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Interview with pastor that designed an upscale café at church

Interview with pastor that designed an upscale café at church

Posted February. 28, 2022 08:11,   

Updated February. 28, 2022 08:11


Shingil Church, located in Yeongdeungpo-gu of Seoul and where your reporter visited on Friday, features an elegant café. It has large TV screens, private spaces designed considering social distancing and meeting rooms for four people.

The space stretches up to 600m² and seats 250 people. Since December last year, the café hosts the Celeb Talk Concert once each month, where celebrities such as cinema music director Cho Seung-woo and Lee Dong-jun, comedian Chung Sun-hee, fashion designer Lee Sang-bong, guitarist Hahm Chun-ho have led talks on stage. Underground, there is a children’s play area that seats up to 150 people and a seniors’ lounge that accommodates up to 100 seats on the second floor. Your reporter met with pastor Lee Ki-yong (age 57) at the café.

― This is quite an upscale and fancy café.

“It represents our modest efforts to connect with the world. I recall that when I was young, I would find the church to be fun and enriching place. We hope that the church can reinvigorate these experiences and become a cultural space for the local community.”

― How is the Celeb Talk Concert received by the people?

“We’re seeing strong enthusiasm, despite we had to limit the audience due to social distancing rules. I think people had a strong desire to attend cultural performance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the misunderstanding gap between the church and the world widened as well. The café and the concert are small bridges to bring the church closer to the world. Also we are simply happy to share high-quality cultural contents, which have become difficult to access during these times, with the community.

― Are there any difficulties in running the café?

“We have six full-time employees and 10 part-timers. I became aware of the difficulties of small business owners running the business. It would be difficult to make the ends meet if we had to pay rent. We are donating profits to help local community members in need.”

Shingil Church, founded in 1946, is a leading member of the Holiness Church in Korea. The church is actively helping the socially marginalized such as single seniors and parents, COVID-19 protocol keeping, overseas missionary work and social relief activities.

― I see that the slogan of the church for this year is “Let us arise together to enter the promised land.”

“Modern history shows us that Korean churches have shown excellent leadership in modernization and democratic advancement, even though the congregation was much smaller than it is today. Despite larger congregation and more churches, however, our influence has become more limited. Churches need to reach out to the world instead of staying in their comfort zone.”

― Shingil Church is well-known for its commitment to the community and future generation.

“In the business world, everyone knows that if only large businesses thrive without the support of small businesses, the eco-system collapses. Small churches in Europe were ignored for help, eventually even large churches ended up as cafés or restaurants. Pastors should not be mistaken in that their ministerial service propels church growth. The competitiveness of Korean churches relies on joint growth, just the same as anything else in this world.”

― What would you share as words of comfort for those in need?

“Statistics say that four out of 10 people suffer from depression these days. Some have drifted away from their faith during the COVID-19 era, while some have drawn closer, feeling empty and alone. In these times, we seek what is real and authentic. I believe that we can overcome these hard times if we do not give up and continue to persevere. Churches can thrive if we seek what is real and genuine.”

Gab-Sik Kim dunanworld@donga.com