Church of Norway 2017 — Not A State Church Any More?

Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway

Church of Norway 2017 — not a state church any more, or…?

By Torkild Masvie, Provisional Bishop Lutheran Church of Norway
ILC News

As of January 1, 2017 Church of Norway is no longer a state church. The Church of Norway has been a state church since the Reformation in Denmark/Norway in 1536. She split with the Danish church in 1814 when Norway was handed over from Denmark to Sweden as a compensation of war.  While her Danish sister church continues as a state church, Church of Norway followed the path of Church of Sweden.

Until 2016 all pastors in Church of Norway were public workers, but as the 2017 New Year rockets lit the skies, the workers became employed by a completely new legal entity: “Church of Norway” which is responsible for salaries and pension. Before the funding of Church of Norway was paid through the government budget, with church buildings being the responsibility of each local municipality.

Some changes will now take place, but something continues. The local municipalities will continue to have responsibility to provide worship facilities for Church of Norway, and the government will continue to provide a lump sum of money to Church of Norway, equivalent to what they have previously paid in salaries etc. This agreement enables Church of Norway to continue to serve the entire population nationally. In spite of the split, Church of Norway is still considered “The” Church of Norway, or a civic religion. The king is required to be a Lutheran — implying membership in Church of Norway. Her pastors will continue to be involved in follow-up in communities after disasters. Many local congregations will host school Christmas worship services prior to Christmas break. Although the church will receive the same amount of money as before, it is considered insufficient by the church leadership to cover the transition expenses, as well to meet the growing pension expenses over the coming years. A large percent of pastors are expected to retire over the next 10-15 years.

New work agreements between the church and pastors union have reduced work hours, including Sunday work days. The consequence is more frequent Sundays without worship services, thus the cuts will continue to close more churches on Sundays.

A significant drop in the number of baptisms is observed. Take one example: In Vågan, Lofoten where there are currently only gay and lesbian pastors, from 2010 to 2015 there has been a drop in the number of baptisms from 92% to 68% of children born. At the same time many of the younger believers are leaving Church of Norway due to the liberal theology. There are very few young worshipers left, while many of the “free” churches have a high percent of young participants.

As a part of the modernization, Church of Norway has simplified how to become a member and how to resign as a member in Church of Norway. Before you had to show up at the local parish office to become a new member or to resign as a member. (One could also resign by letter.). As of 2016, the process can be completed on line on the web. As a result Church of Norway in 2016 lost 41,000 members, and gained 3,200 new members who registered membership on the web. So Church of Norway are losing both the more confessional Lutheran members, as well as many, many who are now realizing that they don’t share the Christian faith at all.

This decrease of membership in Church of Norway is becoming an expensive problem for the authorities. They provide the same amount of money to Church of Norway regardless of the number of members. So the monetary support per member in Church of Norway increases per capita as the membership drops. At the same time, for the sake of equality and nondiscrimination, the government as a rule has supported all other religious groups with the same amount per member as to Church of Norway: Catholics, Muslims and even the anti-religious “The Norwegian Humanist Association”. With significant drop in membership in Church of Norway, the government support per members to all the other groups now has to go up.

It is therefore beginning to be an issue among politicians to see if there are ways to change this financial distribution system. As Church of Norway request more funds from the authorities, she is told to handle it herself through the huge church fund build up over the last hundred years of sale of the parsonages, former pastors’ farms etc.  Another problem for Church of Norway are the church buildings they close down in the biggest cities as worship attendance goes down, partly due to people leaving the church and partly because of the big immigrant groups in the cities. Those churches are often old expensive buildings to maintain and to heat. So far the solution has been to rent them out since the number of immigrant churches and new city churches of various denominations requesting to rent churches is higher than the supply of vacant church properties.