First Korean Church of Boston

Project Description Individuals Institutions Issues
Dr. Kwang Lim Koh, Dr. Hesung Chun Koh and the Koh Family First Korean Church of Boston Koreans and the Boston Marathon
Helen Kim and Ed Hymoff The Korean Society of Boston The Korean Independence Movement and Boston University
Sungha Kim and the Korean Collection of the Harvard-Yenching Library The Human Relations Center at Boston University
Yi Ku, the Last Prince of the Choson Dynasty
Richard Eun Kook Kim and The Martyred
Daesun Park

The congregation of the Korean Church of Boston in front of Boston University's Marsh Chapel in March 1955. Dr. Kwang Lim Koh is pictured holding a hat.  Rev. Dae-Sun Park is standing next to him.

The congregation of the Korean Church of Boston in front of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel in March 1955. Dr. Kwang Lim Koh is pictured holding a hat. Rev. Daesun Park is standing next to him.

The first Korean church in the Boston area was established in 1953 by Rev. Daesun Park and several other Korean graduate students. At that time there were only a few dozen Koreans living in the Boston area. From 1953 until 1964 this gathering of Korean Christians was led by a series of graduate students, and it relocated periodically, depending on which university the current pastor attended. For its first ten years, the church only met for Sunday worship once a month, but under the leadership of Rev. Sang-Yep Ahn and later Dr. Kwang-Won Lee in the mid-1960s it became more established. It moved to Brookline in 1967, and its members continue to fellowship and worship there today.

Rev. Daesun Park had been in the United States for just one year when he and several other graduate students, including Harvard law student Dr. Kwang Lim Koh, founded the church in 1953 to serve as a place of comfort and a spiritual haven for a small but influential group of Koreans in the Boston area.[1]  Rev. Park had served on the faculty of a Methodist seminary in Pyongyang, North Korea, from 1945 through 1950. In 1952 he entered the Th.D. program in the Old Testament at the Boston University School of Theology, and he soon realized that Boston was becoming an important hub for a new generation of Korean intellectuals.

The first worship service of the Korean Church of Boston was held on Thanksgiving Sunday, 1953, in Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Rev. Park later recalled that the congregation of forty people who gathered that day included nearly all the Koreans who lived in Massachusetts at that time, as well as others who lived in Rhode Island and Connecticut. “Among them were Catholics, non-believers, and even Buddhists,” he said. “Although our denominational affiliations varied, we all joined in very inspiring worship. That was the beginning of the church.”[2] Special events organized by the Koreans in Boston like worship services, Christmas parties, or picnics often provided the opportunity for members of the small and scattered Korean community throughout New England to gather.

Rev. Park returned to South Korea after completing his doctorate in 1955. He became a professor at Methodist Theological University in Seoul and later served as president of Yonsei University, one of Korea’s oldest universities, founded by an American missionary Horace G. Underwood in 1915.[3]

Rev. Bong-Rang Park, then a doctoral student at Harvard Divinity School, took over as pastor of the church in 1955. The church met at the First Congregational Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Most church members were students at Harvard University, Boston University, and Wellesley College. A few married couples were involved, but most regular attenders were single. Rev. Park later recalled that “many of the students paid great attention to the sermon every Sunday. They also enjoyed fellowship with other Korean students and stayed for a long time at church, even after the service.”[4] The church served not only as a community of faith, but also as a community of fellowship that met emotional and spiritual needs of its members by facilitating genuine community with others of the same language and culture.

Dr. Koh recalls the role special events played in bringing together Koreans from around New England and the challenges of offering hospitality to Korean students in the 1950s and 1960s.

Watch this video on YouTube

When Rev. Park stepped down from his position in 1957 to focus on his doctoral dissertation, the Rev. Sung-Kuk Ham was put in charge of the church. Rev. Ham was a graduate student at B.U. School of Theology, and the church resumed meeting on the B.U. campus in 1958, this time in the Robinson Chapel.[5]  Without a salaried pastor, the church went through a time of struggle for the next several years. Worship services were held sporadically, and attendance dwindled to around twenty, mostly B.U. students. Several School of Theology students, most of whom were ordained in the Korean Methodist Church, took turns preaching on Sundays.

When Rev. Sang-Yep Ahn became the pastor in 1964, the church achieved a degree of institutional stability. The son of a pastor who was martyred by Communists during the Korean War, Rev. Ahn was a passionate evangelist.[6] Under his leadership, the church instituted regular weekly Sunday services and adopted articles of association. In 1966, Dr. Kwang-Won Lee, who taught Old Testament at B.U. School of Theology, succeeded Rev. Ahn as senior pastor of the Korean Church of Boston. In that same year the church was chartered as a non-profit religious organization in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and in September 1967 the church relocated to the First Presbyterian Church in Brookline, MA. The church has been located in that building for the last forty-five years. Founded as a non-denominational church, it affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 1985.  As the Korean congregation grew, it quickly outnumbered the American Presbyterian congregation.  Ownership of the church building was transferred to the Korean Church of Boston, P.C. (U.S.A.) in 1997.[7]

The following is a slide show produced by the congregation for it’s 60th anniversary.

 

Citations

[1] Jong-Mu Cho, “Dr. Kwang Lim Koh: Scholar and Community Leader,” The Korea Times, October 6, 2011. http://www.koreatimes.com/article/688328 (accessed February 15, 2013).

[2] New England Centennial Committee of Korean Immigration to the United States, ed., History of Koreans in New England (Seoul: Sonhaksa, 2004), 94.

[3] “Past Presidents of Yonsei University,” Yonsei University. http://www.yonsei.ac.kr/contents/intro/pastpresidents3_4.html (accessed February 15, 2013).

[4] New England Centennial Committee, History of Koreans in New England, 95.

[5] Ibid., 95.

[6] Hun-Ja Park, “Rev. Ahn from the Family of Faith and Commitment,” The Christian Times, February 10, 2011. http://www.christiantimes.ca/bbs/board.php?bo_table=column_testimony&wr_id=2 (accessed February 15, 2013).

[7] “History of the Korean Church of Boston,” Korean Church of Boston, P.C. (U.S.A.) http://www.kcboston.org (accessed February 15, 2013).

Written by: Daewon Moon

Edited by: Doug Tzan