|Cultural Crossings: President McDonald strengthens seminary relations in Korea
By Kay Carney
It was the trip of a lifetime. For San Francisco Theological Seminary president, Rev. Dr. James McDonald and his wife, Rev. Dr. Dean McDonald, the invitation to travel to Korea offered a welcomed opportunity to go where no “McDonald” had ever gone before!
This is not the first time SFTS leadership has traveled to Korea to participate in the annual Hanshin conference, a symposium established for Korean Christian pastors. For four decades, SFTS administrators and faculty have made the trip. But for the McDonalds, this was their maiden voyage.
After a 10-hour plane ride and 16-hour time difference, the McDonalds hit the ground running. Traveling by KTX high-speed rail from YoungSan Station to Hanil University & Presbyterian Theological Seminary in the city of Jeonju, President McDonald preached at the university’s morning workshop service — “The Mighty Mustard Seed” based on Luke 17:1-6. That same evening, the McDonalds boarded the train for Seoul.
Fast forward. Their weeklong visit was enriched with a visit to Hanshin Presbyterian Church and a meeting with Rev. Dr. Yong Kyu Kang (D.Min. ’96). President McDonald spent quality time at the church and preached at the 7 a.m., 9:40 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. services. Hanshin is a large church with 4,000 members. McDonald was also a featured lecturer at the annual Hanshin-San Francisco Theological Seminary Symposium, where most of the lectures were conducted in Korean. McDonald’s sermons and lecture, however, were given in English and translated into Korean.
McDonald’s presence and participation in the conference was highly anticipated. His image appeared on banners, posters and other materials. It was a heartfelt welcome. “The graciousness of the Korean people and their hospitality was unparalleled. Dean and I have never experienced anything like it! It’s like we were royalty. They couldn’t do enough for us. We were very humbled by the warmth and generosity of the Korean people,” said McDonald.
McDonald presented a lecture on Faith and Public Life before a capacity crowd of more than 500 conference attendees. He was asked by Rev. Dr. ChangBok Chung, president of Hanil University in Jeonju, to preach the closing worship service before a crowd of nearly 1,000. Chung earned his Doctor of the Science of Theology degree from SFTS in 1978 and was named 2012 Distinguished Alumni.
There were grand musical and theatrical performances held at the conference center that would rival Broadway. From musicals to classical string quartets, from a commissioned chamber orchestra choir to Korea’s version of Elvis, the entertainment was extraordinary. “The talent was unsurpassed and the quality of the performers was equal to what you would see at the Met or on Broadway,” McDonald said. “I especially enjoyed hearing the men’s quartet sing, ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ in Korean.”
Traveling to see the historic sites of Korea with several of the country’s religious leaders and dignitaries was deeply inspiring, as they bore witness to elements of the nation’s war-torn past and the amazing progress the country has made, both economically and socially. “The Korean War was devastating, and the country has been rebuilding over the past 60 years. Theirs is a remarkable story, with a remarkable testament to the Korean people,” McDonald said.
Among the other sites visited was the Confucian Academy at the UNESCO World Heritage Site; Gyeongbokgung Palace where they viewed the ceremony of the changing of the guard, established in the early 15th century; a visit to the “Tin Can” church, constructed of tin and turned on its side—a large megachurch that was purposefully made to be common-looking and without fancy or flair; visits to traditional markets, neighborhoods and beautiful parklands and open spaces.
Korea is also known as the Land of the Morning Calm. “That image is exactly what you feel when you walk outside in the morning,” McDonald said. “There are lots of mountains and the Han River is a large watershed that runs through Korea and Seoul. The countryside is spectacular and awe inspiring.”
The trip to Korea also affirmed the already deep connection between Korean Presbyterian Churches and SFTS. Of the 50 million people in Korea, approximately 30 percent are Christian. The Presbyterian Church has become a strong presence in Korean society. SFTS has a long history of welcoming students from Korea, where an appreciation for strong academic and theological training allows them to stretch their own learning in ministry within their own context.
“I sense a new openness,” McDonald said. “Koreans want to be thinking together with non-Koreans about the nature of the changes that we all face together. This is a very exciting prospect for everyone.”
At the conclusion of their weeklong visit, bows of respect and handshakes marked the end of a well-purposed and deeply meaningful journey. Rev. Kang extended an invitation for SFTS to participate in next year’s conference. “Thank you Rev. Kang. We accept.”
Kay Carney is vice president of communications.