It’s said that Danes are guaranteed to use a church four times in their lives – baptism, confirmation, marriage and funeral. Most are also likely to attend the same services as the guests of their family members or friends. Christmas services, too, are usually well attended.
But even if you add it all up – and then double it – the majority of the members of the Church of Denmark will probaly attend church fewer times in their entire lives than the average members of other faiths will in a year.
Deconsecrated churches are the norm in many other countries and should be so here as well, particularly given that the church of Denmark recevies about 700 million kroner from the state (on top of the 5.3 billion kroner it collects from its members and its other income). In fact, taxpayer funding for the church has actually increased over the past two decades, despite the declining membership.
Much of the state’s funding goes towards paying vicars, who are officially civil servants. And at a time when budget cuts are affecting every aspect of society, the state should be demanding that it gets more out of it its employees than a weekly church service for the benefit of a couple of parishioners.
Churches, however, are made up of members, not bricks or boards. And in that respect, church leaders should take solace in the fact that people continue to show a desire to be affiliated with the Church of Denmark at the most basic level. Even as the church attendance has fallen to near nil in some parishes, foregoing any of the four big church events remains all but unthinkable.
In a population that is far more sceptical of the promises of organised religion than other countries, it’s worth asking whether these events have more taken on the form of secular custom rather than religious rite. As a foundation for growth, their popularity provides an excellent opportunity.
Also working for the church is its progressive views on membership. Women are permitted to enter the clergy, as are homosexuals. Same-sex marriages are also being discussed. So inclusive is the church’s philosophy that the man heading the Church Ministry, though a church member, has openly doubted his faith in God. So too did a parish vicar back in 2003.
The vicar, Thorkild Grosbøll, eventually stepped down. During his time as a vicar, though, it’s said his services were, ironically enough, well attended.