Korean Church's Relocation To Centreville Causes Unease
Sunday, March 11, 2007
With kimchi and steaming cabbage soup for 1,200 in the kitchen on Sundays and an influential evangelical preacher at the pulpit, Korean Central Presbyterian Church seemed to have it made.
As the spiritual home of more than 4,500 Korean Americans, the church has prospered for three decades on a dozen acres shoehorned into a corner of Vienna.
Now it is preparing to move to Centreville, where it will construct the second-largest church in Fairfax County. It will break ground this month on a sprawling worship center with a school and two sanctuaries totaling 2,100 seats.
The move has prompted an emotional debate in Centreville, where the Korean population has greatly grown in the past five years. And it has peeled back the cover on the discomfort that some longtime residents experience as immigrants pour into and transform the county. Nearly one in four of the 1 million residents is foreign-born.
Barber Nick Xereas points across the street to one of several strip shopping centers dominated by Korean businesses in town. "I talk to people, and they don't feel comfortable, especially when they see all the name changes to Korean," he said. "This is America; it's not Korea."
Xereas shook his head. "This area has changed too much."
Opposition to Korean Central Presbyterian has also come from civic groups, the county's building department and residents concerned about the growth of an immigrant population expected to follow its church west.
"We've got other large places of worship in western Fairfax, and they operate like really good neighbors there, but this one we just thought was too big," said Ted Troscianecki, president of the Western Fairfax County Citizens Association, which represents 50 homeowners and civic associations. It opposes the church out of concern over its impact on traffic and the environment.
Church leaders and members say they are trying to assuage the community's misgivings. But, said senior pastor Danny Ro: "I'm sure some of the people are still concerned. It's not like 100 percent of the people are welcoming us."
Launched 34 years ago by members of the first wave of Koreans to reach the Washington area after immigration laws were loosened, the church -- a member of the conservative wing of the Presbyterian Church -- attracts diplomats, students and members of the prosperous Korean middle class.
South Korean Ambassador Tae-Sik Lee said he is impressed with the quality of the pastoral staff and the church's devotion to basic Christian values.
Central Presbyterian is the largest of about 300 Korean churches in the area and one of the largest in the country. For many Koreans, the church is the epicenter of social and business life. There, newcomers are welcomed, helped in finding jobs and homes and advised on setting up businesses.