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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hallelujah Korea, Part X: Jeongdong First Methodist Church, Seoul Jung-gu

Jeongdong First Methodist Church (Hanja: 貞洞第一敎會) is Korea’s first Protestant church, established in 1897 by American Methodist missionary Rev. Henry G. Appenzeller (1858-1902) who first introduced the Methodist Church into Korea. Known as Bethel Chapel in its early days, Jeongdong First Methodist Church is the one and only nineteenth century church in the country. The church has great historical significance as the fountainhead of the “March First Movement a.k.a Samil-Manse Movement” (one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the Japanese occupation of Korea, which occurred on March 1st, 1919) as well as in the history of Christianity in Korea. With the classical grace and dignity of the unpretentious architecture, the church has been much loved by followers for over a century.

Located at 46 Jeongdong Drive/Jeongdong-gil, Jeongdong 34-3 beonji, Seoul Jung-gu; it was the first church to be built after the Protestant Church (Methodism) had been introduced into Korea. After arriving in Korea in 1885, missionary Appenzeller founded Paichai Hakdang (nowadays Pai Chai University) and started delivering modern education. His religious work was based at the school at first, and he later acquired a building for church services, which was named Bethel Chapel, and services began in 1887. As the number of believers increased, so it became necessary to build a church to accommodate 500 people, resulting in the construction of a new church starting in 1895. A dedicatory ceremony was held on December 26th, 1897, and this remains the only nineteenth century church in existence in the country.

Although Jeongdong First Methodist Church is a one-story building, it appears to be two-stories because of its sheer height, and the south-side belfry stands three stories tall. The church was originally in the shape of a cross with an area of 380 square meters, but after an extension to expand both wing sections, without detriment to the exterior of the building, it is now a rectangular shape with an area of 578.5 square meters. The church replicates the shape and style of a modest chapel in Gothic style with arched windows. The stereobate upon which trimmed stones are stacked up bears traces of the wooden architectural dexterity of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

The church also has a unique design feature in its triangular gable roof (i.e. two sloping surfaces which meet at the top) instead of a spire, a common feature of most Gothic churches.

As soon as one enters the church, Bethel Chapel meets the eye. It is the place where most traces of missionary Appenzeller’s legacy remain. All the pillars and the ceiling inside the chapel appear concise and plain, and the simple design of the cross-striped windows, compared to the prevailing Gothic style, later became a model for other churches to follow. Korea’s first pipe organ was dedicated to this church in 1918, and even though it was damaged during the Korean War, it still remains today in restored condition.

With its long history of 125 years, this church is still beloved today by a host of devotees. If you are planning to visit the church, it would be good to attend a service. The church holds a service in English at 14:00 every Sunday, attracting a number of believers from overseas. 

In the area around Jeongdong First Methodist Church, there are many other tourist attractions, such as Deoksu Palace, Seoul Plaza and Cheonggyecheon. Deoksugung is one of the four main palaces of the Joseon Dynasty and offers picturesque scenery. A pretty walking trail flanked by a stone wall of the palace is famous as a romantic spot for lovers. Nearby Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall features a grassed open space offering a place to relax, which transforms into an ice rink in winter, making it a popular attraction. Further towards Gwanghwamun from the City Hall is Cheonggyecheon, which is an urban stream used to supply water during the Joseon Dynasty. It is one of Seoul’s best tourist attractions and offers ideal walking trails to take a stroll.