A vision of hope rising from the sea

Hope Cathedral calls out for community, unity, and peace

Hope Cathedral

Håpets katedral—Hope Cathedral—is a symbol for the renewal of our oceans and our global community.   

The Norwegian American

For over 30 years, Solveig Egeland has walked alongside the ocean near her home in Fredrikstad, Norway, to take in the fresh air and beautiful scenery, to find nourishment for both body and soul. 

But over the years, Egeland noticed that there was more and more litter collecting along the shore: plastic bags and containers, trash thrown away on the sand or waste washed up with the tide. She saw the ocean suffering and wondered what she could do. 

Håpets katedral

An artistic rendering of Hope Cathedral rising from the sea.

Employed as a cultural adviser in the Diocese of Borg of the Norwegian Church, Egeland had many of years of experience leading projects in art, architecture, and culture behind her. Now a new vision began to emerge: out of the rubbish, something positive and beautiful could be created. This was the genesis of Håpets katedral—Hope Cathedral—a project that has brought a diverse group of people together to turn something threatening to something positive, to build a symbol of positive engagement and action.

Initially, Egeland was involved in children’s projects to pick up the waste along the seashore to build small cottages. They were colorful, whimsical, and fun, and looking out from them, a new perspective emerged. Egeland looked out toward the horizon and envisioned something much bigger: a large building in all the colors of the rainbow rising from the sea. But she knew she couldn’t do it alone, that it would take an entire community working together.

Hope Cathedral takes form

Hope Cathedral

The cathedral was designed in the tradition of the Norwegian stave church, with high wooden beams reaching toward the sky.

In 2018, the Hope Cathedral project was born. From the beginning, it was conceived as a very open project, without excessive bureaucratic restraints. Everyone would be welcome, regardless of the age, background, religion, or national origin—and in this way it was conceived as a peace project from the start.

While rules and regulations are minimal, the mission of the project is well defined, guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life below water, to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” Water is the key element of life, and our oceans touch all the continents, connecting the entire world, uniting all people. The ocean is not only a symbol for our shared humanity, it is a physical reality, and the responsibility to care for the ocean is shared by us all. 

As the organization has stated, “We need a common expression of hope—a symbol to unite us. Across differences of age, nationality, and religion.” And while the Norwegian Church is the current owner of the project, Hope Cathedral is clearly defined as an interfaith project, as work is being done to bring in other owners. Officially, Caritas, the Catholic organization devoted to ending poverty and creating social justice has joined, but unofficially, there are also representatives and volunteers from the Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, among others. 

Egeland, CEO and artistic leader of Hope Cathedral, has a core team working with her, headed up by Anne Skauen as project manager and Andreas Pagander, construction manager, Kurt Sørensen, coordinator, and Camilla Sundby, workshop leader. Funding has come from the Norwegian government, both on a national and local level, private industry, and private individual donors. Fundraising is a challenge, especially during the time of the coronavirus. Even in normal times, Norway does not have the same tradition of philanthropy as the United States, and there is much work to be done. 

Hope Cathedral

A party of volunteers gathers on the beach to collect plastic waste as part of the project’s effort to create a cleaner natural environment.

The project is also supported by a strong and diverse group of ambassadors, including: Crown Princess Mette-Marit; Bishop Gunnar Stålsett of the Norwegian Church; Erik Solheim, former executive director of the United Nations Environment Program; Bård Vegar Solhjel, secretary general of World Wildlife Fund Norway; and the acclaimed singer Helene Bøksle—among many others. Bøksle has been inspired by the sea, Nordic landscape and culture, and traditional folk music, and she has created special music for the project (www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4WGsWOpTNc).

Not all the project’s ambassadors are celebrities either, and the group includes schoolchildren who are committed to the project and spreading its positive message.

Solveig Egeland_Anne Skauen

Photo: Kristin Lidell
Solveig Egeland and Anne Skauen are friends working together to realize a dream.

But from talking with Egeland and Skauen, it is the volunteers on the ground who really make things happen at Hope Cathedral. They come to the project’s location at Isegren to participate in workshops, both conceptual and concrete. “They are part of the evolving process,” said Egeland, “bringing good ideas and suggestions,” many of which can be implemented. 

Workshops and tours for schoolchildren are also among the important programs at Hope Cathedral. While children can be very disturbed to learn about the destruction of the ocean and sea life—the image of plastics inside a whale is very disturbing to them—they leave with a very optimistic outlook in the belief that they can make things better. “They are our hope-builders,” said Skauen.

Rising from the sea

Solveig Egeland

Solveig Egeland is the CEO and artistic director of Hope Cathedral.

Regularly organized volunteer construction projects have been at the core of the project, of course, as the cathedral has taken shape. “We are actually talking about a boat,” said Skauen. Hope Cathedral was built on a 1,292-square-foot floating barge, which was launched into the bay in 2019. 

The design of the cathedral takes inspiration from the traditional Norwegian stave church with its wooden columns, but it is at the same time whimsical and modern in its feel. The roof is made from 984 feet of plastic square tiles in 50 bright colors, a joyous outburst reflective of the diversity of life and the diversity of those involved in the project. The group worked with an engineering firm for shipbuilding to ensure that it would be structurally sound, and the barge is able to travel along the Norwegian and Swedish coasts or farther. Egeland is even going to school to learn to be a sailor.

Hope Cathedral

Light and color are key elements of the design of the cathedral.

Volunteer support is very strong, with 10,000 volunteer hours logged on the project. In the age of the internet, the project offers the opportunity to come together in tangible, physical activities. Locally, there are 50 active volunteers, and every Wednesday, there is a “super-gang” that meets up to see each other and get something done. 

After each meeting, it is a tradition to share a meal and engage in activities: making food, baking cakes, singing, writing songs, writing, and translating the newsletter. Traditional crafts are taught and promoted. During the holiday season, there were “nisse workshops” to build wooden “bee cathedrals” to provide a refuge for the endangered bees, yet another initiative to support the environment and raise money for the project.

Hope Cathedral

Photo: Kristin Lidell
Solveig Egeland examines a model for the construction of Hope Cathedral.

Coming together

Hope Cathedral is, however, not only about building something. “It’s the involvement of the people that is more important,” said Skauen, “the things happening around the cathedral.” She shared the story of a group of 10 immigrant men older than 60, who cannot get a language course from the municipality. They come to Hope Cathedral with its warm, welcoming atmosphere to help out, socialize with native Norwegians, and try to speak Norwegian. Friendships are being made across cultures, strengthening the entire community. And there is always much laughter. 

Bee Cathedral

During the holiday season, visitors could make their own wooden “bee cathedral.”

But there are also many quiet, contemplative moments at Hope Cathedral. The last Sunday of each month there is a service of meditation, music, and prayer for the ocean. As the organization states, Hope Cathedral is “our temple, our mosque, our synagogue, our church, and our sacred room,” which unites a common humanity.

The pandemic has also had an impact on Hope Cathedral, as the group was forced to cancel its workshops during the 2½-month lockdown last year, but activity has resumed with precautions in place in accordance with any restrictions. The group has the advantage that much of its activity is based in the fresh air outdoors. 

Hope Cathedral

The roof of the cathedral is made with plastic tiles in 50 colors.

They are looking forward to a celebration of World Environment Day on June 5, when supporters and volunteers from around the world plan to come together at Hope Cathedral for the official inauguration of the cathedral. In the time of COVID-19, the cathedral as a symbol of hope and unity takes on yet another dimension, as the entire world must come together the work toward overcoming the virus.

Even if you are not able to travel to Norway to visit Hope Cathedral and participate in the activities offered, there are many ways to support their mission. Fundraising is vital to the project, and donations can be made online at www.hopecathedral.no. You can also follow the group on Facebook (www.facebook.com/hopecathedral.no), where photos and updates are regularly posted. Raising awareness in your own community is also important; an increased presence in North America is also an important goal of the group. Organize a cleanup on a local beach and send your story to Hope Cathedral. World Cleanup Day is Sept. 18—a day worth marking on your calendar. In our own way, we can all do our part, as we all come together.

Hope Cathedral

Workshops and tours for schoolchildren are also among the important programs at Hope Cathedral.

Bishop Gunnar Stålsett has eloquently summed up the vision and mission of Hope Cathedral for our time: 

“I see it as a good sign of the times that the climate crisis so strongly appeals to our conscience, to emotions and to reason. Hope Cathedral unites spirituality and politics. Both are important for preserving the planet as our common living space. Hope Cathedral is a vision that it will make a difference.”

All photos courtesy of Håpets katedral unless otherwise indicated.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.