Along our pilgrimage this week, we’ve worshiped with Danish Christians (at Skalborg Kirke, near Aalborg, Denmark), and we’ve visited a variety of Danish church buildings (Dankse Kirke), including traditional-rural and modern-urban church buildings.
The Danes first encountered the Christian faith during the 8th through the 10th centuries, as the Vikings voyaged overseas and up rivers in their quest to expand their rule across much of northern Europe. The first king to convert to Christianity in Denmark though was King Harald Bluetooth (son of King Gorm the old) around the year 960. At that time, the royal residence was moved to the city of Roskilde, near modern day Copenhagen. Since the late 900s, nearly every king and queen of Denmark has been buried in the cathedral of Roskilde, one of the largest cathedrals in the world constructed of brick. In 2005, Trina and I visited Roskilde to pray within this renowned cathedral, and to see the Viking Museum.
In 1524, just seven years after Luther posted his famous 95 in 1517, Hans Mikkelsen and Christiern Pedersen translated the New Testament into Danish, an instant success among the Danish people. Then in 1525, Hans Tausen, a Danish monk began preaching Luther’s reformed theology first on Zealand, then in in Viborg, in Jutland. By 1536, King Christian III decreed the Lutheran faith as the official faith of Denmark and the Church of Denmark, also known as the Folkekirken was born. All other Christian faiths were not tolerated, and leaders of the Roman Catholic faith were imprisoned unless they converted.
In the past 500 years, Denmark has become increasingly tolerant of other faiths, and also increasingly secularized and less religiously minded in the daily practice of the Christian faith. The Danish constitution of 1849 granted citizens full religious freedom, Today, even though nearly 80% of the Danish population claims to be members of the Church of Denmark, just 5% of those regularly attend Sunday worship, and only a quarter of the population claim to believe in God. Youth confirmation is still an important part of growing up in a Danish home. Yesterday, I spoke with a 14 year old member of our Danish family who went through a year of weekly classes in the Christian faith along with 16 other youth in their village, all of who were confirmed this May in their local village church.
The Danes we know are modest, hard-working, humble, hospitable, joyful people. They are open to talking about the Christian faith when asked, and glad to pray together when asked if we can offer mealtime table blessing prayer. They honor the memory of their family members who have died by regularly going to the church yard to bring flowers and pay their respect. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit two separate churchyards, where Trina helped plant fresh flowers, and I offered prayers of thanksgiving for the lives of the family members who had died. Whereas American churches are often today surrounded by asphalted parking lots, traditional Danish church buildings are surrounded by beautifully kept gardens filled with graves. The “communion of saints” surround us, cheering us onward in our journey with Christ, as we walk among gravestones, remembering those who have prayed for us before we were even born.