have found a church in Korea. “I go to church with my host family,” I respond, “but it’s a Catholic church—and it’s all in Korean.” The situation is not as foreign as it may at first seem because I have been to Mass before (though usually in English settings) and find the services to be worshipful and meaningful despite differences in theology. While here the language barrier is problematic, I can nonetheless participate in Korean Catholic services in many ways. I stand and sit at the appropriate times. I cross myself in acknowledgement of the Trinity. I pray and reflect during the long periods of speech that I am unable to understand. I process to the altar and present my offering. I receive a blessing during Communion.

Communion—that is the part of the service that I find most difficult to adjust to. Raised in a Protestant tradition with an open table, my home churches have always offered the Lord’s Supper to “all who love [Christ], who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.”¹ So, when I approach the priest with my arms crossed over my chest, I feel self-conscious and out of place, as if I am being grouped with the unconfirmed children. Is that how Halaboji and the other adults see me? What do my middle school students who serve as acolytes² think? Do they consider me unsaved and heathen? Do they understand that I truly believe in the body and blood of Christ? Do they have any idea how desperately I want to join in the tasting of the bread and wine? Yet I go forward each week. Remembering the call to “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord,” I walk down the aisle with my arms crossed like an overgrown child.³

This uncomfortable routine could be avoided, of course; I could commute to the closest English speaking service (an hour away) or regularly attend the Protestant church that I once visited with my coworker. But the desire to be part of this family keeps me coming back to Mass. My host family exerts no pressure upon me, but I want to share their experience. My motivation consists of more than familial attachment, though: I have the stubborn desire to thrive even within the challenges of this foreign worship setting. I want to be capable of genuine worship even when the Catholic doctrine and Korean language limit my usual forms of expression. So, I assume the role of a child, seemingly incomprehensive, gently barred from the Sacrament. I learn a childlike faith. This is my act of worship.⁴

Leanndra Padgett is a 2014-2015 ETA at Hwacheon Middle School in Hwacheon, Gangwon-do.

Footnotes:

1. “A Service of Word and Table I & II,” United Methodist Hymnal
2. One who assists a member of the clergy in a liturgical service by performing minor duties
3. James 4:10, King James Version
4. Matthew 18:4; Romans 12:1