More Than Words at Church

I attended church with my parents all of my childhood in New York, and our Sundays and sometimes Saturdays were taken up by church activities. Korean Methodist Churches across Queens and Long Island, even though my grandparents and the rest of my family attended a Presbyterian church. My parents felt less restricted as Methodists, and I didn’t really know the difference when I was young. I attended Sunday School and colored in with crayons the robes of disciples and their horses, and memorized Bible verses for contests in the Sunday School chapel.

All the churches served refreshments after services, and the more money the church had the better the refreshments. I didn’t know when I was in Sunday School just how vicious the gossip was in certain church social groups. I didn’t know until later just how much the Korean church circle revolved around money. The families who most often gave the biggest “special offerings” had more power in the church. Once I found out all of it out I eventually left the church.

The rest of my family, nearly all of my elders still attend church, and pun intended, religiously. The thing is I have so many good memories of being church girl, even if I never intend to return to one. It’s just not on my list of priorities right now.

Growing up in the church it was a high priority in my “former” life though…

My parents were well-regarded in the Korean church community, and partly because their tithes were most welcome. We had a family business and the church was aware of what we made weekly. We got dressed up, as a family, and went to church Sunday morning and came back home Sunday evening.

I went on sleep-away retreats and grew up with church friends outside of our Sundays. I led the youth group and played piano in the gospel band.  I later found a better calling in the church and taught  Sunday School to pre-schoolers, with whom I still keep in touch with. They’re grown and married and having babies. Their babies are Noah’s age, and a reminder that mothers come in all ages and shapes and sizes.

In high school I grew weary of the politics and hypocrites with Bibles all around me, and I began to resent the church. Other Korean churches weren’t any better, and so I tried seeking out “alternative” congregations but didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere for the first time. I believe God lost his shine, for me, and I mean that.

When I started at NYU, a new boy arrived at our church and sat in on the youth service.  I was in college and he was in high school, and we eventually started dating. He and I dated in secrecy for two years against my parents’ wishes, and against the church’s wishes. The church was cruel to us when they found out. I never knew at the time that my own parents had met in church and fallen in love and scandal, so I didn’t know then why my parents were so against my new church love.

On the surface you’d never know it, but in dark corners and secret grapevines there was a church-wide buzz about my “probably sexual” relationship with the new boy at church. The congregation didn’t want troublesome love stories coming out of their church, and it’s almost as if they wanted my family to wear scarlet letters upon our chests. So I left the church. My parents eventually left the church, after a lifetime of devotion.

More-Than-Words-Chords

These memories were triggered today because I just now heard More Than Words on the radio, and I remember teeny boppers of the church youth group always wanting to learn to play it. The chords are stuck in my head in perpetuity. It was always More Than Words or something Eric Clapton that all the kids wanted to be able to play. It was cool. Is it still cool?

Did I really write a blog about church?

Oh, and guess who the boy was…he later ended up on me on Big Brother. That was another buzz around church. My old church.

Always dishing,

Jun

27 Comments

  1. Neither church nor any other institution will ever be perfect as long they are comprised of people, but a faith community…one that will embrace you…is out there if you choose to search. They will gossip, they will disappoint, they will talk about money too much (mine does). But my children do these things too…and so do I sometimes…so I keep going. Even when id rather sleep in…because sometimes I see glimpses of a benevolent creator there. The double lung transplant recipient carrying his daughter to the nursery after being separated from her for months…reading news in the bulletin that a dear friend has had twins after waiting yeàrs for motherhood to find her…seeing the friends who carried me through good times and tough times…it’s not the only place to see God, but it’s one of many and I’ve chosen not to deprive myself of this particular opportunity. Just food for thought…

    Reply
    1. Markson

      ^This…so much this. Both Personally and historically church and the institutionalization of religion has perpetuated some of the most corrupt, vile, morally bankrupt and lets not forget hypocritical behavior Known to man.

      I’m not just talking about the catholic church and rape/molestation which has been a hot topic in recent years (“deliver us from evil” excellent documentary btw) but people forget that the crusades were a real thing which basically equated to genocide. Yet historically what’s bad for Hitler, cool for the church? Hypocrisy. Murder is murder; it’s never cool.

      I am not against the concept of church at all but it just aint for me. I can’t handle the levels of pompousness and “better than thou” sermons. Church doesn’t keep it real enough for me but to each their own.

      Disassociating myself from church has nothing to do with my relationship with God though. In fact I think it’s made it stronger by having to now actually research and soul search for answers myself by going to God as opposed to being force fed by some stand in who may or may not have ulterior motives.

      Reply
      1. Jun Song Author

        I was angry at God for a long time once I was angry at him. It was like things kept happening where I lost people and I blamed him. Blame him. I don’t know…

  2. Jmantyger

    Great take Jun! This really awakened old memories and struggles for me. As I got older I realized that there is a difference between ‘religion’ and ‘belief’. I believe. I am also convinced Jefferson was right when he commented that it mattered not to him if his neighbor worshiped a fence post. Rather, his responsibility was to see after himself. Because of this, I don’t judge those who believe differently than I do. As a result, I can count among my friends and the people I love, those of many faiths, beliefs and non-beliefs. So sad to see people fight, quarrel, kill and hate all in the name of love. I love your blog! It is easy to tell it is from your heart. Nieces send love to you, Davey & baby Noah.

    Reply
    1. Jun Song Author

      Love the fence post reference Jerry. So glad to have you back 🙂

      I’ve wondered about your nieces. All is well here. Thanks for checking in!

      Reply
  3. My church as so many are about money and numbers (i.e. membership.) I was raised in church, sunday school, vacation bible school, choir. As I got older I got on different committees, teaching, etc. But it seems with every preacher we get, it is about money, and each preacher has a certain family that he is buddy-buddy with and no one else matters. I left church for several yrs., went back after my daddy died. I felt good for awhile, but I’m tired of preachers always getting what they want, not what is needed.
    We had one special preacher for several yrs. who was old school. He was there for everyone. If anybody needed him at the hospital, at home, or where ever, he was there. Everyone was special and important to him. He retired, stayed on at my church (still there for everyone) and has since passed away. I miss him.
    The 3 preachers since him don’t really care, it is all lip service. My mother had a heart valve replacement on July 9th. The preacher was on vacation. He cut his vacation short because of the weather, stopped at the hospital for a short visit. He did not come see her at home until she had been home for 1 month. He showed up 1 month to the day of her coming home. She suffered 3 sets back during that month, but he never showed. She has finally turned the corner and is going to be alright.
    It seems church was better when I was young, I guess because I was a child and never noticed what was around me.
    I’m trying to keep the faith. I don’t want to get away from church again. Just have to keep praying.
    OK, I know this is kind of long, just wanted to talk.

    Reply
  4. I miss church, but I have only gone to mass once since moving to France, and it felt so dead. There were no kids! There really wasn’t anybody under the age of 70 or so. That might just be a reflection of the demographics of the village, but I had really been hoping to find a church “family” like the one we had before moving to France. (Maybe because we lived in Smug Hippieville, Oregon, and church was about the only place I could go there without having people sneer at or lecture me about the various evils of having more than 2 kids–it was a very nice place to be on Sunday mornings, just feeling welcome.)

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Jun. A very enlightening post. Thank you. I too was raised in the Methodist Church, beginning in a wee one in Jenkinjones, a coal mining camp in the bottom of West Virginia. Growing up in various locations, I sang in church choirs and played trombone at Easter sunrise services. My brother deliberately sang off key during ceremonies, pissing off our mother, who pinched both of us to make sure she got the right offender. Jumping into puberty, I discovered that church get-togethers were excellent venues for picking up chicks. Kinda like reality shows. In my teens, my love of American history and England led me to the Episcopal Church, where I remain, although, like Churchill, I’m mostly a buttress, supporting the church from outside, and not a pillar, supporting from inside. Living in the sequester house in Mexico, waiting to vote for you to win, I told Big Brother cameras that meeting you and Jee had been a delightful experience since I had no Korean-American friends until then. You and Jee enlarged my horizons Jun, especially you. Although you were in New York, and I in West Virginia, we were never far apart. Just Jack.

    Reply
  6. Della Gordon

    Yes I too have left the church in my adult life. I have some great memories of church life……Thanks for bringing them back. Love you blog!

    Reply
  7. Natalie Counts

    You may have addressed this already elsewhere, but does your family have an active religious life now? Will Noah be attending Sunday school one day? If you’re not involved in Korean Methodist church right now, is Momz upset about that?

    Thanks for Dishing on this topic, Jun!

    Reply
  8. Shannon Drew

    I’m sorry you went through that. Sadly churches often judge &ske people run from church..& God. I have a strong faith & it’s an important part of my life. It saddens me how many Christians aren’t welcoming. Church is for everyone..come as you are..we all sin..one sin isn’t worse than another. I read a quote recently that people should stop trying to change or debate what the bible says/means & just live like Jesus did. I’m all about love & acceptance of people & wish everyone would be that way. Especially Christians.

    Reply
  9. Miran

    Hi! I just had to comment on this one even though I never comment. Like someone said above, church will never ever be perfect. Ironically, it’s filled with even more messed up people than the “outside” world is, which turns people away so I understand and have struggled with the idea. I have to remind myself that church is very much like a hospital. Hospital’s aren’t meant for the healthy just as church isn’t meant for the sinless. I’m glad you wrote about church though and I had the privilege of tapping into your faith-based mind.

    – Your biggest and #1 fan, your cuz <3 –

    Reply

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