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8 All Work Is Play You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right, too. —Anaïs Nin My childhood church rented out space and time from a dying white Presbyterian congregation. It was on the south side of the city in a low-income area that bordered one of the wealthier neighborhoods in the city. As far as church buildings go, it was nondescript. I hardly recall what the exterior of the building looked like; it was white, maybe, or brick. The fellowship hall in the basement had a kitchen and a few partitioned-off classrooms. I do remember the sanctuary. Its entire floor was covered with plush reddish-purple carpeting. Even now, in my mind, I can still see the matted, dark spots in various places down the center aisle. Dirt and all manner of things trekked in on our shoes were ground into the threads. Coffee and mysterious food stains darkened some areas. Sunlight sustained over time lightened the carpet in other places. 147 The pews themselves were a dark wood and hard—no cushions, no comfort for the stoic Presbyterians who filled them each week. And for the newcomers and the less faithful who forgot to bring them, there were black Bibles and hymnals in Korean and English, filled with the familiar translucent pages that characterized the most sacred books. The walls on either side had clear windows, with no stained-glass depictions of the disciples or popular stories from the Bible, no sheep looking at us forlornly or angels looking down on us with pity. The chancel area in front was simple, with the Communion table below a large, wooden cross. I don’t recall a baptismal font. A plain lectern stood on one side, and a pulpit across from it, accompanied by two large, ornate chairs behind. The choir sat off to the side near the baby grand piano, alongside a mishmash of music stands and small, low tables. The few times children were allowed in that space for worship—during Christmas pageants, for confirmation, and on some rare, random Sunday, like my father’s ordination as an elder—I remember being utterly fascinated by everything happening in the front. The choir filed in, and the music director led them to take their seats together. The pastor and a liturgist would walk to their respective seats. Always in the same seat close to the front was the gwan-sa, or “prayer mother,” a special title for a matriarch of the church. She was an elderly woman tasked with modeling the most devoted prayer life. I don’t remember if there were candles. On a Outside the Lines 148 Communion Sunday (which happened only a few times a year), the table would be covered in a white sheet with stacks of sterling-silver trays underneath, along with the bread and chalice. During the singing of the hymn before Communion, church elders walked up in somber unison. Wearing white gloves and moving in a meticulously choreographed way, they lifted the sheet off the table and folded it into a perfect square before sitting back down. The pastor intoned a short prayer—nothing like the liturgy I am accustomed to now in worship—and then lifted up the elements. The elders went back up for the trays and then walked carefully down, looking at each step as they passed the elements up and down the pews. Each person took a square piece of bread and a small plastic cup of juice, and I looked around at eyes closed and lips moving in quiet prayer before each person reverently consumed what they had taken. At my family’s church, I received Communion only once, at my confirmation. The next time I would receive it was at the local Presbyterian church when I was a college student. Today I’m flabbergasted when I attend a worship service where every person leading is a man. But as a young person, I never thought this was peculiar, because this reality was so deeply ingrained in me by the maleness of our church’s pastor , liturgists, elders, and music directors. It was clear that only men should have access to the chancel, except for the occasional and exceptional female deacon, usually older, who would offer the lengthy people’s prayer. The Communion All Work Is Play 149 table, the pulpit, the chairs—that entire space felt distinctly masculine. There, the voices were quiet, stoic...


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