Sunday, July 21, 2013

Closed Doors... or Open?

A few weeks ago, people travelled from all across Denmark to attend what may have been the last official worship service at Samuels Kirke (Samuel's Church) in Copenhagen. Along with 16 other church buildings across the country, the handsome brick landmark on Thorsgade was being closed and put up for private sale -- a first in Danish history. 

Actually, churches in the poorest of condition have been torn down before, says Hans Raun Iversen, a lecturer in theology at Københavns Universitet. But “now we can say that the folkekirke is going on the open market. This is something new.” 

Deadline for bidding on the Copenhagen landmark was June 21, and a winning bidder has still not been announced by the Kirkefondet (Church Foundation), the building’s owners. The deal is being handled by Colliers International, a private real estate firm. But church officials have promised the building may not necessarily go to the highest bidder -- only to the one they feel is the best match. In other words, other churches or cultural groups were welcome to bid, and the government might not object to the building becoming a museum, perhaps. But we’ll probably not see any grocery stores or discos in the lovely whitewashed Samuels Kirke sanctuary, with its traditional sailing ship hanging from the ceiling and an imposing statue of Jesus in the entry.

“It’s not about getting the highest price,” explains the foundation’s former general secretary, Morten Skrubbeltrang. “Even though the buildings are well-sited.” 

Then what is it about? Manu Sareen, the government’s Minister for Equality and Church, expresses another view of the closures. “It’s important to remind ourselves that closing a church is actually a strengthening of the church,” he told “We must make sure that we use our resources wisely. A closed church can perhaps re-open as a parish center or a day-care center, or it can be taken over by other church denominations.” 

We’ll have to wait to see what happens. Will the Samuels Kirke building ever be filled with worshippers again? Or will it become a quiet repository of antiques and stained glass windows, a reminder that the people who built a gathering place for praise… are long gone? 

Join us in praying that Samuels Kirke and the other buildings will find new life as houses of worship, and that they’ll be once more filled with songs of praise to Jesus. 

PRAY for wisdom for the members of Denmark’s Kirkefondet, that they would favor offers from Bible-believing churches as they sell off the buildings. 

PRAY for funding, that God would open doors for the fellowships He wants in those buildings. 

PRAY for unity, boldness, and a renewed focus on outreach among believers. Despite what sounds like bad news, this could be an unanticipated avenue for building up God’s church in Denmark.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Songs From the Living Room

Several weeks ago, television viewers across Denmark got a taste of a uniquely Danish worship sound, led in part by a popular young worship leader in Aarhus, Arvid Asmussen. Televised services from his church, Aarhus Valgmenighed, offered an interesting contrast to traditional Danish church services, as the young band led the congregation in original Danish hymns with a modern twist. A healthy mixture of families, young people, and older folks joined in song while TV2’s cameras covered the services. Some of the lyrics were based in “Den Danske Salmebog” (The Danish Psalmbook), other times original choruses were added to the mix.

Word is getting around, and so are the new, easy-to-sing hymns. Other congregations are adopting the tunes. And now ten of the most popular songs have been released on Arvid’s first CD, “Nye Salmer fra Dagligstuen” (New Psalms from the Living Room”).

Why the living room? “There’s something informal about the living room,” explains Arvid. “It’s the place where we don’t just see the backs of each other’s necks, as in a worship service. But it’s where we look each other in the eye, and where we share life with those who know us. Where we’re honest with each other. We may not be wearing our Sunday best. We’re just the way we are.”

One example of Arvid and company’s sound is posted on YouTube as a music video: “Fra Hjerteslag til Hjerteslag” (From Heartbeat to Heartbeat). Opening as a quiet hymn of dependence on the Lord (“From heartbeat to heartbeat, give us life,”) the tune graduates to an upbeat celebration among a company of young people obviously enjoying the opportunity to praise God.

Another tune on the record, “Jeg vil ikke glemme dig” (“I will not forget you”) opens with a confession that so many of our problems begin when we forget the Lord, and a heartfelt prayer of appreciation to the God who never, ever forgets us. Even if you don’t understand all the words, you may enjoy watching as the tune is recorded at FinlandStudio last February.

“It starts with a couple of songs that deal with how God actually sees us,” says Arvid about the album. “About how he sings over us, before we sing to him. That he looks upon us with a father’s eyes. There are some songs that express both our lament and our need, but which also express God’s faithfulness in the midst of it all. And the record ends with a couple of songs that give legs for faith to stand on. Songs about surrender to God. About how his will must happen in our lives, and about Jesus as the hope -- not just for us, but for the whole world.”

So fortunately it doesn’t stop there. This September, Arvid is focused on discipling and training another generation of worship leaders through the “Kantoriet” program in Aarhus, in operation since 2011. Though the program is already successful regionally, preparing nearly 30 leaders from 15 different fellowships (mainly around Aarhus), it’s recently been redesigned to expand its reach to churches and worship leaders Denmark-wide. Plans are to meet with prospective leaders and interested musicians in several weekend gatherings, then follow up with online “huddles” in a focus on local fellowships.

“I’m looking forward to this journey with praise song leaders from the entire country, and passing along everything I know about being a singer of praises,” says Arvid. “In private, in the living room, and in public.”

Will God use this movement to help fuel revival in Denmark? 

PRAY for Kantoriet, the upcoming new praise and worship training session, that God’s Spirit would breathe new life into the Danish church through the surrendered lives of young (and older) believers. 

PRAY that God would prepare more and more Danish Christians to be people of praise. 

PRAY that God would provide funding for everyone who should attend this year’s Kantoriet session, and pray that each attendee would return to their congregation energized to lead uniquely Danish praise.