As the coronavirus pandemic grows around the world, numerous countries are enacting new restrictions that impact the lives of Baptists in those places. For Baptists in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Norway, Baptists are adapting how to do worship since large in-person gatherings are prohibited.
As of March 20, more than 272,000 people globally have been infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 11,300 have died. Norway has the 14th-highest number of infected persons, with more than 1,900 testing positive and seven dead. And Denmark has the 16th-highest count, with more than 1,200 infected and nine dead.
However, the rates of infection per million people in those countries are dramatically higher than in the United States where more than 18,000 have tested positive and more than 230 have died. While only there are only 57 cases per million in the U.S., there are 217 per million in Denmark and 355 per million in Norway.
Both countries took quick and aggressive actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Denmark was one of the first European countries to close its borders, and then started a nationwide lockdown on March 13. Norway also took strict preventative measures, including threats of fines and even prison time for individuals who break quarantine rules.
Lone Møller-Hansen, pastor of the Baptist church in Bornholm, Denmark, and communications officer for Baptistkirken i Danmark (Baptist Union of Denmark) told Word&Way that the country is mostly in lockdown and churches have moved to online worship. She noted that the government is “closing more and more down day by day,” with most things except food shops closed, and restrictions banning gatherings of more than 10 people.
“People are not to meet another, and under these circumstances it is difficult being church as we used to,” she said. “Last Sunday [March 15], was the first without services in any church in Denmark (beside the Orthodox Churches, that continue as if nothing had happened). Very few Baptist churches in Denmark have had livestream before, but some tried that for the first time, others made video-recordings and they are to be found on YouTube. Next Sunday more will be online one way or another.”
“It is a chance to reach people, that normally do not go to church,” she added. “Churches, that normally has 50 attendees Sunday morning suddenly see, that hundreds of people have seen some or all of the service from last Sunday.”
Møller-Hansen also mentioned that many churches have online prayer opportunities or phone lists so that “everyone, especially elderly and weak members, know that their church remember them, and make everybody surrounded by prayer.”
Across the Skagerrak strait that juts from the North Sea to cut off Denmark from Norway and Sweden, Norwegian Baptists are facing similar challenges from coronavirus.
Jan Sæthre, a Norwegian Baptist leader who serves as first vice president for the Baptist World Alliance, told Word&Way it was “a surrealistic situation” as restrictions imposed to prevent the virus’s spread have shut down most of the nation’ activities, including in-person worship services.
“All public activities in our churches are closed down since last week,” he said. “Some churches are streaming a worship on Sundays, and the Baptist Union have given information about this to the other churches.”
“In Skien, where I live, all the churches have come together and do a drive- in worship service on Sundays at 19:00,” he added. “Small groups encouraged to continue on Skype and Zoom. We are working on different digital programs for youth (and perhaps children). Our church members use the phone to call and support others. We also have a system for shopping for those who are not able the leave their homes.”
Sæthre also noted that as anyone returns to Norway from another country, they “will automatically be in a quarantine in 14 days.” He personally experienced this after returning from meetings of the Baptist World Alliance in Falls Church, Virginia, the first week of March. During his 14 days, which ended on March 19, he had been working from his home on issues related to crisis management of the coronavirus outbreak since he serves as CEO of his local government.
As Danish and Norwegian Baptists adapt their styles of worship and ministry amid coronavirus, it adds to the challenges of the small faith communities. According to statistics from the Baptist World Alliance, the Danish convention has 53 churches with just over 5,100 members in a nation of 5.6 million people. Det Norske Baptistsamfunn (Baptist Union of Norway) has 98 churches with just over 6,400 members in a country of 5.4 million people.