Global Conversations on Discipleship: Ministry with Children and Parents in Denmark
By Mighty Rasing
In this episode, Mighty Rasing, Director, Central Conference Relationships for Discipleship Ministries, interviews Rev. Maria Thaarup and Rev. Anne K. Thompson, pastors from Denmark who are working with children. Anne is from Vejle, Jutland, in the southern part of Denmark. The pastor of two congregations, Anne is a writer and blogger, and she focuses on ministry with children.
Maria is based in Aarhus, also in Jutland. She is a local pastor who works with youth and scouts. Before becoming a pastor, she was a teacher for six years.
Maria grew up in The United Methodist Church, where she saw how everyone—including children—participated in the life of the church. As she grew up, she found herself spending time in ministry with children and young people.
Anne came to the faith at a young age. When she became a parent by adoption, she experienced the challenges faced by parents as they bring up their children in the faith. Prior to becoming a pastor, she worked in nurseries, providing care to children. She completed a course on “Children, Mission, and Ministry” at Cliff College in England. She is interested in the “whys” of ministry with children and adults.
The Denmark Church Context
Europe is often referred to as a “post-Christian society.” What does that mean for the church and for children’s ministry in Denmark?
The United Methodist Church in Denmark is a minority church, with about 2,000 members. For many people, being a Christian is a “cultural thing,” and it may not impact their lives in a deep way.
Still, children ask questions about God, faith, and the world they live in. Teens are confirmed in the Lutheran church, but sometimes they do not come back to church. In a sense, teens are “Confirmed OUT of the church.”
Growing Up without a Faith Language
According to Anne, a whole generation may be growing up without religious or faith language. How would that affect society in the next ten to twenty years?
“Mission isn’t just necessary, but a part of mission in this context is giving language to what we’ve lost,” Anne says. There’s a similarity in the USA with the rise of the “Nones” and the “Dones.” There is also some similarity in countries where Christianity is in the minority, where people’s language and worldview is not in line with the Christian faith.
The Role of Parents in Children’s Upbringing
Parents in Denmark sometimes do not want to impose views and beliefs on their children, so they wait until children are ready to make their own choices. Having children can lead parents to a sense of wonder that makes them open to spirituality and faith.
In Denmark, some parents go to church to help their children learn about faith. The United Methodist Church and the Lutheran Church in Denmark are trying to find ways to serve parents and children. Two ways to serve parents and children are the Messy Church and the Spaghetti Service.
When children are baptized in The United Methodist Church or the Lutheran Church, their parents do answer for them, which means that the parents have a responsibility to help the children learn about and live out their faith. The practice of parents not wanting to influence children’s beliefs is a fairly recent phenomenon and may have been brought on by historical and social developments in Denmark, as well as by secularization. This practice is in contrast with the words of Proverbs 22:6, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (NLT).
Without realizing it, parents are neglecting their children if they do not delve into conversations about God, faith, and other big questions from children. Parents are “indoctrinating” and influencing their children in many ways: the choice of name, friends, school, and other things, big and small.
Ministry with Children: The Denmark United Methodist Church Experience
The United Methodist Church in Denmark is trying to find ways to minister with children and their parents by looking for creative ways to deal with the busy schedules of families. There is a growing awareness of the importance of faith formation within the family. Denominations are working together to provide resources for this ministry. They have borrowed the work of Rachel Turner, a pastor, blogger, and author from the United Kingdom. Ms. Turner is a pioneer at parentingforfaith.org and has published books about parenting and faith.
The Bible Society in Denmark is also producing resources to help parents teach their children to grow in faith, to learn how to pray and how to read and talk about the Bible.
Anne learned to pray through the church; and in her experience, many people have not been taught how to pray by themselves at home. This is an area where parents can be equipped to help nurture their children in the faith.
Contextualizing Children’s Ministry Resources in Denmark
The children’s ministers in Denmark have some work to do in contextualization. They tend to borrow resources from the USA and the UK, but family life and society in Denmark are different. Therefore, children’s ministers are starting to develop their own resources in Denmark.
The Northern Europe Episcopal Area has published a resource on youth and children’s ministry titled Nordic Perspectives on Methodism: Focus on Younger Generations that features ministry practitioners and thinkers reflecting on this specific ministry.
Creative Ways of Ministering with Children and their Families
Maria was hired to work with children and youth. Through her leadership, the church moved the time of the worship service and created space within the worship service to accommodate children.
Parents are relieved when the pastor affirms that children are welcome in the church during worship, even when the children move around and make noise. It’s a balance; children need to be integrated during the worship service, but they also need their own space to express their creativity.
By being integrated into the church community, children can witness how important faith is to adults and to older people. Anne shared a touching story of how her two sons witnessed an 80-year-old man praying in church.
Maria is working with refugee children and youth, helping provide for some of their needs, playing and socializing with them, and being engaged in conversations about faith with them.
Links and Resources
Anne Thompson’s blog: http://digogmigogvitro.dk
UMC church in Denmark: https://www.metodistkirken.dk/
Denmark UMC Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/metodistkirken.dk/
Amazon link to Nordic Perspectives of Methodism e-book: https://www.amazon.com/Nordic-Perspectives-Methodism-Younger-Generation-ebook/dp/B07Z92QV6C/
Verses marked NLT are from the New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Mighty Rasing is the Director of Central Conference Relationships at Discipleship Ministries.