The Corean Mission
A corner of the Anglican Communion beyond the edge of empire
One of the many adornments of St Martin’s Church in Brighton is a nave ceiling composed entirely of the arms of the dioceses of the Anglican Communion. It was erected at the high noon of empire to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Queen Empress in 1887. Thus is stated in paint and wood one of the main themes of the Anglican Communion’s history. But not all Anglican churches overseas were established in colonies of the Crown. A notable absence from the heraldic display at St Martin’s is the arms of the first bishop of Korea, Charles John Corfe, consecrated in Westminster Abbey on All Saints’ Day 1889.
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Archbishop Benson had told him that he could not pay him or offer him any presbyteral assistance; and he warned him of native hostility to foreign missionaries. Faced with such an unnerving prospect, Corfe returned to his alma mater for succour. His first recorded episcopal act is a confirmation service at SS Mary and Nicolas School, Lancing, the first of the schools founded by Canon Nathaniel Woodard, the Tractarian educational pioneer. Thus began, as we shall see, the long association between Lancing and the ‘Corean Mission’. The then headmaster of Lancing remembered Corfe’s beautiful singing voice and his striking blue eyes; he was also impressed that the new bishop insisted on addressing the boys by their Christian names.
Whether it was these personal attributes, or the opportunity to participate in a mission that had a definitely High Church character, the fact is that Corfe soon gathered a group of young men around him and, armed with a grant of £600 from SPG, they set out for Korea, arriving at Inchon Port on 19th September 1890. They were joined two years later by Sisters of the Community of St Peter, Kilburn. The mission was further consolidated by the foundation of the Korean Missionary Brotherhood, led by Fr Alfred Kelly.
The first Korean baptisms took place in 1897, including that of Mark Kim who would be ordained the first native Anglican priest in 1915. Portions of the Bible and the liturgy were translated, a church and mission home built and, with the help of the Royal Navy, in whose ranks Corfe had served as a chaplain for fourteen years, two hospitals erected. A printing press was also set up, and Lancing College’s official historian records, without a hint of irony, that one of its initial productions was a reprint of the first edition of the college magazine ‘which was sold for the Cricket Field Fund’!
The Lancing connection was renewed in 1911 when Mark Napier Trollope ol, one of Corfe’s original companions, was consecrated the third bishop. His appointment coincided with the onset of Japanese rule in Korea, and so the new bishop found himself presiding over a flock which included Japanese Christians too. The problems thereby presented were not only linguistic. Writing of the Coronation Day (of the Japanese emperor) celebrations to a Lancing friend, Trollope remarks that ‘the Coreans still being bitterly sore and grumpy about their annexation to Japan … it makes all "state prayers" as much a matter of difficulty as it was in the old Jacobite days.’
So Trollope could be caricatured as an English (Church) man abroad. Certainly, like Corfe, he remembered his old school with fondness. It is likely that the dedication of Seoul Cathedral to SS Mary and Nicholas was chosen in homage to Lancing whose chapel is also under their protection. But as was the way with Anglo-Catholic missionaries of his generation (think of Frank Weston), while being cheerfully and unapologetically English, Trollope was also uncompromisingly and robustly Catholic.
In the speech he made on the day of his episcopal consecration, he spoke of his hope that ‘Corean Christians who are in communion with Canterbury may be thoroughly Catholic in faith and love, and neither Papists, Anglicans nor Protestants.’ As can be seen from that deprecating reference to ‘Anglicans’, he did not understand himself to be an Anglican bishop, but a bishop of the Catholic Church. He was determined not to make the mistake he believed had ‘resulted first in scandal and secondly in failure’ in South Africa [see Rodney Schofield’s article launching this series, New Directions, February 2004], viz, ‘to maintain a "Church of England" as opposed to the Church of the Province’.
Trollope’s insistence on provincial status for the Korean Church was not only about ‘going native’ (although Trollope’s ministry was thoroughly inculturated since he had mastered both Korean and Japanese, as well as becoming something of an expert on Korean literature, not to mention its flora and fauna) but primarily about being Catholic. The Korean Church was not to be Anglican but Catholic. Being a province would demonstrate that it was not a branch of a ‘national church’ but part of ‘the great and divine world-wide society known as the Holy Catholic Church’.
That was Trollope’s vision and, as the first step towards realizing it, he drew up the rules for the first Synod of the Korean Church in 1915. He takes as his guide St Cyprian, noting en passant that ‘even in England’ the holding of diocesan synods ‘lingered on for a good hundred years after that period of upheaval humorously described as the Reformation.’ And he goes on to say that he is ‘anxious to emphasise this point which is only too frequently blurred or lost sight of in these days of pseudo-democracy, namely that the distinction between Clergy and Laity is part of the original constitution of the Church and that however high the privilege of the Christian laity … the fact remains that from the Apostles’ times onwards, a distinctively ministerial order or Taxis has always existed in the Church, as the organ through which she has discharged her all-important functions of teaching the truth.’ That is why Trollope’s Korean Synod, though advised by a network of lay ‘conferences’, was a meeting of the bishop with his college of presbyters. I wonder if the ‘Corean model’ is one which the constitution makers of the Free Province need to look at.
But of course ‘pseudo-democracy’ has advanced throughout the Anglican Communion (and Trollope did admit that term, though only on the grounds that ‘the right of "mission" is inherent in every member of the Catholic episcopate’). At a recent Synod of the Korean Church it was decided to remove ‘he descended into hell’ from the Apostles’ Creed. Nevertheless the same Synod decided not to add ‘Kidokkyo’ (‘Christian’) to Daehan Sung Kong Hoe (Korean Holy Catholic Church). To have done so would apparently have identified the Korean Church as protestant. A triumph for Trollope and the Tradition!
I am grateful to Dr Janet Pennington, the Archivist of Lancing College, for invaluable assistance with this article.
Simon Heans is Curate at St Martin’s, Brighton.
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