The Words of the Beard Family
An exemplary church, the former W-CARP Korea headquarters, known as Yu Cheon Peace Palace has underground parking, a restaurant, Sunday school rooms, offices, lecture rooms, living quarters for a minister's family, a workshop-guest sleeping hall and a full-floor sanctuary.
When, in 1997, we first attended the Unification church nearest our home in the far reaches of northern Seoul, it was on the second floor of a small building above a family-owned market. The church looked like what it was -- empty office space with two rows of wooden pews facing a podium with the church symbol on it.
Behind the podium, covering the back wall from floor to ceiling, was a faded red velour curtain. The congregation included many couples from the 6,500-couple blessing group -- mostly Korean husbands with Japanese wives. The squirming of their small children (and mine) caused the pews to move. Each week, creaking wood and the squeaking of pew legs rubbing against the tile floor created an atmosphere not unlike that of an outdoor service where the pastor's sermon competes with the sounds of chirping insects.
Our first pastor was Lee Dae-yong, a son of Lee Yo-han, who had been a Christian evangelist before joining our church in 1953, while Father was in Busan. No one in our family could understand Korean at first, but I always felt spiritually uplifted by Rev. Lee Dae-yong's sermons and by the camaraderie among our small congregation. The inner value of our church shone through a somewhat shambolic external form. Nevertheless, though that church was two minutes on foot from our home, I confess that my family consistently proved true the Korean adage -- those who live nearest arrive last.
The church throughout Korea is in the midst of well-planned but rapid and dramatic change. A CPA who was involved in the early planning stages characterized these as "software" and "hardware" changes. Software might describe the changes in attitude, church management and spiritual practices that Hyung-jin nim and Yeon-ah nim have initiated through their ministry. Indeed, the unobtrusive beginnings of what could be termed a total overhaul of the Korean movement can be dated -- August 5, 2007 -- the day they began giving services in the Mapo church, which then was just one of more than seventy churches in Seoul. I believe it would be useful for readers to hear a bit more about the process behind the "hardware" changes being made. I'm not an authority on the subject, but I did poke around a bit and asked questions of people who are wholeheartedly involved in improving the Korean movement.
By now everyone has heard that Father brought Kook-jin nim to Korea in January 2005 to resuscitate church-related companies, which were all doing poorly. On several occasions, Foundation Chairman Kook-jin Moon has stressed to Korean audiences that he would be happy to return to America and that he is in Korea only because Father called him to come. Yet, he has also explained that he has not limited himself to doing only what Father says and neither should we. Instead, he explained that based on what Father teaches,
"We should be fully aware of the original goal and vision and become owners who can take action. We should not confine ourselves to being servants who simply carry out orders; we must become true filial sons and daughters who understand their parents' will and make it real."
So, as if it weren't enough to make ailing companies profitable, he also conducted an inspection tour of all the church-related organizations, large and small, that those companies support (through the foundation he runs). One place he visited was the FFWPU International office, where he listened to reports and met individually with the directors and with our editor. In the days following that meeting, members of his staff did a thorough assessment of how our office functioned.
Once he had visited all the organizations that the foundation supports, he obtained True Parents' permission to tour our churches in Korea. The church in my borough, now in a nicer location, was one of a hundred and twenty he visited. He came on a Tuesday, while I was at work. My wife later related to me how after giving a thirty-minute speech (including translation) he listened patiently as members explained at length what difficulties they felt the church faced.
Rev. Song In-yeong, a blessed member of our second generation, was involved in the church tour and came away with the idea that it was motivated by the foundation chairman's love of True Parents and love of members. He observed that more than two-thirds of the short speech Kook-jin nim gave was quotes from Father, mostly on true love, and that he always spoke with deep appreciation for the years of sacrifice, perseverance and faith of ministers and ordinary members.
Rev. Song is not sure if Kook-jin nim began the tour thinking the Korean church needed transformation, but during the tour, it seems, he began to see a need for a thorough analysis of the situation. "I feel," he said, "that after visiting a number of churches and becoming familiar with the nature of the members and leaders, Kook-jin nim began to think of how he could help in terms other than just material assistance."
Kook-jin nim suggested to the Korean Church Headquarters that they form a task force team (TFT). Rev. Hwang Sun-jo, Korean church president at the time, chose Rev. Song, the son of a minister who has had broad experience in various positions in CARP and in the church; Mr. Cho Sung-il, now senior director of the FFWPU International Office. Another minister, Rev. Shin In-seon, joined the team later. The main director of the team was Mr. Moon Jun-ho, the second-generation son of one of Father's cousins. A number of other members of the Korean Headquarters also worked from time to time on the TFT.
According to Rev. Song, once the team was formed by the Korean Headquarters, "Kook-jin nim offered his full support." Periodically, he sent highly qualified people to assist, including the directors of both the foundation's Human Resources Department and its Marketing Department. Mr. Bang Young-seob, then vice-chairman of the foundation, contributed to the task force. So did Mr. Song Yeong-seok, then secretary-general of the foundation. Rev. Song describes Mr. Song, who is familiar with virtually every church in Korea, its minister and members, as Kook-jin nim's Elijah. Mr. Song was one of those who joined the foundation chairman on every church visit. Moreover, he arrived in advance of the chairman to prepare for the visit, and except when they were visiting rural areas, Mr. Song would visit the Peace Palace afterward to report the details of each visit to True Father.
Foundation personnel, including various lawyers, CPAs and other professionals worked together with key members of the Korean church headquarters. Rev. Hwang assigned two of his top directors, Rev. Jeong Dong-won and Rev. Lee Gyu-sam, to work with the TFT. The two directors weren't able to attend all the church visitations but maintained communication with the other team members and close involvement in discussions related to church reform, personnel affairs and a system of witnessing.
"In the beginning, we didn't have a clue as to what we should do, where we should go and how to lead this team," Rev. Song admitted. The task force was very careful. Some church members were very upset when they heard that people with a business background would be involved in evaluating our church. They were also worried that information would be leaked to the public about the church's situation. The team spent a month discussing the inherent risks before anything else was done. At one point, the task force considered surveying the public about the image of the Unification Church, but after discussion back and forth with the foundation chairman they decided to work with no fixed concept.
They decided to keep an open mind, collect opinions and data and analyze it later. "From that analysis," Rev. Song said, "we were able to identify the common and recurring issues -- these involved personnel affairs, witnessing systems and the external environment. In the course of our research, we began to identify a direction and compiled the current situation of the churches. We also conducted a SWOT analysis to identify our strengths and weaknesses." [SWOT analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture.]
Rev. Song emphasized that task force didn't simply look for outside solutions. Exemplary Unificationist churches and their practices were also studied. "The professionals on the task force conducted analysis and research on the current situation of the churches and also comparative studies of other religions," he said. He and the other ministers offered insights into the ways in which our church, given its current situation, history and particular culture, is incommensurable with other religions and may not easily fit existing church business models.
"We did a comprehensive study," he said. "We researched Buddhism and Buddhist temples such as Bongwonsa; and we studied the large Christian churches such as Onnuri [Church of Love]. But what we recommended was not something like, 'Oh, the other religions have something nice, so let's do the same.' We discovered the direction we should take through suggestions and opinions of the people in the field, which we compiled."
Opinions and suggestions came to them by letter, by e-mail, through personal dialogue and when meeting congregations in the churches. "In any event we had more than ten thousand communications," Rev. Song said, "and that's quite a number."
I spoke briefly with Mr. Park Yong-hyo, whom Rev. Song described as "one of the most competent CPA's in the foundation." Mr. Park confirmed that they received a great quantity of useful suggestions during the church tour. Mr. Park has been out of the country doing other work since the TFT and so declined to go into specifics, but he did say, "The churches in Korea were inefficient because there were too many of them. We needed to create synergy by merging churches." He added, "The church buildings and their surroundings were not good enough to attract people. We have to invest in improving the church environment."
I spoke with three members of the task force team, all of whom mentioned that not every suggestion the task force offered has been adopted by the church. I have not seen the task force team's report, so I do not know which of the many changes taking place were recommended by them. I'm aware that various witnessing systems are being studied, developed and implemented and that changes in how personnel is dealt with are gradually being made.
It's a dynamic process. For example, pastors over a certain age  were asked to retire. For some this was perhaps painful, financially and spiritually. There was some discontent among these senior members. This lay heavily on Hyung-jin nim's heart. He prayed about it for some months before an answer came that will benefit both the retired ministers and church development -- the Hoonsa program.
It is reassuring to see that in some cases, elections have been held for leaders. This shows that despite the membership not having grown here during the time I've been a member in Korea, the leadership (in this case, Hyung-jin nim) has chosen to trust others and has resisted the temptation to tightly control and direct the movement. Mutual trust is essential in this time of transition. Trust on the side of members, it appears to me, is trust that decision makers "are fully aware of the original goal and vision," that is, having trust that their decisions are directed toward making Cheon II Guk real, achieving what we must in the short time before January 13, 2013.
If, along the way, I feel mildly uncomfortable by changes in the movement's culture or the introduction of new practices, I will live with it. Kook-jin nim's statement about not being just obedient helped me to see that though some changes are ones (I guess) Father himself might not make, True Parents have approved those changes because they know where their sons' hearts are directed. I trust this.
Of course, I have not been affected as directly as others by the decisions being made. Korean Church President Seuk Joon-ho spoke in plain terms at a May 31 meeting to ministers whose churches lie north of the Han River. 'We have faced major changes recently," he said. "In a word, we will be reducing the number of churches... Let's not refer to it as 'closing the churches' but as a 'church development plan to bring change and growth.
After bluntly stating the inevitable, Dr. Seuk outlined the vision of the church development plan, which I will briefly summarize in the following two paragraphs:
Revival requires larger, nicer churches. In such churches, analysis has shown, members are more active and outsiders are more strongly attracted to join. Large groups will meet in the churches, members of the large congregations will have small groups in the neighborhoods in line with Father's direction to work at the community level to bring a grassroots breakthrough (tongban gyeokpa). With a larger congregation, team ministry can be introduced. Both ministers and key members need to specialize, so that a system emerges to care for new guests. Some church buildings will require renovation to raise the quality of the environment. A few new churches will be built. Systems for witnessing, education, management and tracking development using key performance indicators (KPI) have been introduced.
It will take time to put these systems into practice. Programs such as mountain hiking clubs or volunteer service projects initiated by individual congregants or ambassadors for peace will help to build ties with the neighborhoods. The quality of church services will be greatly elevated. Experts are needed for the choirs and audio-visual systems. We will educate our children through the church from childhood to college age.
We will find qualified teachers, materials and space for this. They are our future. Ministers and members should be models for them.
In the fourteen boroughs north of the Han River, forty churches will become eight. Rev. Moon Sang-pil, a father of four and the son of the Adam national messiah to Paraguay, was a minister in one the thirty-two churches that are closing. His former congregation is merging into the one of the eight.
Moon Sang-pil has been assigned to the church nearest my home. With his arrival, team ministry has begun. No congregations will merge into the church and it will not close, because for as long as I have been in Korea it has been the only church in our borough. To Moon Sang-pil this means "we have more fish to catch and guide; this is a precious opportunity." He also notes that being on the outskirts of the city, the borough is mainly residential -- again, more fish.
Rev. Moon also sees that compared to other churches, more members are native to the area, which should help as young members become involved in the local community.
When I asked him what problems the current changes might help solve, in addition to the practical aspects, he said, "In my experience, the most important thing is our consciousness, which has been formed from our church history.... We've built so many great victories with True Parents' guidance, and our internal and spiritual level to view and understand God's providence has grown so much. On the other hand, in conversations with church leaders and members, I find skeptical and passive thinking." He sees that we have lost perspective and respond to True Parents' directions in a habitual way; our faith has become fixed, "without our thirsting for a spiritual relationship with God and True Parents."
He sees that as a movement, "our vision has developed to a broad outlook by pursuing our magnificent goal, building a cosmic nation, Cheon II Guk, or at minimum restoring one nation as our own country," but that the new direction we are taking is an opportunity to invest our hearts in smaller, practical details. "We need to understand," he said, "that miracles and great results can come from small practices. We need to be concerned about how we talk to and greet others, how we decorate our restroom, our living room... Out of faith, we have focused more on the vertical relationship than on the horizontal. Though it is important to think of purely providential concepts, it's equally important to think of small practices... I believe this is the best way to realize God's grace in our life."
In the years we've been here, the church Rev. Moon Sang-pil has been assigned to, has been on rental property. As he says, "our external facilities still require improvement for more people, especially new people, to come to the church."
A new era has dawned in the Unification movement in Korea. Inside and out, changes are taking place. With prayer and continued effort, all that has been invested in determining this new direction is bound to bear fruit.
Mr. Koh Kunduk assisted with research for this article.