Q: How do I become a member, and what does it cost?
A: To become a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark you will have to contact the pastor of your local parish church. You also have to be baptised. However, if you are already baptised, you will not need a second baptism. Read more about becoming a member on the page Membership.
Q: How do you become a member of the parish council?
A: The members of the parish council (menighedsråd) are elected. Elections take place every four years in November. To be elected you have to have a Danish CPR number (civil registration system number). To learn more about the parish council, management of the church and elections, go to the section Faith and church order. See also the page Volunteers and the website of the National Association of Parish Councils (Landsforeningen af Menighedsråd, website in Danish).
The Sunday service
Q: Why does the pastor wear a robe and chasuble?
A: Before the Reformation the Catholic priests wore clothes and had haircuts that were different from everybody else’s. At the Reformation it became common for pastors to wear the same kind of clothing as other people. Pastors were not special people and thus were not to look any different from others. Luther and others typically wore a jacket and trousers underneath a black cloak. Luther’s Danish students imported this trend to Denmark and continued wearing it on an everyday basis after the Reformation. During the Sunday service they wore a chasuble. In the 17th century the king prescribed the use of the white ruff that pastors still use together with the black robe. This is how the robe came to be the pastors' "uniform" or official dress, which it still is. The law says that the pastor has to wear the robe at all church services and rites. The robe and chasuble tell us that being a pastor is not an ordinary job but a post and that the pastor's ministry is that of serving the congregation.
Q: Why does the congregation stand while listening to Bible readings?
A: God speaks to us through the words of the Bible. When we read from the Bible during the church service, we stand as a sign of respect. Thus, when God our King speaks to us, we stand, just as – in the past – people would stand when they listened to the King. Given that the congregation remains seated during the main part of the service, standing when listening to Bible readings also becomes a sign of participation.
Q: Why does the congregation remain seated during prayer and hymn singing?
A: When the congregation addresses God, for example during prayer or hymn singing, it does not stand but remains seated. When the congregation is seated it creates quietude in the room, which helps the soul to be receptive to what the pastor preaches and of the words of the hymns. Thus the focus is on moving the soul, not the body.
Q: Who decides what hymns to sing during the service?
A: As a rule, it is the pastor who decides what hymns to sing during the service. He or she can choose to decide in cooperation with the church musician and/or a group of laymen if there are laymen involved in the carrying out of the Sunday service.
Q: Why does the pastor turn his back to the congregation?
A: When the pastor faces the congregation during the church service, for example when s/he reads from the Bible, his/her posture symbolises that s/he speaks on behalf of God. When the pastor turns his/her back to the congregation and faces the altar just like the congregation s/he speaks to God on behalf of the congregation. This is the case when s/he prays.
Q: What is the money that the churches collect on Sunday used for?
A: The money is used to support a variety of activities in the parish and voluntary organisations that do social work or youth work or are involved in missions, either within the country or overseas. The parish council can decide which activities and organisations will receive the money collected. Every Sunday the receiver of the money collected that particular Sunday is announced during the service.
Q: Why do most churches hold services Sunday morning at 10 a.m.?
A: Church services take place on Sunday morning because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning (see the page on Easter). The reason why 10 a.m. became the norm in the parish churches is that in the past most churchgoers were farmers. They had to milk their cows several times a day and the service had to fit in with the milking of the cows. In addition to this there was a tradition of having a hot meal at noon and the service had to finish in order for people to be able to get home in time for the meal.
Q: In some churches everybody goes home right after the Sunday service. Why?
A: In the past, most churchgoers would adhere to the same Sunday rhythm which would include a hot meal at noon. To be home in time to prepare the meal they would have to leave right after the church service. Some churches still operate according to that rhythm. However, many churches have adopted the idea of kirkekaffe (church coffee) and sometimes kirkefrokost (church lunch) after the service and thus continue the worship by sharing a cup of coffee or a meal.
Q: Who is the employer of the parish pastor?
A: The pastor is employed by the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs. It is the parish council that writes the job description, conducts job interviews with candidates and recommends a selected candidate. The bishop, who is the supervisor of the pastors in the diocese where he serves, approves the recommendation, and the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affaires employs the person in question. The other employees in the parish church are appointed by the parish council.
Q: Is it a fulltime job to be a church musician?
A: Most parish churches have a fulltime church musician. The church musician not only plays at the Sunday service but also takes part in various activities during the week. Examples of activities are baby hymn singing, children’s service and rhythmic choir. Read more about the job of a church musician here.
The church building
Q: Why do the church bells ring every day?
A: The church bells are used for both so-called liturgical ringing and morning and evening ringing. That is, the bells ring before every church service (3 times at 15 or 30 minutes intervals); this is the liturgical ringing. They also ring every morning at 7 or 8 a.m. and every evening at 6 p.m. The morning and evening ringing is a reminder to us that we should begin and end our day by praying and giving thanks. Special traditions and regulations for ringing the church bells apply to the church's festivals and rites such as weddings.
Q: Why is it so common to find frescos in old parish churches?
A: Denmark experienced a construction boom in the Middle Ages. In the years 1050-1250 more than 2,000 churches were built. Probably all of them were decorated with frescos. Most of the frescos represent scenes from the Bible such as creation, Jesus' birth and the Passion. The frescos were the visual supports of the church service at that time, as most people did not read or understand the language of the church which was Latin. Over time the style of the frescos changed, just as did everything else in society. After the Reformation in the 16th century the frescos were whitewashed and hidden. Later they reappeared and nowadays in many churches they have been restored and continue to tell the stories that they were designed to tell.
Q: Why have many of the churches in the countryside been built on a hill?
A: Traditionally, before Christianity was introduced in Denmark, sacred places were situated in elevated locations. Many parish churches have been built in spots that used to be the location of a religious cult, for example on top of a hill or next to a spring. The top of a hill has the advantage of being visible from far away. In addition to this the church bells can easily be heard from all over the parish.
Q: Why do the graves look like small gardens?
A: During the 19th century the Danish churchyards changed significantly. Before this they were mainly covered by grass, uneven and with only a few scattered gravestones, wooden frames or a kind of flagging. Gradually it became common to level the ground, plant trees, create walkways and use upright gravestones. Romanticism influenced this change. It also became common to have family tombs. In the years 1880-1920 people began to maintain the graves as small gardens, and social distinctions became clear, e.g. the distinction between rich and poor. From the 1920s onwards harmonisation and democratisation progressively became the rule in the graveyards, and you are no longer able to tell by the size of the grave or the gravestone who is rich and who is poor. The characteristic green hedges that divide the churchyard into sections were introduced during the 1940s and 1950s.
Q: Why do the churchyards surround the churches?
A: When Christianity was introduced in Denmark the churchyard – i.e. the piece of land surrounding a church – became the most important burial place. The churchyard was sanctified and thus protected. People considered the churchyard a sacred place, and when war broke out, this is where they took refuge. Today, most city churches do not have surrounding churchyards, and wood burial places have become an option in a few parishes in the countryside.
Q: What is a "valgmenighed"?
A: A valgmenighed is a special kind of congregation within the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Its creed and doctrines are the same as for the rest of the church. Likewise, the bishop is the supervisor of the pastor of a valgmenighed and the (rural) dean supervises the congregation. In other respects a valgmenighed has a greater independence than a parish church, e.g. as regards membership, finances and liturgy. There are about 40 valgmenigheder in Denmark; the oldest congregations are approximately 140 years old.