This guest post comes from a woman who over the last few years has become a good friend. Karin was one of the first people to send me an email when I started this blog a few years back. We have had some very interesting email exchanges over the years and she even translated my Re-enactment of the First Relief Society script into Danish! I have loved getting to know her and loved hearing about the church in Denmark, my father served his mission in Denmark and so it has always had a special place in my heart.
1. What is the dominate belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?
The main religion in Denmark is the Evangelical Lutheran Church or, as it is called if you translate directly from danish: "The Church of the People". That name makes good sense to me since the church is connected to the state and is governed both by the Danish Parliament as well as Bishops around the country. Recently it has been decided by the Government that same-sex couples can marry. Most people come to church to have their babies christened (which makes them members of the church) and their teenagers confirmed, to get married and to be buried. Some people go to church Christmas Eve and of course some do it on a more regular basis. You can find many different belief systems in Denmark, but I would say that it is considered quite unusual and "weird" to belong to another (than the Evangelical Lutheran Church) church while it is getting more and more usual to be tuned in on something spiritual. Many celebrities "come out" as Buddhists or reveal that they pray, but not many will say that they believe in God or Christ.
As for stores open on Sunday I remember through my childhood Priesthood leaders teaching us not to do business on Sundays and we couldn't help but thinking it was a little "American" and not minded for us because it was absolutely impossible to buy anything else but gasoline. But now it is a whole different story and there no limitations on how stores can be open for business and you cannot go though a commercial block on TV without seeing at least one commercial screaming "great Sunday offer" in your face. And the prices really are low and very tempting, which make me even more thankful that the whole idea of having a prophet is having someone telling us what is important now as well as in the future. Do I think it was important and meaningful that we were taught twenty years ahead not to do business on Sundays? Yes, indeed!
Aarhus down town in the spring. Right now it’s just grey, cold and dark much of the time.
2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.
I was born in to the church and got baptized when I was nine. My mother wanted me to wait to get baptized and not just do it because I was turning eight. I am so grateful for her letting me take that decision on my own and at my own pace. I value my agency very much and it is important to me to have used it in this important matter. Maybe because I live in a country where the "religious temperature" is as described it is even more important to me to have chosen on my own and gained my own testimony both then and ongoing.
My grandparents on my father's side were the first ones to get to become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in my family. My father was nineteen and noticed how his parents marriage improved and the tone and spirit in their home got very different. That made him want to get to know about the church, and one late evening as the missionaries went on their bikes to go home he ran after them and wanted them to teach him. To his disappointment they did not teach him that night, but scheduled an appointment for the next day. Within a few days he requested to be baptized, but was told that he had to be taught some more. I am not sure how long after, but not more than a few weeks after that he got baptized. He dated my mom at the time and introduced her to the church as well. After a while she got baptized too, which I am very thankful for today. They are still active members, have had eight children, and served two temple missions in Copenhagen.
The local meetinghouse (not a very large picture… I know)
3. What is LDS Church attendance like in your area?
There are to stakes in Denmark and twenty-two wards and branches (congregations). The local Mormon web page says there are 4500 members in Denmark and I have no idea how many members are considered active members. A few congregations are very small (less than ten members attending church on Sundays) and my guess is that my congregation has about 250 members on paper and fifty-seventy attending. Sometimes less. Right now my husband and I do not own a car and by bus it takes us thirty-five minutes to get to church. With the walk to and from the bus I'd say fifty minutes. By car it would take twenty minutes. We cover quite an area but not many have to go more than an hour to get to church. In some areas they have to go even further.
In my congregation we are quite a mixed flock: widows and singles - mostly women, a few older married couples, families (parents age 40-45) with teenagers and children and a few younger couples with and without children. A few years ago we had many widows, but many have passed away, a large Primary and no Young Women and just one Young Man. Now we have a much smaller Primary, at least ten Young Women and a handful Young Men and the young man who grew up as the only Young Man in the ward just returned from his mission a week ago. I use to say that we aren't many, but those who are, are wonderful ;-)
4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?
In 2004 the Copenhagen Temple was dedicated by President Hinckley - something not many Danish members would have ever dreamed of. It covers Denmark, Island, Faroe Islands and the south part of Sweden (Malmø or Malmoe). 25,000 people came to the open house and the temple open house was a wonderful opportunity to tell friends and family about the Church. My husband and I had the privilege to invite and take his mother, sister and her boyfriend (now husband) to see the temple. They aren't members and it certainly was a miracle that they accepted a five hour drive on a bus "just" to see the Temple and then go back the same day. My husband and I were sealed there in August 2004 as the first couple "doing it for them selves" in the Copenhagen Temple. My father, who is Temple sealer, sealed us for time and eternity with my big brother and brother-in-law as witnesses and my sister, sister-in-law and mother present. Those are the ones in my family who are active and/or still members of the church.
Not many know the Church and certainly much less know what we believe in. Quite often I experience people connecting us with polygamy (to my frustration and irritation, I'm sad to say...I try to be nice, though ;-) or Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't know whether it's just a Danish phenomenon or if it's the case all over the world? I think it's because both churches come to people's houses and do missionary work and both our headquarters are seated in the US. Well, back to the question: I actually always have to explain my beliefs and once in awhile I also have to defend it. Equality between men and women is an ever lasting hot topic here in Denmark and things like the Priesthood and women's primary responsibility to raise children are often looked upon through very political glasses and tend to outrage some. I truly wish more people would understand the greatness, true meaning and interdependence of the two.
6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?
The Danish Mission cover Greenland and the Copenhagen Temple district minus Sweden and it is said to be a hard mission to serve. Some of you may have read or heard about the Danish people being the happiest people in the world. Most Danes think this is a silly study but of course, if you go through Maslow's hierarchy of needs we are fairly safe and sound. This is naturally no warranty for happiness and to generalize, with the risk of getting frowned upon by my compatriots, I'd say that what Danes have in material things we lack in spirituality and humility. It is pretty hard for the missionaries to find people to teach and even more hard for people to change their lives in order to live the gospel and stay close to God after baptism. We have less than five baptisms a year in my ward. Furthermore, it is fairly unusual to discuss religion and it is considered very private and talking about religion can often be perceived as aggressive. I was once asked by a non-member what I had been doing so far that Sunday and when I answered that I had gone to church the reaction was: "Wow! Slow down, you don't have to preach to me!" Some companies even have a policy against discussing religion at work. So I'd say it mostly uphill, but of course there are people who accept the gospel and people who are interested in hearing more about the church and the gospel. I like to keep it simple and that works for me even though I think it's hard.
7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?
In my ward there are maybe five "big" families with 5 children each. That's considered to be a big family. It was the same case when I grew up in a smaller branch. Two and three kids are considered to be normal, four a handful, and five or more "must be a mistake" ;-). If you cope well with your (big) family there is a slightly tendency towards it being cool and rich on family values. I'll say that a functioning family is a status symbol. The Crown Prince Couple has four children and most people think that’s great (I think… I haven’t been around asking all of them…) but it did attract a great deal of attention.
The Crown Prince Couple and their four children – the younger ones are twins.
I am the youngest of eight children and that has always been very, very abnormal and I have encountered prejudices from playmates (guess at that age they must have had it from their parents?!) about it being very messy, dirty and loud at our house. Of course, it never really was and I thank my mother for helping me out on that one.
8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?
Until a year ago I served as the ward Relief Society president and had taken it upon myself to visit teach six sisters. Now I only visit teach two sisters and it really is a long time since I had that few. I think most sisters have two, three, or four they have to visit. Right now I have to go one hour by bus or train to visit one of them so actually it's one at a time right now, but when we get a car again I'll be able to reach them both within half an hour. Do I need to say that I look forward to that! I feel the same way about visiting teaching as I've heard many people feel about the law of tithing - as I do it I understand it and love it. I always - always - feel so uplifted and happy on my way home and always wonder if the sisters I visit feel just a fraction of what I'm feeling.
I want to share a single experience from my "career" as a visiting teacher. My companion and I visited a sister who got cancer and we knew that she just got worse every day. She was a very respectable and neat woman and always on top of things, but, of course, as the disease got a firm grip in her that made her sick, tired and she didn't have the energy to do the things she used to. On top of that she also lost her hair and did not want to be seen without it. Well, this lovely but very sick woman was our responsibility to visit, but she didn't want to let us see her. Because of that we could only pray for her, send her letters, give her a call (but she was often too tired for that) or leave something on the doorstep. Sometimes her husband saw us there and came out and we made him give our love to his wife. Month after month this went on and one evening as we came up the driveway her husband came out and, to our surprise, invited us inside. The woman sat in the couch, looking nothing like she use to apart from her strong eyes and her wonderful spirit. She greeted us with a: "Well, you might as well come inside since you probably will keep on trying anyway". And she smiled at us. From then and until her death we were able to visit her and that just taught me so much about what love and perseverance can do. A situation that could easily have torn us apart made us come closer together and even though we could not help her with her actual problem we could be there for her. I think it works that way for most of people's problems, by the way.
9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?
I think that the greatest challenges the sisters are facing are low self-esteem, trouble prioritizing their time and strengths, and balancing a life according to the teachings of the Gospel. I think that misunderstandings or lack of knowledge can be crucial in relation to get to these things and you need to know and understand the real reason that God asks different things of us. When we know and understand this we will be able to prioritize according to His wishes and plan and we won't feel guilty for these choices (although we do have to leave somethings undone) because we would know that that is not the way God would want us to feel about ourselves. Well, it may sound like an easy job to do, but I know that it is absolutely not. But I do believe that we have a chance to be getting better at it if we locate the problem and try to do something about it. Currently I serve as first counselor in the Stake Relief Society presidency and our theme for 2012 sounds like this: "I will understand and accept my eternal purpose as a woman, a daughter of God" and we hope that if every Relief Society presidency and every sister make this a personal matter and set goals for themselves within this theme we can be blessed with higher self-esteem, a more balanced life, love towards other people and love for ourselves and of course, love for Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father.
10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?
I am so grateful for knowing Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Redeemer and for having Him to believe in and hope for when the world is going crazy and I'm facing trials and challenges that could easily get the best of me. Also, I know deep down inside that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father and Mother and that they love me, which is the key to my self-esteem and true identity. These are things I hold very dear.
Karin thank you so much I love hearing you bear your testimony. I think it is incredible that you and your husband were the first people to be sealed in the Copenhagen temple. What an amazing blessing!