Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland (Exterior)

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Hallgrímskirkja
Location: Reykjavík, Iceland
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 August 2012, 11:00am

The building

Magnificent modern construction dominating the skyline of Reykjavík. On a previous visit to Iceland, I was told it was built to resemble a Viking longship but that the architect wanted to represent basalt lava flows. Construction started in 1945, the money coming from the local population, and it was completed in 1986, with a major restoration of the main tower in 2008-2009. The church is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, a noted Icelandic poet, clergyman and hymnodist. The church inside is incredibly minimalist. I think there was was one piece of stained glass. I was not aware of any statuary.

The church

In addition to the usual parochial ministries, the Hallgrímskirkja sponsors a variety of artistic and cultural events throughout the year, including organ recitals, choral concerts, and exhibitions of paintings by Icelandic artists. There seems especially to be a very active programme of choral and organ recitals throughout the summer months.

The neighborhood

The Hallgrímskirkja sits high on a hill and dominates the Reykjavík skyline. There is a stunning statue of Leif Eriksson in the square in front of the church that was donated by the USA in 1930 in honour of the 1000th anniversary of the Icelandic parliament. Also a nice cafe/restaurant across the road with abstract artwork inspired by the silhouette of the front of the church.

The cast

I am afraid I was unable to find the name of the celebrant.

What was the name of the service?

Messa (mass) There were also two baptisms before the mass

How full was the building?

It was about half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were welcomed by a sidesperson who gave us the weekly service sheet and a hymn book. Obviously the way I said Tak gave away the fact we were not Icelandic, so he asked in English where we were from and would we like a service sheet in English. He also helpfully pointed out that the Lord's Prayer and the Creed were at the front of the hymn book, as was the entire service. He was extremely welcoming and said we could join in the hymns in Icelandic.

Was your pew comfortable?

The seating was very comfortable. The backs could be moved so the congregation could face toward the altar or toward the back of the church for an organ recital. Because of that, there was no space to put our books, as we are used to in England.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was the usual mumbled chatter. Despite the fact that a service was due to start, tourists continued to pour in and out of the church immediately before and during the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

It was in Icelandic so I have no idea. However, after a few sentences, the celebrant broke into English to welcome his foreign visitors. He also said a few things in English during the baptisms and also the rest of the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

We had the Icelandic Sálma Bók (hymn book) containing the service and our English translation. The weekly sheet also had the three readings (Old Testament, New Testament and gospel) and the list of hymns. We recognised many of the hymn tunes and sang along (apologies for our poor pronunciation).

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, a magnificent instrument built by Johannes Klais of Bonn. There was also a choir who sat at the back of the church and sang standing on a raised and stepped platform.

Did anything distract you?

Tourists meandering around with cameras were a bit annoying, especially when they were getting in the way of people taking communion.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The style seemed very relaxed. Because the headings in the service book were in English and Icelandic, we were easily able to follow the proceedings and really felt we were part of the worshipping congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

Can't say. Because the sermon was in Icelandic, none of my group had any idea what it was about. Whatever it was, it was obviously a subject close to the preacher's heart, as he seemed very animated. The congregation appeared to be very interested in what he was saying, with minimal fidgeting during the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

No idea.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The amazing welcome we received and the attempt to make foreign visitors feel part of the worshipping community. I would say that this was the most heartfelt welcome Mr Bunny and I have ever had travelling to different churches.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The tourists. We ourselves had visited the church a few days earlier to look around and take photographs as tourists, never dreaming of disturbing a service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As we handed back our English service sheets, the sidesperson invited us for coffee in the side hall, and so did the celebrant as we left the church. When we had got our coffee and sat down, we were chatting to a couple of Norwegian people within a few minutes.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were large flasks of coffee and hot water with tea bags. (Only in the UK do we seem to have the hang of teapots!) We had cups and saucers. I have no idea if it was fair trade or not.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – But impractical.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The wonderful welcome and feeling of inclusiveness.

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