When the first Danish Lutheran Church was built on 19th and Fraser the Danes of that day had some mighty big discussions. Most of them had come around the turn of the century and made their livelihood in a primarily English-speaking community, and now some of them wanted to build a church where the language was to be Danish. Really? Their children might still know the language to some degree but their grandchildren certainly didn’t, so who were they building that church for back in the thirties? They were building it for us! When, in the finished church, they celebrated the first Sunday Service the sermon was in English because they understood how important it was not to isolate the church to one generation. Little did they anticipate the waves of Danish immigrants that the fifties and sixties would bring! Some of you were among them, and you know what a success the church was in those days, so great that by the late seventies the congregation had outgrown the old church and started planning the one we are in now – we celebrated our thirty years in this building this past Thanksgiving with lots of live music and the secretary general of DSUK, the Danish Seamen’s Churches and Churches abroad.
Lots of great stuff goes on here – it may not be the same as in the eighties, but we keep getting great ideas while not letting go of our past and our Danish roots. What first comes to mind is, of course, our Danish Kom Sammen – I have chosen each time to tell (in Danish) a bit about different Danish personalities through the ages, and we have coffee, talk and sing. Over the past year the subjects have been as diverse as the entertainer Osvald Helmuth, the cook Kirsten Hüttemeier and the poet Frank Jæger, to name a few, and our summer-trip was to the convent in Mission with a beautiful drive home through the lower Fraser Valley. Movie Nights are also popular, and through Facebook we are slowly creating an interest from young people. I am aware that modern Danish movies, as high as their quality may be, are not always for the faint of heart, so right now we are looking into making some afternoons with more peaceful stories. (This month’s Movie Night is a comedy with English subtitles). We have had rummage sales and dinners, and our Youth Choir has really become active with bottle drive, ice cream sales, singing at memorials (on weekends only), and on Saturday April 11th they will be having a concert and a dinner with flæskesteg with the trimmings – all to fundraise for their trip to Denmark this summer. Our young ones and their parents really do a big job to make this become reality and it will be such a great experience for the young people, so thank you all for supporting them!
But let us not forget all the ladies and gentlemen who make things work around here, the Ladies Auxiliary (Damekredsen) with their sales and Spring Tea and busyness between those events that we hear about in the church paper; the New Auxiliary who feed us on many Open House evenings and at other times during the year, as well as they make nisser and all kinds of delicious foods for the bazaars – if you would like to join them for making nisser and other popular items you may contact Bodil Nielsen at the office. Many come for the spring and fall work-parties, starting off with coffee and homemade buns before nine in the morning and then working till around noon and getting smørrebrød (open-face sandwiches) as a reward. Both at the work-parties and in the week-day work that goes on to keep our building beautiful people are having a lot of fun and we get many good talks over coffee, and, mind you, what it takes to be in the swing of things is basically to show up and ask what you may do.
On a different note, in May our Music Committee is planning a concert celebrating the 150th birthday of the composer Carl Nielsen; we are in the fortunate position that Steen Larsen who takes care of our pipe organ has been able to find someone who has previously worked with our particular organ in Denmark and knows how to voice it, and when the voicing is done Janet Mowatt, Poul Rasmussen and the Tivoli Singers will be giving a concert where the voicer will also tell us about the organ. We are also thrilled that both the Tivoli Singers and the families who work so hard on the Lucia pageant give us great experiences through the year.
And that, in a manner of speaking, brings us into the church. We may be a Danish cultural institution here in BC, but above that, we are a church. We celebrate Sunday services, we come together to talk faith, and we pray for each other. As Danish Lutherans we are not into faith control, and we keep working to find a language that can embrace our faith; we do so in getting together Thursday mornings for Bible Study where we look at the texts for the previous Sunday as well as the pastor’s sermon, we are just now finishing some very interesting debates “Serious Answers to Hard Questions” lead by Barry Pointon, we meet once a month to talk faith issues in depth inspired by the Swedish “rosary” The Pearls of Life, and our children talk stories of the Bible in the Sunday School room. You are welcome to participate once, twice or every time, and if you have great memories from your own days in Sunday School you may want to donate a Sunday or two a month to be with our little ones during maybe half an hour of the service. An interesting detail this year is that of the three students for confirmation, only two come to class. Well, that is not quite true but one of the students lives so far away that we have to use modern technology for class, so we skype every so often – and did you know that one of the inventors of Skype is… Danish!?
Since last year there has been more to do for the pastor, the volunteers and the Ladies’ Auxiliary: Statistics. We have had more services in as much as there was a baptismal service in Victoria in the summer, I have taken on monthly services at Swedish Assisted Living, and there were a few more funerals this past year. We may have fewer hits on our website but the number of people who take their information from our Facebook page is increasing, and quite a few younger people contact me through Facebook rather than via email. One thing that has not been increasing is the number of members; that is not a sign of crisis, but simply that people consider themselves members when they get the church paper or by default because they are Danish. You don’t have to be a member to enjoy our services, but it does give you two advantages: you can vote at the AGM, and you get an end-of-the-year statement for your contributions during the year (if you have remembered to put your name or membership number on the envelope, that is). Now, the inheritance Knud Nielsen has been talking about is of course a nice cushion to help us update some things, but we all know that that is not what it is all about – it’s about being church! And we can only be that when we have someone to be it with. There are around 46.000 people born in Denmark here in BC, of course not all in the Lower Mainland, and new Danes are coming but in a different manner than in the fifties and sixties, and a lot of you “old-comers” are still around to help us move into the next chapter of our history. Your children and grandchildren may not all want to come here every Sunday but some of them might have ideas about how we can still be their church, and maybe you know some of the more recent arrivals and can invite them for one of our functions or the Sunday Service. Two years from now we want our membership rate to have grown by twenty percent! That does not necessarily mean that we have to find innumerable new, to us unknown people because a lot of people care deeply for the church but have never registered as members! As of Thursday we are 146 registered members and 20% are only 29 new registered members. Yes, I know that we need more than those to fill some empty spots, but the important thing is that it is doable! Of course we want to look at getting more younger members, but if we are realistic when it comes to modern Scandinavians and Canadians we are probably talking ages forty to sixty, and we are already doing a few things on both the faith front and the cultural front that might interest them: the Serious Answers to Hard Questions, the Pearls of Life, the movies and the well-cooked meals – mormor-mad as it’s called in Denmark nowadays. And hey, if you have an idea that can bring in a lot of young people I will be happy to support you in putting it into the world! ---
So we have two years to get 29 (and a few) more members and I have made flyers about the church and membership that you can all get with you to give friends and family and the occasional Scandinavian who might not have heard about the church. I know I said two years but I can hardly wait to report on the progress one year from now!
Birgitte Saltorp, Pastor.