I flew out with the gloriously few other passengers to Billund, where Inger was waiting despite the plane being ten minutes early and the baggage circling forlornly before I even reached the carousel. Lovely to see Inger again and catch up with her after two years: good job her English is so impressive as my Danish still consists of only the words Mange tak and Hej. Oh, and I’ve added schlachterhus to my vocabulary. I knew when I heard it I wouldn’t be able to forget it: yes, slaughterhouse. Why can’t I remember something useful?
Tuesday – Inger and I drove to a lay-by where we met Bent so that we could continue the journey to Logumscloster in one car. It was great to see Bent again, who has still the same energy and passion for mission as he had two years ago.
The visit today was to the PDC – a sort of in-service training centre / retreat centre, to meet with its head, Eberhard Habsmeier. Bjarne had paved the way for us and we were greeted with coffee and candles. We had a lively conversation, admiring his publications and interest in Soren Kierkegaard, before we were taken on a tour of the historic and modern buildings that make up the complex: a mixture of ancient church, 16yh-century castle, restored centre built with ancient bricks, and refugium or retreat centre that was still in the process of being built thanks to a large gift from Lego (not ancient bricks, but not plastic ones either). We saw the extensive library with church and music collections, some very old Bibles and great artwork. The queen of Denmark is very keen on Logumcloster and drops in every year.
After lunch at Jensens Bofhus, Inger and I went to Kristiansfeld to meet Sven in the charity shop and take him for coffee and honey cake in the cellar of the nearby hotel and hear the story of Kristiansfeld. It is a Moravian settlement, in Denmark originally at the invitation of King Christian, who wanted the Moravian craft skills on his turf. They arrived with a town plan and built it, and the buildings still stand today, about to become a UNESCO site of special historic interest, they hope. Fantastic Shaker-like design, pale yellow brick, very plain and clean lines, especially in the church. Great stories of the way they educated their young people into crafts and shipped them off to missionary work or to be married to missionaries.
And an evening of meeting Inger’s local pastor friends who are interested in Messy Church.
Bent had an annual meeting of church leaders interested in children’s work from different denominations across Denmark. In the morning they shared what they do and their most recent projects; in the afternoon I presented Messy Church. It’s quite significant for an ecumenical meeting like this to take place: all power to Bent’s elbow.
My Danish is improving and my vocabulary is now extensive: I know at least ten words including orm (worm). I still snigger in a very immature way at the road signs that tell you your speed and proudly flash up Din fart.
We picked up Karen at the supermarket and had a very quick brot, then whizzed up to Aarhus to the theological college, arriving a little late as no one had given us the right address but Lars was very kind and the students, in a very studentish way, seemed happy to eat cake while I set up.
Theological training for ministry is a theology degree, then four and a half months at this ‘seminary’ for everything else, so it was a huge opportunity to use as much as half a day on Messy Church. (No selection process for ordination here! You simply do a degree in theology, then go to PDC for four and a half months to top up with some practical training and shadowing of clergy for a few weeks – which may or may not include work with children – then send your CV round to bishops and apply for any jobs you see advertised. CME consists of weeks or days at Logumkloster, perhaps once a year either on a specific subject or as a ‘deanery retreat’ on the orders of your bishop.)
Karen nobly drove the two hours to Roskilde across the different bridges and islands to get there and we joined the day organised by the lovely Peter Tinglev,
who basically is spearheading fresh expressions for Denmark. A very appreciative group of about 50.Very interesting linguistic / ecclesiological insights into using the word ‘discipleship’, which, as far as I can understand , is a taboo word, as everyone is baptised, so everyone in Denmark is a Christian, so there’s no need for discipleship as we’re all Christians already… Discipleship is a politically-loaded word which smacks of Pentecostal tendencies and certainly has no place in the State Church. Ho hum. A can of orms if you’re in the field of work we’re in. (But I might have got this all wrong and misunderstood completely: oh, to be bilingual.)
Another fairly early start to go and set up the church hall where we had today’s conference, at the gloriously named Hammerup Kirke. Yes, the job involves moving furniture, even here… It was a joy to hear the stories from three or four Danish Messy Churches and to be in a position to suggest help for problems some of our MCs have already faced. Jens-Christian has a heart for working with men and boys in the church and is refusing to do any activities that women want to do: he cited the example of choosing activities for ‘light of the world’: the women said, ‘Oh yes, candles’ and he and the other blokes said, ‘Oh yes, electrical circuits’.
We’ve agreed to share ideas he comes up with for working with blokes over the internet. I’m not sure if it’s theologically great or theologically improper to start with an activity that blokes want to do (let’s make a catapult that hurls water bombs across vast distances with great force) and then choose the biblical theme that goes with it. Thoughts on a postcard… I nearly choked as today’s new Danish word is one for lovely or beautiful, but sounds in English horribly like one of the filthiest words we have. Oh, and there’s a sign up in churches: Slut for Sult, which is something about collecting for charity, though you wouldn’t imagine it.
There are about 25 MCs in Denmark, but it’s hard to keep track of them, Karen says, as they give themselves different names.
I had also been asked to do something on all-age worship, so we finished the day with a short talk on that: I’m not sure if the stunned silence was from tiredness, thoughts of ‘Heresy!’ or brains whirling at the concept.
Thoughts on the trip at this stage:
There is a lot of energy around church and attracting families to church in some parts of the church: the more mission-minded ‘right wing’ of the Indre Mission. Fresh Expressions ideas are still very new and alien overall, but Peter in Roskilde has the job of testing fresh expressions for four years in his diocese – rather a lonely job, but he enjoys the challenge. The church scene in Denmark is complicated by the fact that some parts of the State Church are so entrenched in how they do things and they have so much money to do what it’s always done in the way it’s always done things. Also, 80% of Danes are ‘Christians’ – they have been baptised, so one prevalent attitude is that there’s no need for anything else. They’ve been ‘done’, end of story. The church just exists to baptise more people, marry them and bury them. They have mini confirmation at the age of eight or nine, and teenage confirmation, and I get the impression that most teens would still be confirmed, but then not go to church after their year’s course: so a lot of nominalism, belonging without believing, a lack of the urgency that we have in the UK about losing touch with generations.
Bent Molbech, who is the Richard Fisher of DFS, is a hugely energetic, passionate and committed Christian, manager and hands-on CEO who is as happy chairing a difficult meeting as he is strumming a guitar or doing a spontaneous Bible study. He has huge hopes for Messy Church in Denmark, completely sees the need to make and grow disciples and is leading the organisation into ‘diplomatic’ work among the different strands of churchmanship.
I think Messy Church will continue to grow slowly across the very varied territories of Denmark and its main side-effect will be to change attitudes about how we can do church. It’s excellent that two strategic people – Lars at the theological centre in Aarhus, and Eberhard Habsmeier in the CME centre in Logumkloster – are very much ‘on side’ as they both encounter most of the clergy taking part in training across Denmark. With Lars, there was a sense that I was putting flesh on ideas that he feels very keenly.
It’s been a fascinating trip: one that I feel was the right thing kingdom-wise to do. I’ve had a few nudges in Bible readings and in conversations that my Paul’s observation in his research, that the BRF MC team has a ‘quasi apostolic role’ is in fact the case. One man said how good it was to meet a modern-day apostle Paul, and the number of similarities to our work in 1 and 2 Corinthians is striking. (The personal similarities in passages such as 1 Corinthians 16:5-13 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.) But for some reason it has felt quite a punishing trip personally and physically and I’ve had a sense of needing to gather my strength each day to cope with the programme. Fair enough, really: can’t expect my work to be all coffee and cake, after all. Or sandwiches.