Grundtvig: on making a difference

I bumped into an elderly Danish man today, by the name of Grundtvig. Prior to today, I had only seen this man’s name printed in Danish Hymnals. Today I got to meet him. His whole name is simply Nikolaj Frederick Severin Grundtvig. With a name like that, I think I’d also choose to go by NFS. This guy was not for sale either. Single-handedly, he reformed the Danish State “Lutheran” Church, commonly known as the People’s Church or in Danish Den Danske Folkekirke. NFS lived from 1783 to 1872, a contemporary of the two better known Danes, Søren Kierkegaard, and Hans Christian Andersen. A prolific writer and poet, he composed lyrics for over 3000 hymns and song lyrics in his life. Today, out of 754 hymns in the Danish Hymnal, 271 were written by Grundtvig. Of all the hymnals I own, I do not have a single collection which features one third of the hymns written by a single author. No wonder, as we’ve been worshiping the past two Sundays in Danish Lutheran churches, including one in Aalborg, and this past Sunday in Copenhagen, I kept seeing Grundtvig’s name come up as composer of hymn lyrics we were singing. Danes love the lyrics written by Grundtvig, poetically telling in meter and rhyme biblical stories and themes as well as many hymns on the great holy seasons of the Church, and the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. He also wrote many hymn lyrics expressing a love for natural landscape, changing seasons, and heart and hearth values of rural life in Denmark, qualities which have endeared his hymns to the hearts of millions of Danes for decades. Grundtvig was more than a poet though. He was a pastor, preacher, theologian, philosopher, reformer of educational systems, and politician. He introduced the “folk high school”, local training schools for rural Denmark’s adults to develop their education. These schools helped promote the development of Danish society during a century of tremendous change, and many are still in operation today. Grundtvig also promoted the Danish value of “folkelighed”, a concept and practice which is hard to translate, but has something to do with living in community, with the common good of the community held high within the heart of the individual, and a willingness to love others as much as we love ourselves. This value is seen all over Denmark in many forms and systems. Contemporary Danish society, in part, has a huge debt of gratitude to pay to Pastor Grundtvig for promoting the second commandment of loving our neighbor as ourself into the daily life of his people. Today, Danes live with a very high regard for the practice and principle of life together in community, including communal sharing of goods, communal pooling of resources, communal approaches to raising children, and all without much fanfare or fuss. Even in my brief two weeks in Denmark, this Danish quality continues to surprise and amaze me. As evening was fading away tonight, our Danish family took us by bikes, bikes that were gladly shared as a common resource for our use while in Copenhagen, to the Grundtvig Kirke, a church building just north of Copenhagen built in 1940 in honor of N.F.S. Grundtvig. This is the church you see as the header of this blog post. Below, you’ll see other images from Danish churches, including Sionskirke, the Domkirke of Copenhagen, and a few others.

As birds in the morning sing God’s praise,
His fatherly love we cherish,
for giving to us this day of grace,
for life that shall never perish.
His Church He has kept these thousand years,
and hungering souls did nourish.

“O day full of grace”, “Den signede dag” by N.F.S. Grundtvig, 1826







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