Immigrants back Christian revival

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The numbers of Norwegians who regularly attend church services have long been on the decline, but Christian congregations are thriving in the country’s capital thanks to immigration. New statistics and trends over the past 10 years show it’s a myth that most immigrants are Muslims.

Norway has its own long Christian traditions, which gave rise to its famous stave churches like this one at the Norwegian Folk Museum, but now it's the country's immigrants who are fueling the growth of congregations. PHOTO: Isabel Coderre

“We have been so preoccupied with talking about Muslim immigrants that we haven’t noticed that many immigrants, not least those from eastern Europe and Africa, are Christian,” social anthropologist Berit Thorbjørnsrud told newspaper Aften.

A new survey by an organization tracking Christian trends in Norway, DAWN Norge, has revealed that there are now 91 Christian congregations in Oslo and that church services are being offered in 35 languages every week. Aften reported that DAWN’s survey counts around 6,000 active members of congregations formed by immigrants, at least 40 of which have emerged during the past 10 years.

In 2005, DAWN determined that around 3 percent of Oslo’s population were so-called “active Christians,” attending church services at least once a month. That figure has now risen to 5 percent, with most if not all of the growth taking place in the immigrant Christian communities.

Norway’s state evangelical Lutheran church has reported that church visits have declined 13 percent since 1998 despite a robust population increase. Some churches are being leased out to new Christian congregations, many of which face a severe capacity problem in catering to their followers.

The Catholic church in Oslo, for example, has experienced huge growth in recent years, much of it linked to immigration from Poland, Vietnam and other Catholic countries. Oslo’s two Catholic churches now attract around 10,000 worshippers on a regular basis, according to Aften.

DAWN reports that every fourth Christian in Oslo is now an immigrant or comes from an immigrant family. Thorbjørnsrud believes their eagerness to attend church services reflects a need for a “safe haven” while adjusting to life in a new country.

“In addition to the religious aspect, the Christian congregations function as a resource for new arrivals,” Thorbjørnsrud told Aften. “There they meet like-minded people, reclaim some of their status and get help as they enter Norwegian society.”

Rezene Tekle, who just christened his first child in an Eritrean Coptic Christian congregation in Oslo, agreed. “Coming here is like meeting my family again,” Tekle told Aften. “Here, I feel at home.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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