Witnessing courage: Our Korean partner, Sumdol Hyanglin church

The United Church of Canada is unique to the Canadian context, but it holds a global identity through a wide range of church partners who share in common traditions or ministries. One of the United Church’s longest-running partnerships is with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, a relationship which moved closer to full communion at last summer’s General Council meeting.

This is a significant relationship for both churches; as United Church members accompany the PROK in its justice work, PROK members have been involved in the United Church’s own work on intercultural ministries and the intersections of racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Across and between both churches, there is an ongoing exchange of students, clergy, and ideas; in the fall of 2015, River Bend Presbytery, an Affirming ministry in Saskatoon, sent a delegation to Incheon Presbytery as part of a long-term commitment to deepening relationships with our partner church.

Rev. Laura Fouhse ministers at McClure United Church in Saskatoon, which became an Affirming ministry early this year. She writes, “In November of 2015 I travelled to South Korea with a group from my River Bend Presbytery in Saskatchewan in a continued effort to build a partnership with the Incheon Presbytery in the Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (the PROK).

During our visit, we heard of a PROK congregation in Seoul that was welcoming of LGBT folks.  We learned that this congregation was under constant persecution from the wider church, and the secular community, so decided to take a trip into Seoul to visit and offer our support.

Through this visit, I met Rev. Bora Lim, pastor of Sumdol Hyanglin church.  Rev Lim ministers to this small but radically welcoming group of Christians.”

(For photos of Sumdol Hyanglin at worship, see:
See also http://www.sumdol.org/bbs/SD_home Use Google Translate to navigate the site.)

Dr HyeRan Kim-Cragg teaches at St Andrew’s College, another Affirming ministry in Saskatoon. She offered some context for Sumdol Hyanglin church, explaining that it began in 2013 and “is one of the congregations that branched out of Hyanglin church. Hyanglin church started in 1953. At its 40th anniversary, Hyanglin church stated that it was not their mission to become a mega church. Instead of accumulating members, property, and wealth, the church decided to share its growth by supporting a new church…. This mission is radical by Korean church traditions! Since then, they have given birth to two churches as their branches.”

Rev. David Kim-Cragg accompanied the Presbytery delegation to South Korea, and adds, “The SumDol was created, as I understand, because people in HyangLin were not able to fully support its ministry to sexual minorities.  Rev. Lim was associate minister at HyangLin at the time and was the one who led out and founded SumDol.  I gather that while there was grief resulting from this decision, the relation between SumDol and the mother church, HyangLin, is positive.  Rev. Lim, in addition to pastoring a congregation that welcomes sexual minorities, is also an outspoken activist in Korea for the acceptance of sexual minorities by the society at large.”

Public witness, public courage

The congregation’s activism is well known in the PROK, and not always welcome. Nor is it welcome in broader Korean society, and such public witnessing demands enormous courage.

A few months before the United Church delegation arrived, the congregation stood with the LGBT community and took to the opening ceremonies stage at Seoul Pride/ Korean Queer Culture Festival. They were outnumbered by thousands of hostile demonstrators and surrounded by police.

For a personal account, see Korean-American blogger Andrew Cheng’s excellent posts at

The opening ceremonies were held successfully, but pressure from protesters continued throughout the festival. This is the norm in South Korea, and unfortunately, Christian groups are generally at the forefront of homophobic protests.

Laura adds, “Since my return, I have had several Facebook communications from Rev Lim asking for prayers.  Twice she has written to advise me of a young LGBT person’s suicide and to request prayers for her congregation and the LGBT people of South Korea. Recently I received a message from her again requesting prayers.  This time it was because many in the Christian community were attempted to have her tried for heresy for her work with the LGBT community.

Rev. Lim has expressed deep gratitude for the prayers and support of The United Church of Canada.  She said that our solidarity and prayers give she and her congregation great strength and hope.”

Rev. Lim was asked to share some of the history of LGBT rights and discrimination in Korea and she offers a speech by Suh Yeon Chang, a human rights defender.  Click here to read LGBTI Human Rights Defenders at risk in South Korea.

Please keep the Sumdol Hyanglin congregation in your prayers. As the United Church’s relationship with Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea continues to change and grow, please consider what our Affirming movement and our church need to learn from the courageous witness of this congregation.