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Strengthening an already solid relationship

$18k grant will help two congregations housed together draw closer in worship, art, education and fellowship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Representatives of the two congregations gather in the chapel where the Korean Presbyterian Church of Louisville worships. From left are ruling elder Harry Yang, associate pastor Yohan Kim, senior pastor Jae Shin Han, ruling elder Maggie Chilton, parish associate Paul Huh, and Bill Williamson, transitional pastor at Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — Two congregations that worship in the same Louisville, Ky., church are comfortable enough with one another that host church members didn’t even bat an eye recently when the smaller congregation told the larger one that the church had termites.

“It’s helpful to us to have this part of the building occupied on a continuing basis,” said Maggie Chilton, a ruling elder at Harvey Browne Memorial Presbyterian Church, speaking of the Korean Presbyterian Church of Louisville, a 50-member congregation that worships in the Harvey Browne chapel. “They noticed signs of termites, and we brought in pest control. Who knows? We might have lost the chapel to collapse.”

The warm relationship between the two congregations is growing stronger and more intentional as the result of an $18,000, one-year Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The two congregations are laying plans for greater and more interactive participation between both sets of believers as the Korean congregation prepares to host a meeting of Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky May 20.

“What better way for two congregations to grow closer and learn from each other than when they are each speaking the language of the heart — the language of worship?” said the Rev. John Odom, Mid-Kentucky’s presbyter for community life. “The congregations already share a common building. Now, they will share a common purpose — devising new ways of giving God the glory.”

“It is our hope,” Odom said, “that the cross-cultural learnings and experiences gleaned over the next year will become models for meaningful cooperation between other congregations in the presbytery as we seek to build God’s inclusive, welcoming Church.”

The Rev. Dr. Paul J. Huh, a parish associate at Harvey Browne and associate for Korean translation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), wrote the grant on behalf of both congregations. The congregations plan to use the grant money to develop joint worship services and shared activities to establish what Huh called “not the tenant and landlord relationship” but “a mutual partnership between the two congregations.”

The congregations currently hold one joint worship service annually, on World Communion Sunday.

“Some people have said that’s the best worship we ever had,” said the Rev. Bill Williamson, transitional pastor at the Harvey Browne church. “This is what church is supposed to be, and that is my hope going forward — for more experience together in worship and fellowship time.”

According to the grant application, fulfilling that vision will require creating, executing and evaluating bilingual worship resources that allow for full participation from both congregations in music, arts, worship and sacraments.

“In the current information technology world, machine-operated automatic translations are becoming more useful these days,” the application states.

In addition, Huh says, “Every Christian is challenged with speaking bilingual: the language of God and the language of the world … Music and arts present nonverbal language in worship, which helps us to engage in building healthy intercultural faith communities. The best way worship can invite people is in promoting authentic expressions of verbal and non-verbal prayers in order to support healthy faith communities.”

Harry Yang, a ruling elder in the Korean congregation, said he initially had his doubts about the future of the new relationship.

“I was not sure we could make a positive result, but as time passed we felt God’s providence based on Harvey Browne’s generosity toward us,” he said. “We now think we can set up a new model between a mainstream church and a Korean church. We will do our best to maintain our relationship.”

The Rev. Jae Han, senior pastor of the Korean congregation, said he hopes a revitalized partnership — especially between the congregations’ Christian education programs — will work to boost membership.

“The difficulty we are challenged with is cultural challenges,” he said. “This will help us to get to know Harvey Browne people well.”

He said Korean Christians are more likely to join a church that has a strong Sunday school program.

Chilton, the Harvey Browne church ruling elder, said that spelling out the relationship between the two congregations — even in legal documents — is crucial as the grant is implemented over the coming year.

“We’ve been working with the session to eliminate certain words like ‘renter,’ ‘lease’ and ‘risk’ — all those legal terms,” she said. “As I’ve read more about churches sharing property, it is all about relationships. That’s why we call it a covenant. We don’t call it a lease.”

“This has been a culture change for us,” she added. “It’s more of a housemate situation.”

[ 한국어 ]

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