Written by Leanndra Padgett
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.
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