General Synod: Ecumenical and Anglican Communion guests

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


The Bishop of Ribe, the Rt Revd Elof Westergaard

The Bishop of Ribe, the Rt Revd Elof Westergaard

THE Bishop of Ribe, the Rt Revd Elof Westergaard, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, addressed the General Synod by invitation on Friday.

Bishop Westergaard said that common to Nordic countries was a high attendance; 75 per cent of Danes were members of the Evangelical Church. “On the one hand, we experience both a gradual decline in the sense of belonging. . . On the other hand, it is a joy to see that the Church locally has a greater engagement with the wider community.”

The national Church was expected to play an active part in society. The Bishop took the Synod through some of the projects that the Church of Denmark was involved in. “The connection between state and Church is close,” he said. There was a distinction between being a State Church and a People’s Church, he said, although there was a Minister for the Church in the Danish Government.

There were 2200 parishes in the Danish Church, Bishop Westergaard said, and each had a high level of independence: they could appoint their own pastors. He said that the Danish Church was quite liberal: it had women priests, same-sex marriage, and marriage after divorce. He spoke of two recent initiatives from the Danish Church: first, hymn-singing with infants, which, he said, had been very successful, and had been going on for 20 years. “It gives the child an initial familiarity and confidence with the Church,” Bishop Westergaard said.

The second was drop-in baptisms, which happened in several cities; the numbers had revealed that some people had found it difficult to arrange a baptism. “I cannot fail to remark that it’s important to us to have strong ties” — he referred to Brexit, saying that Denmark felt a close connection with the UK.

AN ADDITIONAL Item was placed on the agenda by the Archbishops. Canon Joseph Bila, from South Sudan, Vice-Chancellor of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan University, addressed the Synod on the anniversary of his country’s independence. “I was born in war, grew up in war, and married in war,” he said.

He expressed gratitude for the solidarity shown by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his visit to the site of a massacre in South Sudan at the height of its recent crisis, and other examples of love and care shown by the C of E, including the relationship with the link diocese of Salisbury.

He spoke about the recent retreat run by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which they washed the feet of political leaders of South Sudan, and the “enormous” impact that this had had. An MP had told him recently that the Church had helped to build peace, and that he believed that this peace would last. He had learned much from the Synod’s debates, he said.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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