The Joong Ang Ilbo has now reported on the controversy surrounding the Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery in Seoul. The article is a good read and provides a decent overview of the fight going on over the future of the cemetery:
Those visiting the cemetery’s 14,000 square meters likely appreciate the sacrifice of those early missionaries, but they may be unaware that a present day conflict is underway between two Protestant churches one foreign and one Korean over the right to manage the cemetery and affiliated properties.
The foreign congregation, Seoul Union Church, with 100 members, claims that its Korean neighbors in the 2,000-strong 100th Anniversary Memorial Church are trying to push it out of a chapel on the cemetery grounds, which the union church has occupied since 1986 and has shared with the memorial church since 2005.
Seoul Union, founded in 1885, was the first Protestant church in Korea and its congregation has included some of the most venerable foreign families in the country. Many of its former members are buried in the cemetery. It worries that a demand by the memorial church that it change its service time from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. is a disguised attempt to displace it from the cemetery and the chapel. The deadline for the schedule change is Sunday, Aug. 5.
The situation has become so bitter that it seems headed for court. Both sides accuse the other of mismanaging the cemetery, while Seoul Union leaders say a long-standing agreement to leave the property under the effective control of the foreign church is being violated.
Union church member John Linton, a prominent Seoul doctor whose missionary family has been in Korea for more than a century, says the prospects for resolution are bleak. “We think this is a kind of war,” he said.
Yes war has been declared and it appears August 5th is when battle is going to commence:
Rev. Prince C. Oteng-Boateng, the current pastor of the union church, recently sent a letter to Korean church leaders asking for help. The pastor requested supporters to attend the morning service at union church on Aug. 5 and block any physical coercion by the Korean church.
“We believe that any attempt by the memorial church to disrupt or forcibly remove Seoul Union Church from its rightful home, and to obstruct our right of usage, will result in a public demonstration [against] its actions,” the pastor said in the letter.
“We are appealing to you and the entire Korean Christian community to pray with Seoul Union Church and to seek your direct intervention in defeating this persecution,” the pastor wrote.
The controversy over the Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery in Seoul has been covered in great detail before by guest blogger Robert Neff over at the Marmot’s Hole. He was the first person to get the story out about why the Korean Memorial Church wanted to get rid of the foreigner composed Union Church; because they planned to disinter the bodies of foreigners in the cemetery:
In an interview with The Korea Herald, Kim Yong-nam, who identified himself as administrator to the Church and Yangwhajin, supported the claim that those who were unsuitable for the cemetery such as Koreans, a foreigner he described as an “Itaewon pool player,” and members of the U.S. military – who chose to be buried at the cemetery along with their families – would be removed at some time in the future.
Many of the graves that may be disinterred include members of the US military. Robert Neff in a later posting at the Marmot’s Hole provided names of all the US military servicemen and their family members buried at Yanghwajin. The list was forwarded to the US Embassy and USFK, but there has yet to be any feedback on what course of action if any US officials plan to do. The list of servicemembers and their families buried at Yanghwajin is quite long, and it is sad to think these people, even death, are not free from discrimination of foreigners in Korea.
This is why the Union Church is fighting so hard to protect the cemetery from the Memorial Church and it appears this is headed for a final showdown on August 5th.
Family members of Korea’s most famous Christian missionary family, the Underwood family, are buried at Yanghwajin. The members of the Memorial Church never caused any issues until Dr. Horace Grant Underwood III died in 2004. It cannot be understated the amount of respect and influence a man like Horace Underwood III had in Korea. It seems more than just a tad bit coincidental that this dispute over the fate of Yanghwajin began shortly after his death.
It would be interesting to hear what the Underwood family has to say about this matter, but the remaining members of the Underwood family left Korea for unspecified reasons shortly after the passing of Horace Underwood III. The way things are looking now foreigners buried in the Yanghwajin Foreigner Cemetery maybe leaving for “unspecified reasons” as well.