Mystery Worshipper: Salskov
Church: Vanløse Kirke
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 August 2010, 10:30am
This red brick church was designed by the architect Thorvald Jørgensen, who was involved in the restoration of Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament, after its destruction by fire. The architect was under orders to use red brick, as the traditional "white" church was felt to be too expensive to maintain. This explains the difference in style between the church and the priest's house. Vanløse Kirke has a distinctive onion at the base of the spire, which I found intriguing. The west door is surmounted by a rose window, below which, in relief, are the words Det er Fuldebragt (It is fulfilled) and Han er opstanden (He is risen). The interior was modernised in 1984. The brick walls are painted white. There is an extremely attractive lighting grid that doubles as a false ceiling, and there are wall lamps and generously proportioned upholstered chairs. All the altar furniture is modern light wood, as is the organ loft. In 1989 the stained glass triptych windows over the altar were installed. I have to confess that the Paraclete in the first scene resembles a chunky grey cartoon aeroplane.
The church is heavily involved in the FDF (Frivilligt Drenge og Pige Forbund a voluntary boys and girls organisation), whose premises are across the road from the church. The association offers activities for children such as meals, baking, and Bible stories. The lobby also had the church calendar, magazines and various leaflets on offer. Music obviously plays a big part here: there was a leaflet on vocal courses for church singers and choral conductors, and information in the parish magazine on concerts as well as the usual services, confirmation courses, etc.
This is a reasonably affluent suburb, but typically the affluence is hidden by the usual Danish insouciance about appearances. There are Chinese, Indian and Turkish restaurants close by, and streets of individual detached houses in one direction, with anonymous apartment block clones in another. A mile or so down the road is a green park area by a large lake, favourite with dog walkers and joggers.
Pastor Annette Søager.
What was the name of the service?Hjmesse – High Mass
How full was the building?
There were 23 in the congregation, plus the pastor, organist and vocal quartet.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady manning the service/hymn book shelves said hello. The books had blue covers on the left of the shelves, and black on the right. I picked up a black one, and she pointed out that that was the large print version, so I swapped it for the blue.
Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were screwed together in fixed rows, but were very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church was fully lit, in addition to it being a bright, sunny morning. Most of the congregation were already seated when I entered some seven minutes before the service, and there was total quiet. No talking at all.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
These were spoken in Danish by a gentleman who also gave the closing words. He was not vested, just in a dark suit, so I'm not certain of his exact function. I didn't catch the words.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Den Danske Salmebog - the Danish hymnbook. It contained the service rubric as well as readings and the word of the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. There was a piano in the chancel, but it was not used. There was an excellent vocal quartet, not professional, as I established later, but well rehearsed, well tuned and confident.
Did anything distract you?
I didn't discover the service rubric until part way through the service, and so spent a fair amount of time working out where we were. I was also concerned with note-taking, and trying to understand as much as possible of the proceedings.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It struck me as being a traditional, dignified, well ordered service. Lots of music accompanied movement in the chancel, and there were choral responses. The congregational participation seemed, from where I was sitting at the back, minimal, but that could have been "good" behaviour. At communion, the congregants knelt round the three sides of the altar. There were individual cups for the wine, and they had the choice whether to partake in both forms or only one. The priest pronounced a blessing after each round, and they returned to their seats in a group, as opposed to the English style of individuals leaving the altar rail when they are ready to do so.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was based on the gospel reading of the day, Luke 16:1-13 (the parable of the unjust servant), but I couldn't follow much of it. The delivery was clear and not over rushed, and the priest looked at the congregation, consulting her notes from time to time.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
As said, I couldn't follow the speech very well, but the theme of gratitude came across the words tag, tag, tag (thanks, thanks, thanks) were a giveaway.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music. Seven hymns bliss. The service was a unity of words and music. It was often quite simple; the hymns, for instance were mostly in unison. But there was a short a cappella anthem and the metric Danish version of the Agnus Dei was very attractive. Organ accompaniments covered movement, and the choral responses were not unlike Merbecke's.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This may be simply a cultural difference, but there seemed to be very little togetherness in the congregation. I wished I had been in the organ loft with the choir, where I could sing out without standing out. The service could have proceeded with or without the congregation, and the construction, if that is the term, would have been unchanged.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The priest greeted each of us with a handshake as we left. I did ask her afterwards about the church, and managed to grab one of the choristers to ask about the choir.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – It would certainly improve my command of Danish! I think there is more to be discovered about this parish than was immediately apparent. I enjoyed the music very much.
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 cartoon Paraclete.