World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit preached on New Year’s Day in the Church of Ås in Norway. Tveit not only observed the first day of 2017 but also commemorated the 150th anniversary of Ås Church, as well as 500 years of Reformation.
In addition, Tveit marked the new relations between the Church of Norway and the state. The Church of Norway and the Norwegian government went their separate ways on 1 January 2017 after almost 500 years of being together.
In the sermon, Tveit noted how Jesus came into the world in circumstances that make for a normal family story with a few highly unusual aspects.
“This fine, little, freshly washed mortal boy, one of the many children on the Earth, was born just as vulnerable and loved by his parents as children of parents in Syria or other countries in this area today," Tveit noted.
“In other words, he was born into a family that faced challenges, into a cultural and religious context that was in the process of change, in a political landscape with strong and partly oppressive forces in place, into a historical moment of unrest – but also with hope of change, reformation and salvation. Many children are born under such circumstances – in all time periods.”
He also addressed Norway’s separation of church and state. “This is a unique situation and around the world, people are looking on, wondering how we have managed to maintain a national church for so long and how such a beneficial organisation can be voluntarily dissolved in this way,” he said.
“We now hope that they will be able to witness with wonder and joy that it is possible to have an active community open to different views of life in which religion and religious institutions are valued and play an important part in society, with a good economic basis for the work to be done.”
The Church of Norway has an episcopal-synodal structure with 1,215 parishes; 11 dioceses and since 2011, one area under the supervision of the presiding bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien.