A message from Mindekirken
What can the church contribute to today’s society?
The Rev. Gunnar Kristiansen is the new pastor at Mindekirken in Minneapolis. He arrived in September 2021 and had previously been the pastor there, from 1998 to 2000.
Kristiansen has three grownup children and five grandchildren. Starting as a pastor in churches in northern Norway in 1978, he has also been a chaplain in a mental hospital and a trained family therapist from 1989. He has been a member of a disaster team for many years and has worked on suicide prevention among high school students. Later, he worked at the City Mission in Oslo with its suicide hotline. In 2012, he started a humanitarian organization in Bohol in the Philippines, (ihelpfriendship), where he was stationed before returning to Mindekirken.
Many earlier members of the churches around the world are now leaving their congregations, probably thinking that the church has no significant role in the world anymore.
Well, is it so, or have they not grasped the whole picture?
As many know, we had a terrible terror attack in Norway, July 22, 2011. Of those 77 people who were killed, the vast majority were young people, age 14 and up.
Not only in Norway but people all over the world were shocked that this could happen in peaceful Norway. I worked in the City Mission in Oslo at that time, and one of my colleagues was wondering whether there was something we could do to comfort people in this disaster.
He came up with an idea: he brought some flowers outside the cathedral in Oslo. In a few hours, that place was overflowing with flowers, so many that the buses and the streetcars had to take another route to pass. And the cathedral was opened for grieving and mourning people, 24 hours a day for the next month. During that month, more than 1 million people visited the cathedral; all in all, Oslo has about 700,000 inhabitants.
I have also worked on a disaster team for some years in the northern part of Norway. In a few years, we had three major plane crashes where passengers and crew perished. The first question their survivors asked was when there would be a memorial service?
I think that these examples show us that when it comes to the hardest times in our life, we need a place to go, so that we can be together, and also seek God for consolation
What about our everyday like then? you might ask.
Well, I happen to know the current bishop in Oslo, Kari Veiteberg. She was my colleague when I worked in the City Mission there. When she was elected bishop, NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp., interviewed her. When the host asked her how it was to be a pastor in Oslo, she told this story:
“I often visited sex workers on the streets. They were forced to work like that, and most of them came from Africa. I asked them if there was something I could do for them. ‘Yes,’ they answered. After our work, at 2 a.m. in the morning, we would love to have a worship service downtown, with communion.”
“So, once a week,” Kari Veiteberg said, “I take my bike, and go downtown at about 1 a.m. And these poor women show up, many with tears on their face, and they pray to God to forgive them for what they have to do every day. When we say goodbye,” Kari added, “I never say, have a good day, because I know that they have no good days. I only say, go with God.”
Let me ask, where else could these poor women find any support or consolation? They knew where to go; only in a church could they find the slightest relief.
I have worked with a lot of drug addicts. And I have often seen their longing, some of them have even asked me to bring my robe and give them communion in the middle of all their mess.
I have seen that church is still relevant if we can be where people need us, where we can show that God’s mercy has no limits.
We might think that only those who have not succeeded would need that, but on the contrary, I have met with so many so-called successful people who feel that they have paid a very high price for their success. Where can they go when life turns upside down?
For me—and many others—a world without churches would be meaningless.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.