Visits in May 2010


What do you know about Denmark?
Butter and bacon come from there!
Do you know any famous Danes?
Hans Christian Andersen and Kierkegaard where writers who lived there!
Geographical position?
It’s squeezed between two big neighbours, Sweden and Germany.
Didn’t they used to be Vikings?
Something in the news?
Wasn’t there some controversy about freedom of speech and a caricature in a newspaper?
And the church in Denmark?
In general, Danes are not very religious (at least on the outside), and church attendance is very low!

It was with questions like these buzzing around in his head that one of the brothers of the Community began his visits in May in all the regions of Denmark: Copenhagen, Zealand, Funen, North and Central Jutland, and also the Ecumenical Church Days in Viborg.

Taizé has contacts with many different churches in Denmark: Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal and Apostolic. Meetings and prayers were held in all of them during the visit. As in all Scandinavian countries, the quality of the singing and music is very important. So soloists and instrumentalists were always on hand to add an extra dimension to the meditative atmosphere of the prayers. Most of the songs of Taizé are translated into Danish, which grounds the prayer in the language of the country. They are no longer “exotic melodies” brought back from a pilgrimage to a warm southern country. They murmur the deepest desires of ordinary Danes. Through the songs, many people discover with surprise God’s presence within them, and a yearning for peace.

For all the churches in Denmark, whatever their tradition, perhaps the big challenge is how to enable people to “hear” God’s voice: how to be welcoming, creating a space where meeting with God is possible.

Some attempt to do this through “night church” where, generally on Friday or Saturday evenings, churches are open from 8 until late in the evening, with the possibility of lighting a candle, of being listened to, and of writing down the names of those for whom prayer is requested.

Others hold meetings and prayers in cafes or other places that “modern” people find more “open” and comfortable than formal church buildings.

There is also a whole movement of going out towards other people, “at the point where they are at”. A dramatic example of this would be the “welcome” at St. Mary’s Church, Vesterbro in Copenhagen, west of the main railway station; volunteers offer help and support to drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless and others who need help. Some people call this the “druggies” hospice; many of those who come there are beyond “rehab”; it is a place where their humanity is respected, where they try to find a kind of peace in the storm of their lives, before they die. A more humble example would be those who take time to be with those who have had mental health problems, a chat, a short walk, help with shopping, an invitation back into life, after the darkness of a depression.

In this way, many Christians become involved in local self help projects: arts festivals, volunteering to work with immigrants, with prisoners, with people who are fragile: giving concrete help but also being a witness to Christ in all places. Some of them are called “Ildsjæl” which literally means “soul of fire”. Without their enthusiasm many organizations would crumble.

So yes, you can say that Danes are not very religious, at least on the outside, but it would be wise to look deeper...

Last updated: 1 June 2010