Bishop Bard reflects on his cultural pilgrimage to South Korea in this month’s Joyful Journey.
BISHOP DAVID BARD
As I sit down to write, I have just returned from a trip to South Korea. The North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, along with some District Superintendents and the General Secretary of the Commission on Religion and Race, were part of a Korean Cultural Pilgrimage. As we were preparing to leave for our trip, I was apprehensive, given the heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. Returning, my heart is full from the warm hospitality we received and the people we met. As I continue to pray for peace in Korea, I do so with names and faces and places visited close to my heart. The beautiful people and places in Korea should not be devastated and destroyed by war as they were just 60-plus years ago.
While in Korea and thinking about this next installment in my blog, I thought about the upcoming All Saints’ Day. In the New Testament, the term “saints” appears almost exclusively in the letters of Paul and serves to designate those who were part of the early Jesus movement, that is, the first Christians. While it is a designation for all in the Christian community, the term, even then, carried a sense that there is something special about being a saint. Being a saint has to do with nurturing certain qualities within one’s life, with letting God’s Spirit form a person into being more Christ-like. Being a saint has to do with becoming more loving and compassionate. Over the course of time, we have tended to reserve the term “saint” for people who are particularly exemplary in these characteristics, and for people whose lives have influenced us along the way. In the Roman Catholic stream of the Christian tradition, the term has become a formal designation for certain persons who have been especially Christ-like and particularly influential.
When I think of saints, my mind moves toward those people who have been particularly important in my journey of faith – pastors and teachers who have helped me along the way, colleagues who have supported and encouraged me, writers whose works move my soul and/or engage my mind. I think of saints as people who, in the name and Spirit of Jesus, help our hearts grow larger, help our minds become more enlivened, help our souls grow more capacious.
“I think of saints as people who, in the name and Spirit of Jesus, help our hearts grow larger, help our minds become more enlivened, help our souls grow more capacious.”
My time in Korea, which I will continue to process for months to come, engaged me deeply. I encountered saints, and had experiences which enlarged my heart, enlivened my mind and created more space in my soul. I was struck by the strong sense of history in Korean Methodism. In the Bupyeong Methodist Church — and it is “Methodist,” a denomination independent of yet related to The United Methodist Church — in that church where we stayed for much of our time a big poster of John Wesley hangs in the front of the sanctuary reminding all those who attend that “the world is our parish.” We heard stories about the missionaries who first brought Christian faith to Korea in the late nineteenth century. They are remembered with fondness and reverence. The cemetery for missionaries serves as an on-going inspiration for Korean Christians. History serves as an inspiration. They tell stories as encouragement to share their own faith and live it out more completely.
I was also inspired in multiple ways. The rich prayer life of the Korean Methodists we met amazed me. Every morning at Bupyeoung Methodist Church people gather at 5 a.m. for a prayer service. Yes, 5 a.m., and hundreds attend. While I do not anticipate including 5 a.m. prayers in my regular routine, my own prayer life was enriched by that experience, and it will shape my praying moving forward.
Hospitality was extraordinary. Our group was welcomed so profoundly at each church we visited. In one church we visited, a man made tables so that we could use them when we shared lunch there. Yet the hospitality was not just for us. I witnessed wonderful hospitality extended to congregation members, and to the community. On a Sunday evening, Bupyeong Methodist hosted a choir festival. That morning at church, the pastor asked church members who lived close to walk to the festival so that those visiting from further away could park their cars as parking was limited. Speaking of parking, the church had a parking ramp, and the floor was so well cared for that you could have had a picnic on it. The church wanted people to know they were welcome and would be cared for graciously.
“We are all called to help others grow in their faith in Jesus Christ and in the qualities of heart, mind and soul that are part of embodying that faith.”
I was also inspired by the deep and profound concern for peace expressed by Korean Christians. In place after place people asked us to pray for peace in Korea. While many are under no illusions about the regime in North Korea, and in fact, have stories to tell about how families were separated after the Korean War with no contact allowed between North and South, nevertheless, they desire peace. The presiding bishop of the Korean Methodist Church told us that the church is a consistent witness for peace.
Saints help enlarge our hearts, help enliven our minds, help our souls grow more capacious. I now know saints in Korea, and am deeply grateful to them for their impact on my life. It was also a joy to experience my traveling companions as saints.
Lest this essay be simply a travel report about my spiritual pilgrimage, let me remind us that we are all called to be saints. We are all called to help others grow in their faith in Jesus Christ and in the qualities of heart, mind and soul that are part of embodying that faith. We are to be saints for each other, and for the world, for “a world without saints forgets how to praise” (United Methodist Hymnal, 708). As a another hymn reminds us about saints: You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too. (United Methodist Hymnal, 712).
Thankful for all the saints on this Joyful Journey.