The setting of the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, Korea, was significant for Korean participants both inside and outside the country.
The invitation to meet in South Korea, where nearly a quarter of the population is Christian, came as a joint effort of WCC member churches, evangelical churches and Pentecostal churches.
Korean Christians have been promoting reunification efforts between North and South Korea for decades and the hopes for bringing together the divided Korean peninsula was a frequent topic of discussion at the assembly. The Demilitarized Zone has separated the two countries for 60 years, since the military armistice agreement was signed at the close of the Korean War.
Some participants rode a transcontinental “peace train” from the Berlin wall to Busan. The assembly as a whole adopted a statement on “Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula” that called for a halt to all military exercises.
On Nov. 2, more than 800 assembly participants made a pilgrimage of peace to Seoul, expressing solidarity and endorsing the unification of Korea. Part of the journey involved venturing near the DMZ at Dorasan, or Mount Dora, and gathering at the Bell of Peace erected at Imjingak.
During the second week of the Oct. 30-Nov. 8 assembly, United Methodist News Service asked the Rev. Thomas Kim, a Korean-American United Methodist pastor from the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, to reflect on his experience there.
What follows is an edited version of a Q&A exchange via email:
UMNS: Have you ever attended a WCC assembly before or had any involvement with other ecumenical events?
Kim: The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan is my first “first hand” experience though I’ve hoped to see and attend an assembly since I was a college student in South Korea because I heard the WCC supported the people’s democratic movement in South Korea during the military authoritarian government from the 1960s to 1980s. Also, I got involved with the peace and justice movement at a local level in the Chicago area.
UMNS: Please tell us briefly about your own background.
Kim: I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference in 1993. I am currently serving Korean Central United Methodist Church, Prospect Heights, Ill., since 2009. I was a student activist in Korea, and (was) arrested in 1983 and sentenced to jail for two years. After eight months of imprisonment, I was released with a special amnesty. A few years later, in 1987, I came to America to join my family. I started my study at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill., in 1989.
UMNS: What aspects of the assembly have been the most meaningful to you?
Kim: The most meaningful part of the assembly so far is to meet and interact with Christians from around the world, to worship with them in different tongues and languages and to converse with them, and hear many different voices, opinions and petitions. But the most exciting and surprising part for myself is to meet Korean Christian activists whom I have honored and respected for their sacrifices and effort for the democracy in Korea. I haven’t met some of them for nearly three decades.
UMNS: This is the first WCC assembly in Korea. Do you feel Korean Christians are being well represented? What was the Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Peace with Korean Churches that took place over the weekend?
Kim: I believe that Korean Christians are well represented. Even though the Christian Council of Korea, a conservative Christian organization, had a boycott, most of Korean Christians welcomed (the assembly), with good participation by Korean Christians and churches. Two very well-known leaders of conservative churches, the Rev. Paul Yongki Cho and the Rev. Sam Hwan Kim, were part of the leadership team for preparation of the 10th assembly. Also, the preparation committee invited the Korean Diaspora to participate in the assembly. I am one of those who came to Busan because of their active invitation to the 10th assembly of WCC. I appreciated it and felt honored to be part of this gathering.
The Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Peace with Korean Churches took place over the weekend at 18 different places. The most significant event, I thought, was held at Dorasan in the far north part of South Korea, where people can see North Korea and the DMZ. The participants lit candles to pray for peace in the Korean peninsula, which is the only divided and separated country on the planet. “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”
UMNS: What do you hope to share about the assembly with your own congregation when you return home? Do you think your experience will help guide your ecumenical contacts back in Illinois?
Kim: I already wrote a pastoral letter to my congregation, Korean Central United Methodist Church, inviting the church to think globally and act locally for peace and justice. My experience from the 10th assembly of the WCC will help and encourage me to be actively involved with other Christians for peace and justice.