Night Church in Copenhagen


I think there can be something deeply refreshing and beautiful about attending worship services in a foreign country, even if you don't understand the language that they are conducted in. As I mentioned in my previous posting, I was unable to find any organized expression of progressive Christianity in Denmark. But, despite that, I did discover a somewhat less traditional form of worship that was offered by three of the state-run Lutheran churches in central Copenhagen. The services, held on certain evenings of the week, are identified by the name Natkirken, or "Night Church". I decided that I wanted to check the Night Church out, in the hopes that I could find some spiritual value in these services--this despite my theological differences with the Danish Lutheran church. My hope was that if they lacked some of the more conventional elements of traditional worship that I don't care for, I could enjoy them purely for their spiritual or contemplative value.

One of the churches that holds Night Church, the Church of the Holy Spirit (Helliåndskirken), is located right on the main pedestrian street in the center of the city, which gets lots of foot traffic well into the night. The Friday services take place over a five hour span, starting at 8 PM, with a new service starting each hour, and each service being of a different type. (The other two churches that offer Night Church are Vor Frue Kirke, which is the main cathedral there, and Trinitatis Kirke.) I attended Night Church at the Church of the Holy Spirit on two consecutive Fridays.

The first Friday, I attended the 8 PM International Evensong, which was conducted in English. The service consisted of songs, readings, and prayers, with participation by both the clergy and the congregation. There was no Communion. There was a creedal recitation included in the order of service, which I wasn't crazy about, but my reaction to that was simply that I did not participate in that part of it. The reason this service was conducted in English was to accommodate the many tourists who visit Night Church. Of course, late March is not exactly high tourist season in Scandinavia, but to my surprise a steady stream of what I presume to be tourists did come in, watch for a while, and then leave. I was actually rather amazed by all the coming and going--I wouldn't have had enough nerve to just drop in on the middle of a church service and then leave like that. I was sorry to say that the pews were virtually empty of people. Other than the clergy, staff, and choir, and the parade of visitors who came and went, there were only three people who sat through the entire service--myself, my girlfriend, and one other person.

The following Friday, I attended the 10 PM candlelit service. It was conducted in Danish, so I didn't understand much of what was said, but in some ways that might have been a blessing, since I was able to just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the service and the music in the candlelight. The priest, a very tall and slender man with a deep, resonant voice, is the same one who had conducted the International Evensong a week earlier. He may have recognized me from the week before, because after service he asked me where I was from. When I said "San Francisco", he asked me if I lived in Copenhagen now. I said no, and told him I just wanted to check out the service while vacationing. I added that I didn't understand what was said. He laughed and said, "Of course". Danes don't expect foreigners to speak their language.

I really enjoyed the candlelit service a lot. As I left the church walked out into the cold nighttime air, I felt a pleasant glow; I really was glad that I had attended it. If I ever go to Copenhagen again, I will definitely go to the candlelit service at Night Church.


clumber said...

Yes indeed, attending a foreign language service can have its own type of beauty and grace.

My wife and I attended a Lutheran church in Iceland a few years back. We understood nothing of the content other than the words "jesu christu" (or something that sounded like that).

We listened to a service we did not know the words to, but we knew the rhythm as familiar. When communion came, we hesitated to receive, but one of the chalice bearers motioned to us to come to the table.

Clearly we were tourists, in blue jeans and hiking boots, but come to the table, please... what a sweet feeling communion was that day!