Photo: An unidentified woman participates in a vigil for those slain in Norway. A web-only photo courtesy of flickr creative commons/MediActivista.
A UMNS Report
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*
In response to the bombing and mass-shooting attack in Norway that killed more than 90 people and injured scores, United Methodist and other church leaders worldwide called for prayer and solidarity.
Bishop Christian Alsted, who leads the Nordic and Baltic Area, issued a statement.
“Life in Norway that we usually experience safe and secure was brutally shaken by a violent bomb explosion in the government district in Oslo on Friday, July 22, and further by an incomprehensible massacre at a national youth camp run by the Labour party on island Utoya,” he said.
Police identified the suspect in both attacks as Anders Behring Breivik, 32. The suspect appears to have written a 1,500-page manifesto ranting against Muslims and devising meticulous plans to prepare for the attacks.
“In the past 24 hours,” Alsted wrote, “we have seen pictures and heard stories of events that we would not have thought could take place in a peaceful country like Norway. Young people on island Utoya have been exposed to experiences so horrifying that it will impact them for life.”
The Kingdom of Norway, about the size of the U.S. state of New Mexico, is a Nordic constitutional monarchy, with King Harald V as head of state and Jens Stoltenberg as prime minister. The capital is Oslo.
“This incident affects the whole nation of 4.5 million,” Alsted continued, “and families across the country grieve their loved ones. In this national tragedy, the Norwegian people need the support, care and prayers of the churches.”
‘Comfort and strength in Christ’
He urged congregations and pastors to participate actively in the care and support of affected families and friends.
“Many people will have a need to get together with others to share their thoughts and emotions in coming to terms with this terrible experience,” Alsted continued.
“Therefore, we encourage congregations to make our churches available for conversation, silence and prayer. We have also encouraged our churches to organize memorial services, preferably ecumenically, to give people the opportunity to express their grief and despair and to find comfort and strength in Christ.”
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who heads United Methodism’s Germany Area, echoed Alsted’s comments.
“Christians all over Germany are mourning with the families who lost their loved ones and praying for the people of Norway,” she said. “We pray the Norwegian people will continue to build up their community on values like trust and respect.”
She commended Norway’s leaders with encouraging openness and respect toward one another and discouraging a reaction of hatred and fear. “Christians are not guided by xenophobia, but by God’s love to all people,” she said.
“Prayer is the most important gift which all of us as neighbors and friends … can offer to them.”
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, said, “The apostle Paul was right when he wrote young Timothy, ‘God didn't give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving and self-controlled.’ Once again, we are called to proclaim God's spirit provides hope in these tragic times.”
The first memorial service was at the Central Church United Methodist Church in Oslo on July 24. United Methodist Bishop Emeritus Øystein Olsen preached. While the majority of Norwegians belong to the state Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, there are 47 organized United Methodist churches, with 98 clergy and more than 12,000 members and participants.
On July 25, the Norwegian government called for a national moment of silence, ordering trains halted as part of a nationwide observance to remember the dead and the injured.
Urging a spirit of reconciliation in Norway and globally, Bishop Alsted, said, “We … encourage prayer for wisdom and strength for the Norwegian government and that Norway as a nation will not be ruled by fear but that we will be able to continue to live in trust and openness with each other.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.