How long have you been General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Norway? What does the job entail?
I was elected General Secretary July 2010 and assumed my position on 1 November the same year.
The General Secretary is the daily leader and head of our Baptist Union under the direction of our annual meeting and board of directors. The job entails in particular the main responsibility for our administration and our national mission.
This interview will be published around the anniversary of the killings by Anders Behring Breivik. Can you recall where you were on that day? How did it affect you personally? How has it affected the country? Has it affected how ordinary people view life, the church, faith? What lessons, if any, have been learnt from it?
On that day of the bombing I was on the streets of Copenhagen when a friendly Dane, who overheard me speaking Norwegian, told me that a bomb had just exploded in Oslo minutes before. My immediate reaction was one of disbelief like most others who had not considered it a present threat in peaceful Norway.
It has become a day that has been defined as second only to World War II in terms of national impact. It was experienced as an attack on our whole nation, our youth, our political system and the first reactions were both the sympathy with the families of the deceased, the injured and those caught in the terrible event.
The national feeling of solidarity and remembrance will have a lasting effect and has been expressed since in an unprecedented way in big public gatherings and flower demonstrations.
The court case that started in April 9 months later lasted for 10 weeks and had extensive TV coverage. It has been a constant reminder of the tragedy and it has been said that hopefully the court case will be able to give a certain closure instead of a national trauma.
The political dialogue in Norway was dampened severely right after the tragic event and the polls changed accordingly. This has not seemed to have a lasting effect and the political differences on the topic of a multi cultural society has ones again resumed its stark frontiers.
The immediate reaction after July 22nd was to gather in the churches as well as in public places and the congregations nationwide became an important arena for comfort and commemoration. This was of course most evident in our state church, but many local churches from different denominations were partakers in people's lives through this particular time. In our Baptist Union many churches held services and open house in the days after July 22nd.
It is unsure what lasting effect this crisis has had on people's relationship to God and faith, but I am convinced that it has shown us that in times of crisis we as the body of Christ is relevant and needed. It can also give us a signal of the importance of making our presence known, both individually and as churches for people to know who to turn to in special times of need.
How are Baptists viewed by other churches and people in general in Norway? Is it a well known church?
The Baptist Union of Norway is actively involved in ecumenical work both locally and through the Norwegian Council of Churches, so we are well known by other churches.
In the population at large the State Church system historically has influenced our society in such a way that most minority churches are small and not very well known. However locally there are Baptist churches that are profiled and well known in their local communities and in some cases the most significant church in the area.
Is Norway a Christian nation or a secular one? If it is the latter, what are Baptists and other denominations doing to respond to the decline of believers in Norway?
Norway has until June this year had a constitutional foundation with a state church system through the Norwegian Lutheran Church. We are moving on with a constitution basing our nation on a Christian Cultural heritage. The church and state has just separated.
I would say that our society is a secular nation, influenced by the secular trends of the rest of the world. Baptist churches and other churches have in later years seen the importance of being missional with a growing sense of urgency to reach our nation with the gospel. One prevalent focus in several of our denominations is a focus on church planting.
You have your summer festival, Blink, at the start of July and another Baptist camp in August. Can you tell us more about them both? How long has they been going? Have you any stories of their impact in previous years on people? (testimonies etc). Are summer camps a big thing in Norway?
Our summer festival Blink is a new concept. The emphasis will be an all generational festival that gives room both for inspirational meetings for the whole family as well as for adults and a sense of community and holiday in a beautiful setting. Traditionally Norwegian Baptists have gathered in the summer for our annual convention in local churches in a rotation around our lengthy nation. An important distinctive for our festival in later years has been the multi cultural profile that reflects how our Union has developed.
One story that has moved my heart: One of our migrant leaders with a great heart for evangelism talked to the local people on town and brought two young kids to faith in Jesus at our festival. It is special to see the praying and evangelistic heart of our migrant leaders.
The camp in August is a youth camp, gathering young kids from all of the southern part of Norway. Many kids have come to faith and been baptized at our youth camp.
Musical festivals are a big thing in Norway and for the churches summer festivals have gained in quantity and popularity.
How many churches and Baptists are there? I see that you have a goal to have 100 churches and 6,000 members by 2020. How are you going about achieving that?
We are happy to see that we already have reached our target of 6000 Baptists at the turn of this year and are well on our way to reach 100 churches. We are presently 93 churches and are hoping to invite 2 more churches in to our Union at our annual convention in July this year.
We have strategies for church planting, multi cultural work and revitalisation to both renew our churches and to reach our nation through a variety of new church fellowships.
It also says in your vision about being 'aggressively multi-cultural'. Again how are Baptists going about achieving this? Do you think in light of Brevik's views, this is more important than ever?
We have hired staff to especially work with a multi cultural focus. We have a strategy for supporting multi cultural churches as well as migrant churches.
In light of the nationwide discourse following July 22nd I think it is extra important to value the diversity that our multi cultural and migrant churches bring to our local churches and national fellowship; to indeed see the positive force of God at work through migrants blessing our nation spiritually with their presence.
I read somewhere that Free Churches find it hard to retain members and that there are less evangelicals in Oslo. Are both of these true? If so, what is causing them?
It has been a trend for many years that free churches have been on the decline, but the trend seems to have come to a turning point in the last year.
Can you give any examples of how churches are doing evangelism and serving their communities practically through social action projects?
Norway is today maybe the most affluent society in the world. So it may not be the social needs that are most apparent. Some churches have open evenings where they serve meals and give fellowship and friendship to less fortunate and lonely people. Many churches serve the incoming migrants with immediate needs and help them to integrate as well as including them in the life of the church.
According to your website, you organised a party recently for the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi. Can you tell me more about it? What was it like? Did you get to meet her?
Our Union were one of the arrangers of a public party for Aung San Suu Kyi. A special time was assigned for her just to meet the Diaspora Burmese people in Norway. I did not get to meet her, but our Burmese Integration pastor was invited to dine with her together with the King, the government and the Nobel Prize committee. That was an honour for him and for us.
What can we pray for the Baptist Union of Norway at this time?
That the positive development of growth will continue and that a Christ centred focus on missional church and church planting can give much fruit. Also pray that our desire to develop faith fostering in cooperation between home and church will be successful. We see this as a key to reaching the next generation.