When we first found out that we’d be living in South Korea for three months, we knew we’d need to find an LDS Church in Korea to attend. As Mormons living in Korea we wanted to find a congregation where our children could attend primary and we could find a community of friends and resources. Enter the Songdo Branch: The English speaking branch in the Songdo and Incheon area for Mormons. This little tiny branch ended up being a lifeline to us during our time in Korea and gave us a much needed link between home and Korea.
Mormon in Korea:
The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints in South Korea
Mormon in Korean
Q: How do you read and write Mormon in Hangul, the Korean Alphabet?
A: 몰몬 (Mormon)
Q: How do you read and write Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Hangul, the Korean Alphabet?
A: 예수 그리스도 후기 성도교회 (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)
Not only will a few Korean words come in handy while attending LDS Church in Korea, but knowing how to recognize Mormon in Korean will help you navigate GPS and locate the chapel once you arrive. Plus, even though the Songdo Branch is English Speaking, due to its size and make up of saints, there is no nursery or primary. Instead the Songdo Branch overlaps with the Incheon First Ward so the youngest generation of children can attend primary, including our four precious children.
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197, Munhwa-ro, Namdong-gu
Incheon City, 21553
Phone: 82 32-468-3883
Hours: Sunday School 12:10pm | Sacrament Services 1:15pm
We have attended local wards or branches of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the United States, France, Japan and now Korea!
Songdo Branch Statistics
The Songdo Branch is composed of students and faculty at the Incheon Global Campus, and just two other families that make up a total of 20 regular attending, Sunday going, Jesus worshipping, Mormon Korean Saints. That is, before our Mormon family moved to Korea for the summer. We bumped up the numbers to 26, a whopping 30% increase in attendance.
Of course, many visitors, travelers, people on layovers, and friends and family help fill out the congregation throughout the year, but as for permanent members of the church in the Songdo Branch, 20 is the magic number.
During our three month stay attending the LDS Church in Korea we spoke in Sacrament twice, our eight year old twins were baptized, our eight year old daughter gave her first Sacrament meeting talk, our eight year old son gave his first Sacrament meeting opening prayer, Gabriel blessed the sacrament multiple times, and we were often the only members attending Sunday services aside from the Branch President and the missionaries.
Religion in South Korea
You can find Christian, Buddhist, Confucianist, Shaman and Islamist churches in South Korea and each has a place within the population. Since the last census, 44% of the Korean population has a religion. 46% of the population associates with either Buddhism or Confucianism and sacred traditional temples are found throughout the peninsula.
In the 14th Century Christianity was introduced to the population, but did not necessarily flourish until the turn of the century. Christianity in Korea is said to have modernized the country.
Mormons in Korea
The first Mormon was baptized in Korea in 1952. In the last 70 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormonism, has been fast growing in Korea. There are currently about 88,000 members in a country with a population of 51 million people, and one Korean LDS Temple in Seoul. To date there are 108 LDS church wards and/or branches located throughout South Korea.
How Long Does it Take to Get to the LDS Church in Korea?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Korea is just about an hour away from Songdo by subway.
Directions to the Mormon Church in Incheon, South Korea
It is located just across the street from the Incheon City Hall Subway station. One direct train on the Incheon Dark Blue line will take you to the building, and from the subway station, Exit 7 will position you just across the street from the church.
Incheon City Hall Subway Station is huge. You could survive a nuclear blast and live there for decades never seeing the light of day. There are art installations, ping pong tournaments, dancing stages, convenience stores and more!
What is the Mormon Church Building like in Korea?
The LDS Church building is a 3 story building with a tall steeple at the top. The main floor is simply a foyer with an entrance from the parking garage. The second floor has classrooms, the baptismal font and the chapel. There is an outdoor courtyard, big enough to hold an above ground pool for the Mormon primary activity!
The third floor has additional classrooms including leadership offices. There is even an elevator.
Once inside the LDS church you’ll recognize the familiar couches, carpet and white folding chairs throughout the building. In addition, the chapel is identical to any other larger ward building around the world. The pews are covered in a light mint green, there is both a piano and an organ, and the pulpit is central to the congregation.
What is it like Attending LDS Church in Korea?
Our family went back and forth about whether or not to attend a Korean speaking ward, or an English speaking branch. We loved the idea of being fully integrated into a Korean ward, but ultimately chose the English speaking branch due to the start times.
As it turns out, we got the best of both. Because the Songdo Branch has just three small children in attendance, one nursery age, one primary age and one under 18 months, the Songdo Branch overlaps the Sunday School hour with the Incheon First Ward so the primaries can be combined. Our kids got to attend an Korean speaking primary, sing and learn Korean LDS primary hymns, and play at the Korean primary activities during the summer. We got to learn so much about both aspects of attending Mormon church in Korea.
The Korean Ward, on the other hand, is huge. They have classes for each age group, from nursery through the youth programs and beyond. The halls are filled with members, and attendance is high.
The most distinct thing about being a Mormon in Korea has to do more with speaking a different language than anything else. It’s obvious from the outset that the English speaking branch is the outlier when it comes to the LDS church in Korea.
Another major difference between attending LDS church in Korea vs America is that in Korea going to church is an all day affair. Even though the services themselves are a bit shorter all around, including travel time, church worship and the consequent potluck, church in Korea is no less than a 5 hour enterprise, or more.
Primary in the Songdo Branch
Primary at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in South Korea at the Songdo Branch is technically a misnomer because our kids attended primary in the Incheon First Ward. The primary is conducted in Korean, with translations provided from both the primary president and the teachers.
The Primary president speaks perfect English, as do many of the teachers. It is not uncommon for LDS church members to have lived in the United States for several years. Reasons for this include their families moved there, they attended school in the USA or served missions. Many Koreans live abroad and then return back to their motherland to raise their families.
In the Korean primary, all the songs are sung in Korean. When we were there, however, the primary was learning to sing “I Am a Child of God” in English.
The first Sunday I sat in on Eclair’s primary class. Though Eclair is 4 years old, her class had children from 4 years old to 6 years old. In Korea they count your age a little differently. It has something to do with the month you were born, but essentially you count years that you’ve lived, not birthdays you’ve had. In the simplest explanation, in Korea our children are one year older than we would consider them in the States.
Other than this, there was no difference in lessons taught and the teacher was awesome at including all the kids and delivering an age appropriate lesson. All our kids would come home with a call to action about serving Christ for the week.
Sacrament Service at LDS Church in Korea
At The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in South Korea, you can expect Sacrament service to run just a little, or a lot, shy of the full hour. The passing of the sacrament is shorter, there are only enough members for one speaker, and rarely any ward business.
One man blesses the sacrament. It takes just one piece of bread to serve the entire branch! If you blink, you won’t even see the priesthood tear the bread. Another man, typically a missionary, administers the sacrament. The entire process never takes more than 5 minutes from start to finish.
Typically there is just one speaker during the sacrament service in Korea. On rare occasions, there may also be a youth speaker. Rather than 35 minutes for 3 speakers to fill the Sacrament service, there is 50 minutes for one speaker at LDS Church in Korea. As you can imagine, typically services end a bit early.
Because our time spent in Korea was during the summer we were frequently the only Mormon members in attendance. The regular members were spending their vacation away from Korea, or off school for the semester. There were weeks when it was just our family of 6, the missionaries, and the Branch President.
During these weeks, it felt more like a formal Family Home Evening in Korea. Eclair couldn’t understand why she should be reverent. One Sunday when Gabriel was speaking to just our family in the congregation she was running in circles around the chapel. When I told her to sit down and be reverent and quiet, she said to me, “Why? It’s just Dad up there!”
On Fast and Testimony Sunday, there is even less time to fill up the meeting hour. I got the biggest kick out of the 1st Counselor announcing there was plenty of time for every single member to bear their testimony.
When you are an American Mormon in South Korea, you’ll do your fair share of speaking in the English Songdo Branch. Even if you are eight years old. Everyone is called on to speak at LDS Church in Korea.
Pie is actually the one who approached the Branch President about speaking. She said, “I’m a youth! I can be the youth speaker!” The Branch President took her up on it. This was definitely one of our most memorable experiences as Mormons in Korea.
She chose to write her talk about a story she read in The Friend magazine about a little girl who wanted to help her neighbor who was going to have surgery on her eyes so she could see better. In the story, the girl’s name was Ophelia. Pie had it spelled out in her talk: Oh-Fay-Lee-A because she was worried she wouldn’t remember how to say it.
With no computer access, and no printer, we put the finishing touches on her talk on the subway ride to the church. Then, during Sunday School in an empty room with no air conditioning (at church in Korea they only turn the air conditioning on manually in occupied rooms), I wrote it down for her again with the changes we made. Concerned she’d forget to end her talk, “In the name of Jesus Christ Amen” she asked me to write that down for her too.
Pie went onto the stage and the Branch President offered to let her sit on the pew next to him so neither of them would have to sit alone. She was very reverent and took her sketchbook with a plastic bag of markers with her as well.
When it was her turn to speak she took The Friend magazine and her talk, and waited patiently while the Branch President positioned the microphone. She remembered to go slow, though she told me afterwards she wished she had gone even slower. She remembered to look up at the congregation, and she even remembered parts of the talk that she didn’t have to read. She never stuttered or appeared nervous, and did a superb job.
I am so proud of her! That’s probably fairly obvious considering every last detail I’ve included, but I want to remember every moment of our daughter’s first sacrament meeting talk! From her offering to speak, to her preparing the talk and delivering it so well.
Baby Blessings in Korea
Naturally, with just 20 members in the tiny Songdo Branch and no primary, Mormon baby blessings are a rare occurrence. However, there is another young family in the ward with one daughter who is almost two years old. The wife is Korean, the husband is from the states, and they met at BYU. The same Sunday Pie spoke in Sacrament meeting, the husband’s mother and father were visiting from Las Vegas.
This couple had not yet blessed their daughter because they were waiting for his parents to be able to come visit and be a witness to the occasion. It was so special! Because she was a little bit older, her mother held her in a chair as her Father gave the blessing. He invited all the men in the ward to come be a part of it! It was such a wonderful experience!
Mormons in Korea gather every single Sunday for a post church potluck. This is very familiar Korean tradition, and the the Songdo Branch has adopted this practice as well.
Every Sunday the branch gathers together after Sacrament for a linger longer in the gym. These are no small snacks either.
- Potato bars with every imaginable topping
- Chicken Burritos
- Taco Salads
- Pulled Pork Sandwiches
In the Korean Ward, members come to the church building on Saturday afternoon to begin preparations. In the Songdo Branch, a group chat specifies the main course, and each member signs up to bring something to fill out the meals from appetizers to toppings and ingredients to dessert and drinks.
The best part about the potluck is the camaraderie that develops among members as a result of spending time together unstructured. We got to know each member in the ward intimately. Our kids were able to overcome their shyness and we were all able to become friends with several of the other members.
During the potluck, members will play games from basketball to ping pong while chatting. Sometimes the Branch President would even get out a few volleyballs for an impromptu pick up game. It is a wonderful opportunity to eat and learn a lot about the other members and expats living in Korea.
The potluck is great timing as it syncs up perfectly with the missionary taught free Korean Language classes.
Free Korean Language Classes
Every single week, the local Mormon Missionaries hold classes at the LDS Church to teach Koreans English, and Expats Korean. The classes are free and assist members in learning the local language! Anywhere from 2 to 6 elders conduct the classes each week.
For the Korean classes, we study from the book Korean for Foreigners.
During our time in Korea the classes covered the elementals such as the alphabet all the way to basic conversation skills such as answering your name, age, career and where you are from. Classes include learning skills related to reading, writing and speaking.
In case you are wondering, the Korean language is hard. The symbols are easy enough to recognize and put together, but phrases are so lengthy and the way sounds are combined to form syllables is tricky. Up to three consonants and one vowel can be combined per syllable; telling time combines both Korean and Chinese numbers; and a lot of alphabet sounds are just longer versions or different inflections of a root sound.
Other parts of the language are fairly easy. The kids and I learned how to count to 1,000 in one afternoon, but the problem is that numbers are used universally in Korean.
Mormon in Korea
Being Mormon in Korea is a commitment, but the payoff is worth it. We developed strong bonds with the other members and became part of a wonderful community within 4 days of arriving in our new home. The entire branch came to support our family and attend our twins baptism, and provided our family with the love and care that we needed while navigating a new country. There may not be time for napping on Sunday in Korea, but it is definitely a day of serving God’s children.
► For Kids: LDS Church in Korea gives kids the opportunity to meet, play and learn with children of a different nationality. Our kids got to sing in Korean and learn about Jesus in Korean!
Have you ever attended church in a foreign country? What was your favorite part?
► What we Learned: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the same all over the world!
We made great friends with all the members of the branch! Johnny and Atelaite, in particular, have a special place in our family forever. They even came to Everland Carribbean Bay with us!