November 2022
Young Leaders in Ministry

Worship as an Invitation to Belong

Like many young folk in my generation, my spiritual growth has an all-too-familiar arc. I was a de facto Christian in my youth because my parents were Christian, and when I moved away for college, my church attendance on Sundays slowly began dwindling into the intermittent Easter and Christmas appearances.

Church as a shopping experience, church as a job

When I moved from Los Angeles to New York to attend college, my church shopping experience was exactly that – shopping. I found that many of the local churches designed to attract young people offered what felt like a consumer experience. Come to church for the most convenient, easily accessible form of worship – worship that can effectively compete to grab a slice of our overly-stimulated mental and emotional bandwidth. What initially felt like a perfect, bite-sized Christian experience to fit into my upbeat college lifestyle, quickly became a dull, disengaging activity that I simply phased out of my life.

After my studies, I returned to Los Angeles, where I started my career as a freelance cellist. A regular form of work for me was playing for various congregations. What I thought would be an organic opportunity to plug myself back into church attendance, proved to be an even more alienating experience. My role as a contract musician was simply to deliver my services as a vendor, receive payment and leave without any invitation to communion or fellowship. Church became a job that I was very good at.

In the fall of 2020, Church of Our Saviour Episcopal (COS), a local church in San Gabriel, reached out to ask if I would be available to play during their Sunday services. The church had just begun offering in-person, outdoor services. Due to the limitations of outdoor services and to adhere to COVID protocol, the church could not offer its usual organ/piano/choir musical offerings. A cellist sharing hymns arranged for the solo cello, alongside classical selections like JS Bach’s celebrated Suites for Solo Cello, seemed to be a perfect fit.

Surprised by welcome

Initially, I didn’t see COS as somewhere I belonged. This was my first time attending an Episcopal Church, and COS seemed to be exactly what I expected from an old, suburban Episcopal Church: a community of mostly older white folks practicing somewhat archaic liturgical traditions. Naturally, as a Korean-American young adult in my mid-twenties, I stuck out like a sore thumb. And yet, I immediately sensed a feeling of hospitality and welcome from every member of the congregation and an invitation to share in the life of the community at COS. Even more surprising, I found myself gravitating to the indescribable reverence of the liturgical services.

A year later, in preparation for the Christmas Eve candlelight services, I had an opportunity to rehearse and spend time with Alice Rucker, the longtime organist at COS. Along with our musical preparation, Alice shared anecdotes about the hymns we were preparing and her beautiful insights on liturgical music. We dived deeper into the etymology of the word liturgy, which comes from the Greek root words, laós and ergos, which roughly translate to “public” and “work,” respectively. Liturgy is the “work of the people.” I realized that this was exactly what drew me to COS and to the liturgical services. Worship is an act we actively create and not a product we passively consume.

From being welcomed to welcoming others

As Episcopalians, we believe that the Holy Eucharist is celebrated together as a community, and worship is not whole without the active contribution of every member of the congregation. In the same way, I realized that my sense of belonging at COS was due to the congregation’s invitation to take ownership of that feeling and make COS a more welcoming and loving home for everyone.

With the support of my ECF Fellowship, I have been able to launch “Laós Chamber Music,” a new classical music concert series hosted at Church of Our Saviour. It is my authentic offering to create a more welcoming home at COS. Inspired by the tradition of liturgy as an active invitation to community and belonging through participatory worship, Laós’ musical programs offer a way to invite and gather our community at COS, my community of young Los Angeles musicians and our broader Los Angeles community to share in music and fellowship. We offered our first two Laós concerts in October and November.

As young adults trying to navigate our faith in the 21st century, I believe we must continue advocating and co-creating these spaces of belonging. Because of how connected we have been through technology and social media, I believe it is much easier to default community and belonging as a supplemental commodity, rather than a lifeline to our relationship to one another in communion. I feel blessed to have found my place as a participant in the community at Church of Our Saviour and in the Episcopal Church. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities to create a space where my community of young musicians are welcomed and belong in Los Angeles through Laós Chamber Music.

Click to view and listen to a short clip from our Laós concert on Oct 1, 2022. It is a clip from JS Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Dustin Seo, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, is a cellist and arts administrator committed to building community spaces in Los Angeles through music and fellowship. During his tenure as the Associate Artistic Director at Street Symphony, Dustin committed his artistic practice to organizing and empowering communities in Los Angeles, specifically through partnerships with Skid Row based arts organizations and service providers. He now turns his artistic focus towards “Laós Chamber Music,” a new concert series hosted at Church of Our Saviour, in San Gabriel, CA, and in collaboration with its partner ministries. Dustin also performs as an active freelancer in Los Angeles, performing with several LA ensembles, and recording on a number of media projects.


This article is part of the November 2022 Vestry Papers issue on Young Leaders in Ministry