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Danish appeal for renewed ecumenical focus on the future of European churches

Discussion about the decrease in number of baptisms, Heavenly Days in Copenhagen, 6th of May. Photo: Jesper Moll

By Birger Nygaard, General Secretary at the Council on International Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (ELCD)


Over the last couple of years the declining numbers of baptisms have gained increasing focus on all levels in the ELCD. The decline from 76 to 64 percent over the last 10 years is not worse than in our neighbouring Nordic and European churches. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to pay close attention to this development as it seems to be rooted in more than mere statistical coincidence. A study undertaken by the University of Copenhagen shows that parents – as a feature of general individualisation - are more likely to leave the question of baptism to the children themselves. They are not against baptism as such, but leave the decision to the child to make at a later stage in life. Even those who do baptise their infants regard it as a temporary measure until the child can decide for itself. It is obvious that such a development raises a number of questions both theologically and practically. 

Knowing that all traditional European churches are facing similar challenges due to secularisation and loss of tradition the Council on International Relations of the ELCD calls on ecumenical organisations to create programmes and platforms for focused discussion and action.  Chairman of the Council, Mogens S. Mogensen reasons:  

“For several generations we have seen the European and North American churches as the strong ecumenical partners helping the rest of the world with its problems in a kind of one-way traffic. It is time to admit that in several matters we need to call on churches from the majority world to share their experiences and spiritual vigour with the old churches in the North.  And as Europeans we need to create new opportunities to meet and honestly discuss and work out proper theological, practical, and missiological responses to current developments. We have a lot to learn from each other. Who would be better fit to be in charge of such processes over the next 10 years than ecumenical organizations like WCC, LWF and CEC, which already provide well-established structures for such European focus?”