5 a.m. prayer in Korea: Shouting out to God

September 22, 2016

The New England pilgrims to Korea arrived at the beginning of a special period of prayer for the Bupyeong Methodist Church.

Every September, the church begins 50 days of prayer time. While the 5 a.m. daily prayer service continues all year, this is a period of specific focus and emphasis for the congregation. It began Sept. 19 and will continue until Nov. 7.

The Rev. Eun-pa Hong, senior pastor at Bupyeong, explains that not unlike the U.S., Koreans are not keeping the Sabbath in the same way they did years ago.

Koreans have become more affluent, Rev. Hong said, “and they have relaxed and are not keeping the Sabbath, but (instead) going shopping or camping. The 50 days of praying time is to remind them of the importance of their spiritual life. Early morning prayer time is a constant reminder to make their spiritual life a priority.”

The style of prayer – the leader and congregation pray aloud, but each saying (indeed shouting) their own prayers, is one that evolved naturally, Rev. Hong said, beginning in the 1960s and 70s.

“We did not plan to pray like this, but at that time Koreans were so poor and there was great danger in the situation between North Korea and South Korea, we had no choice but to shout to God for help,” he said. “Through that kind of desperate situation, we experienced a strong presence of the Holy Spirit.”

“Shouting means ‘we need help,’ Rev. Hong said, “So passionately we ask for God’s help.”

Listen to the prayers from Sept. 22, 2016.

“It was not intended,” he said, “but it emerged naturally through the work of the Holy Spirit and now has become tradition.”

Rev. Hong said that John Wesley and Francis Asbury were “hot guys,” praying hard and warming hearts wherever they went. “We are trying not to lose this heritage.”

About 5 a.m. prayer

The first 30 minutes of the daily 5 a.m. prayer time is spent singing hymns followed by a sermon. With the lights dimmed, the communal prayer is the second half of the hour. Members of the congregation depart on their own between 5:30 and 6 a.m.

The style of singing hymns is also unique. Watch a short slide show and listen here.

Singing Hymns in Korea from New England Conference UMC on Vimeo.