I thought there would be greater differences between my life in Ireland and my life here.
Of course there are some contrasts. Like most newcomers, I have been struck by some of those wonderful Danish idiosyncrasies. I have marvelled at the prams casually deposited outside shops and cafes – with baby still on board. I have been amazed by the Danish ability to produce a national flag at the drop of a hat. And I have struggled (and failed) to develop Danish levels of patience at pedestrian crossings.
Alterations at the altar
In my church work too, there have been many obvious differences between Ireland and Denmark. Quite often, I find myself explaining the Anglican way of doing things to the many Danish – and over 20 other nationalities – who pass through the doors of Saint Alban’s.
To the first-time Danish visitors it’s “Yes, we stand for hymns and sit for readings” – who knew they did the opposite! To the Anglo-Danish wedding couple it’s “Yes, we put the ring on the left hand, not the right.” And, to the baptism couple it’s “No, the godparent doesn’t hold the baby at the font – the vicar does. But don’t worry, I haven’t dropped one yet!”
Challenges of the church
However, those things aside, I have discovered that moving 1,200 kilometres to the east does not fundamentally alter the job of being an Anglican priest. I’ve faced the same basic challenges here in Copenhagen as I did when I was university chaplain at Trinity College in Dublin.
There, as in the rest of Ireland, many young Anglicans have given up on church. They rarely attend, and questions of religion and spirituality are barely on their radar.
Nevertheless, during my time as their chaplain an increasingly steady stream of students made their way to see me, and it was usually for one of two reasons. Either they were looking to heal the wounds inflicted on them by a narrow and judgmental form of religion, or else they were searching for a faith worth believing – a faith to nourish both their head and their heart.
And since I moved to Copenhagen earlier this year, I have had much the same experience. Here, no less than in Ireland, there are many people – both young and old – who in the past found that their questions about life and faith were much bigger and deeper than the small and shallow answers they received from clergy.
Soothing scars, stigma, shame
Here too, many people still carry the scars of being marginalised or shamed by a version of religion built on exclusion and false certainties. In short, many are longing for a faith that is intellectually credible as well as spiritually satisfying. That is the kind of faith I hope to nourish during my time in Copenhagen.
I remember a past student once telling me that she had been liberated by the discovery she could be a believer without leaving her brain at the door of the church. If I can get that message across to everyone who enters Saint Alban’s – and avoid dropping any of those babies – I will be a happy man!