Church of Norway

Church of Norway
Norwegian Church redirects here. See also Norwegian Church (disambiguation)
Church of Norway
Den norske kirkes våpen.svg
Coat of arms of the Church of Norway, a cross laid over two St. Olaf's axes. Based on the coat of arms of 16th-century archbishops of Nidaros.
Classification Protestant
Orientation Lutheranism
Polity Episcopal
Associations Lutheran World Federation,
World Council of Churches,
Conference of European Churches,
Porvoo Communion
Geographical areas Norway
Origin 1537
Separated from Roman Catholic Church
Members 3,991,545 baptized members[1]

The Church of Norway (Den norske kirke in Bokmål or Den norske kyrkja in Nynorsk) is the state church of Norway, established after the Lutheran reformation in Denmark-Norway in 1536-1537 broke the ties to the Holy See. The church confesses the Lutheran Christian faith. It has as its foundation the Christian Bible, the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Luther's Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. The Church is a member of the Porvoo Communion with 12 other churches, among them the Anglican Churches of Europe. It has also signed some other ecumenical texts, including the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholic Church.



The dioceses of the Church of Norway
Bakka kirke in Aurland, Sogn, Norway
Førde kyrkje, Førde, Norway

The constitutional head of the Church is the King of Norway, who is obliged to profess himself a Lutheran. The Church of Norway is subject to legislation, including its budgets, passed by the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, and its central administrative functions are carried out by the Royal Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs.

The Church has an episcopal-synodal structure, with 1,284 parishes, 106 deaneries, 11 dioceses and (since 2 October 2011)one area under the supervision of the presiding bishop. The dioceses are - according to the rank of the five historic sees and then according to age:

The General Synod, which convenes once a year, is the highest representative body of the Church. It consists of 85 representatives, of whom seven or eight are sent from each of the dioceses. Of these, four are lay members appointed by the congregations; one is a lay member appointed by Church employees; one is a member appointed by the clergy; and the bishop. In addition, one representative from the Sami community in each of the two northernmost dioceses, representatives from the three theological seminaries, representatives from the Youth Council, and other members of the National Council are also members of the General Synod.

The National Council, the executive body of the Synod, is convened five times a year and comprises 15 members, of whom ten are lay members, four are clergy and one is the presiding bishop. It prepares matters for decision-making elsewhere and puts those decisions into effect. The National Council also has working and ad hoc groups, addressing issues such as church service, education and youth issues.

The Council on Ecumenical and International Relations deals with international and ecumenical matters, and the Sami Church Council is responsible for the Church of Norway's work among the country's indigenous Sami people.

The Bishops' Conference convenes three times a year, and consists of the twelve bishops in the Church. It issues opinions on various issues related to church life and theological matters.

The Church also convenes committees and councils both at the national level (such as the Doctrinal Commission (Den norske kirkes lærenemnd),[2] and at diocesan and local levels, addressing specific issues related to education, ecumenical matters, the Sami minority and youth.

There are 1,600 Church of Norway churches and chapels. Parish work is led by a priest and an elected parish council. There are more than 1,200 clergy (in 2007 20.6% were women ministers) in the Church of Norway.


The focus of church life is the Sunday Communion and other services, most commonly celebrated at 11:00 am. The liturgy is similar to that in use in the Catholic Church. The language is entirely Norwegian, apart from the Kyrie Eleison, and the singing of hymns accompanied by organ music is central. A priest (often with lay assistants) celebrates the service, wearing an Alb and Stole. In addition, a Chasuble is worn by the priest during Eucharist, and on an increasing scale during the whole service.

The Church of Norway baptises children, usually infants and usually as part of ordinary Sunday services.

This is a summary of the liturgy for High Mass:[3][4]

(If there is a Baptism it together with the Apostle's Creed may take place here or after the Sermon)

  • First Lesson (Old Testament, an Epistle, the Acts of the Apostles or the Revelation to John)[9]
  • Hymn of Praise
  • Second Lesson (An Epistle, the Acts of the Apostles, the Revelation to John or a Gospel)
  • Apostle's Creed[10]
  • Hymn before the Sermon
  • Sermon (concluding with the Gloria Patri[11])
  • Hymn after the Sermon
  • Church Prayer (i.e., Intercessions)

(If there is no Communion, i.e., the Eucharist, the service concludes with the Lord's Prayer, an optional Offering, the Blessing and a moment of silent prayer)


An old private altar in Hedmark, Norway

The Church of Norway traces its origins to the introduction of Christianity to Norway in the 9th century. Norway was Christianized as a result of mission from both the British Isles by Haakon I of Norway, Olaf I of Norway and from the Continent Ansgar. Still, it took several hundred years to convert Norway to Christianity, culminating on 29 July 1030 with the Battle of Stiklestad, where King Olaf II of Norway was killed. One year later, on 3 August 1031 he was canonised in Nidaros by Bishop Grimkell, and few years later enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral. After this Nidaros Cathedral with St. Olav's shrine became the major Nordic place of pilgrimage until the Lutheran reformation in 1537. Since 1568 Saint Olaf's grave in Nidaros has been unknown.

Saint Olaf is traditionally regarded as being responsible for the final conversion of Norway to Christianity, and is still seen as Norway's patron saint and "eternal king" (Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae). The Nordic churches were initially subordinate to the archbishop of Bremen, until a Nordic archdiocese of Lund was established in 1103. The separate Norwegian archdiocese of Nidaros (in today's Trondheim) was created in 1152, and by the end of the 12th century covered all of Norway, parts of present Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, the Isle of Man, the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, and the Hebrides.

Another place of medieval pilgrimage in Norway is the island of Selja on the northwest coast, with its memories of Saint Sunniva and its three monastery churches with evidently Celtic tradition similar to Skellig Michael.

The Reformation in Norway was accomplished by force in 1537 when Christian III of Denmark and Norway in a coup d‘état declared Lutheranism as the official religion of Norway and Denmark, sending the Roman Catholic Archbishop Olav Engelbrektsson into exile in Lier in the Netherlands (now in Belgium). Catholic priests were persecuted, monastic orders were suppressed, and the crown took over church property, while some churches were plundered and abandoned, even destroyed. Bishops (initially called superintendents) were appointed by the king. This brought forth the tight integration between church and state still prevalent today. After the introduction of absolute monarchy in 1660 all clerics were civil servants appointed by the king, but theological issues were left to the hierarchy of bishops and other clergy.

When Norway regained national independence from Denmark in 1814, the Norwegian Constitution recognized the Lutheran church as the State Church.

The pietism movement in Norway (embodied to a great extent by the Haugean movement fostered by Hans Nielsen Hauge) has served to reduce the distance between laity and clergy in Norway. In 1842, lay congregational meetings were accepted in church life, though initially with limited influence. In following years, a number of large Christian organizations were created; they still serve as a "second line" in Church structure. The most notable of these are the Norwegian Missionary Society and Norwegian Lutheran Mission.

After the Nazi Vidkun Quisling was made dictatorial head of state by the German occupiers during World War II, and introduced a number of controversial measures such as state-controlled education, the Church's bishops and the vast majority of the clergy disassociated themselves from the government in the Foundations of the Church (Kirkens Grunn) declaration of Easter 1942, stating that they would only function as pastors for their congregations, not as civil servants. The bishops were interned with deposed priests and theological candidates from 1943, but congregational life continued more or less as usual. For three years the Church of Norway was a church free of the State.

Since World War II, a number of structural changes have taken place within the Church of Norway, mostly to institutionalize lay participation in the life of the church.

Current issues

Year Population Church of Norway Members Percentage
2001 4,503,436 3,901,566 86.6%
2005 4,606,363 3,938,723 85.5%
2006 4,640,219 3,871,006 83.4%
2007 4,681,134 3,873,847 82.8%
2008 4,737,171 3,874,823 81.8%
2009 4,799,252 3,848,841 80.2%
2010 79.2% [20]
statistical data as per 1 January[21][22]

Source: Statistisk sentralbyrå (Statistic Norway) [23]

Norwegians are registered at baptism as members of the Church of Norway, many remain in the state church to be able to use services such as baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial, rites which have strong cultural standing in Norway.

79.2% [20] of Norwegians were members of the state Church of Norway as of January 1, 2010, a 1% drop compared to the year before and down nearly 3% from two years earlier. However, only 20% of Norwegians say that religion occupies an important place in their life (according to a recent Gallup poll), making Norway one of the most secular countries of the world (only in the other historically Lutheran nations of Estonia, Sweden and Denmark were the percentages of people who considered religion to be important lower),[24] and only about 3% of the population attends church services or other religious meetings more than once a month. Baptism of infants fell from 96.8% in 1960 to 70.4% in 2008, while the proportion of confirmants fell from 93% in 1960 to 66.2% in 2008. The proportion of weddings to be celebrated in the Church of Norway fell from 85.2% in 1960 to 41.9% in 2008. The proportion of funerals has remained on a high level: in 2008 93% of all funerals took place in the Church of Norway.[25][26]

The "Arctic Cathedral" in Tromsø, example of modern church architecture in Norway

In spite of the relatively low level of religious practice in Norwegian society, the local clergy often play important social roles outside of their spiritual and liturgical responsibilities. A survey conducted by Gallup International in 65 countries in 2005 found that Norway was the least religious among the Western countries surveyed, with only 36% of the population considering themselves religious. However, only 9% explicitly stated that they were atheists, while the biggest group, 46%, were those that considered themselves neither religious nor atheists.[27]

For a long time the Church's membership registry was of poor quality due to the traditionally tight connection between church and state, even listing a considerable number of people of other faiths. This fault is gradually being corrected.[citation needed]

There is continuous discussion about separating church and state in Norway, and after a decision in Parliament in 2008, it appears a considerable relaxation of the ties will take place, even if state control is still evident.[citation needed]

While an increasing number of women have entered the priesthood and several have become bishops, there is still a small but highly vocal opposition to women clergy.[citation needed]

The standpoints of certain liberal-learning bishops on whether practising homosexuals should be permitted to serve as priests is under continuous debate, and is still considered very controversial, not least among lay people. In 2007, a majority in the General Synod voted in favour of accepting people living in same-sex relations into the priesthood, while at the same time rejecting same-sex marriages. In 2008, the Norwegian Parliament voted to establish same-sex civil marriages. This question has created much unrest in the Church of Norway and seems to serve as a trigger for conversions to independent congregations and other churches.[citation needed]

See also

Other current and former Nordic Evangelical-Lutheran churches


  1. ^ LWF Statistics 2009
  2. ^ (Norwegian)
  3. ^ (Norwegian)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."
  6. ^ "Holy God, heavenly Father, look upon me in mercy, a sinful being, who has sinned against you in thought, word and deed. I acknowledge my sin before you. For the sake of Jesus Christ be patient with me. Forgive me all my sins and grant me to fear and love you above all else. Amen." English translation from the official Church of Norway website.
  7. ^ I. e., "Kyrie eleison. God, Father, have mercy upon me. Kriste eleison. Lord, Christ, have mercy upon me. Kyrie eleison, Holy Spirit, have mercy upon me." Ibid.
  8. ^ Only the first two verses of the Gloria are used, i. e., {Priest} "Glory to God in the highest. {Congregation} And peace on earth to those who enjoy his favour. We praise you, we thank you, we worship you, we extol you." Ibid.
  9. ^ It is preceded by the singing of the acclamation: "God be praised! Halleluja. Halleluja. Halleluja." Ibid.
  10. ^ I. e., "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen." Imid.
  11. ^ I. e., "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."
  12. ^ I. e.,
    • {Priest} "The Lord be with you!"
    • {Congregation} "And also with you!"
    • {Priest} "Lift up your hearts."
    • {Congregation} "We lift them to the Lord."
    • {Priest} "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God."
    • {Congregation} "It is worthy and right."
    • {Priest} "It is indeed right and salutary that we should in all times and in all places give thanks to you, holy Lord, Almighty Father, eternal God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord,--[the proper thanksgiving for the feast or season is sung or said]--Therefore the angels praise you for your glory, and your church in heaven and on earth join to praise your name. We also join our voices with theirs and sing in prayer:" Ibid.
  13. ^ I. e., "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Sabbaoth, all the earth is full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest." Ibid.
  14. ^ "Risen Lord and Savior, we worship and praise your holy name because you gave yourself for our sins. Glory be to you for love which is stronger than death. Grant we who come to your table, to receive your body and blood that we may participate in this holy feast with humble snd sincere hearts. Unite us with yourself as branches are united to the vine; teach us to love each other as you have loved us and grant that we may one day be united with you in your perfect Kingdom." Ibid.
  15. ^ I. e., "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen." Ibid.
  16. ^ I. e., "In the night in which he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me." Ibid.
  17. ^ I. e., "Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; grant us your peace." Ibid.
  18. ^ To each communicant the priest or lay assistant in giving them the bread says, "This is Jesus' body" and in giving the cup he says, "This is Jesus' blood." After a group or all have been communicated the priest says, "The crucified and risen Jesus Christ hs now bestowed upon you(us) his holy body and blood which he gave for the entire satisfaction of all your sins. May he strengthen you(us) and preserve us in the true faith unto everlasting life. Peace be with you." Ibid.
  19. ^ "We thank you, heavenly Father for your gracious gifts. We pray that through these same gifts you will preserve us in faith in you, unite us in your love and confirm us in the hope of everlasting life, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." Ibid.
  20. ^ a b "Membership as per Church Of Norway website". Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  21. ^ "Statistics 2005 -2008". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  22. ^ "Table 1 Church of Norway. Members and church ceremonies, by diocese. 2005-2008" (in (Norwegian)). Retrieved 2010-02-04. [dead link]
  23. ^ "Church of Norway. Members and church ceremonies, by diocese. 2005-2009". Statistics Norway. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  24. ^ "Gallup Poll Results Reveal Estonia as the Most Atheistic Country in the World " Voices from Russia". Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  25. ^ "Basics and statistics". Den norske kirke. Retrieved 2009-06-28. 
  26. ^ " - Statistikk" (in Norwegian). Den norske kirke. Retrieved 2009-06-28. 
  27. ^ Lønnå, Eline; Kristin Rødland (November 26, 2005). "Nordmenn minst religiøse" (in Norwegian). Klassekampen. Retrieved 2009-06-28. 

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