A Tale of Two Churches - Jim Holmes

We were in Stavanger, Norway, on a Sunday three weeks ago.  Our ship's newsletter had a note about the cathedral in that coastal city, including Sunday service times.  We decided to go.

When we arrived at the door some twenty minutes before the service was scheduled to begin we were greeted by a man at the front door who said, "No tourists, locals only." Though tourists, we assured him that we were there for the service and not to walk about.  "No tourists,"  he said, "we know that once you get in you just walk about and disrupt things." And besides, "There is a a baptism and the family does not want tourists." We told him, politely, I hope, that we had never experienced such a thing and that in our understanding church was open to all on Sunday morning.  "You can go to another church," he said dismissing us firmly.

So we walked to the nearby St. Peter's Church, also Church of Norway (Lutheran), and walked in.  The place was filled with scurrying children, and an usher greeted us, quickly switching to English.  Though there was not one but four baptisms scheduled that day, we were most cordially welcome to join in the service.  The service started a bit late as it was difficult to round up all of the baptismal groups who were a part of the procession, but the hymn was "A mighty fortress" so we felt at home.  Apropos my short article a couple of weeks ago, we recognized The Lord's Prayer and were able to say it softly in English. In our travels around the world, we have found that we can always recognize the Lord's Prayer.

Two ofthe babies being baptized were part of what we stereotype as Norwegian families:  blond, blue-eyed, the women dressed in local costumes, etc.  The other two were of color, and their families and sponsors were dressed in both African and Asian garb.  It was a wonderful mix.  The pastor had a lovely singing voice, and she presided with great dignity. We were welcome to receive Communion.

After church, the usher found us again and invited us to coffee where he introduced us to other parishioners.  They were very friendly and quite dismayed to hear about our earlier experience but glad we had found them.

St. Peter's modeled what a church should be on Sunday morning.  Welcoming, diverse, good liturgy and music.  Even though we understood few of the words, we knew we were in the House of God, among the people of God.  I believe Emmanuel models this kind of church as well, but we must remember that it takes work and that we need to pay attention to those in our midst and welcome the stranger.