An international organization
Christine Foster Meloni
Lasse V. Syversen, Chairman of the Norwegian Church Service in Washington, was the guest speaker at the April meeting of Lakselaget D.C. He explained the role of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church around the world and the place of the independent congregation in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
The Seaman’s Church’s Global Mission
The Seamen’s Church is also called the Norwegian Church Abroad. It is a charitable organization supported by the Church of Norway and the Norwegian Government. Although it is part of the Lutheran Church of Norway, it has an independent governance structure. Its main office is in Bergen, and the Bishop of Bergen has oversight over all the churches abroad.
The Seamen’s Church has a long history. The first church was established in Leith, Scotland, in 1864, 151 years ago. Today the Seamen’s Church has 31 churches that serve as a home away from home for approximately 900,000 Norwegians. Five of these churches are located in the United States, in New York, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, and San Francisco.
The church also has fifteen chaplains who travel to more than 80 countries to visit Norwegians. Four student chaplains visit Norwegian students abroad; one of them is assigned to visiting students in the U.S. Seven chaplains serve on Norwegian oil installations in the North Sea. There is also a church on the internet.
Syversen emphasized that the primary mission of the church is to provide a spiritual meeting place and to promote the Kingdom of God. The church’s cultural and social goals are, however, also very important.
“We believe that all people have unlimited value. We believe in relationship and that we all belong together. We can build bridges by reaching out and offering friendship to the guests in our churches,” Mr. Syversen declared.
The Seamen’s Church does not remain within the walls of its churches, however. It plays a vital role in the field, helping people when disaster strikes. The church has a 24/7 phone advisory service and responds quickly to individual emergencies. In 2014 the church assisted 1,519 Norwegians in distress.
The church also offers valuable, timely assistance in the case of major disasters anywhere in the world. It provided assistance when the Air France jet crashed in Brazil in 2009. It played a vital role during the terrorist attack on Statoil’s installation in 2013. It assisted after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen this year. The church also assists when disasters occur within Norway itself. It went into action immediately after the horrendous terrorist attack in Oslo on July 22, 2011.
The Church in Washington, D.C.
Syversen also talked about the Norwegian congregation in Washington. It is an independent congregation that has a relationship with the Norwegian Church Abroad in New York. A pastor from the Seamen’s Church in New York comes to Washington on the second Sunday of every month for a service at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bethesda, Maryland. This Norwegian-language service has been held in the nation’s capital for 68 years. It follows the Norwegian Church’s order for worship.
After the service, most of the parishioners go downstairs to the Fellowship Hall to socialize over a cup of coffee and Norwegian cakes and waffles. They also have an opportunity to buy Norwegian products, as the pastor always brings items from the church in New York including chocolates, cheese, jam, and fish balls. Gift articles and Norwegian newspapers are also available for purchase.
Sunday School is provided for children during the service. The children sometimes present plays to the congregation, especially during the Christmas season.
In June the church arranges confirmation for youth from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and sometimes even from Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It also arranges baptisms, weddings, funerals, and memorial services.
Every year the church plays an important role in the 17th of May celebration together with the Royal Norwegian Embassy and other Norwegian organizations including Lakselaget D.C., the Washington, D.C. lodge of the Sons of Norway, the Norwegian Society of Washington, D.C., Den Norske Dameklubben, and the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce. It also sponsors a very popular Christmas bazaar in November and offers a Nordic service on Christmas Eve.
The Seamen’s Church strives to be a servant church in the world today, serving Norwegians and others who seek friendship and assistance.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, DC. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.