Miller, Duane Alexander. ‘Foreign Christians find a haven in Denmark Saint Alban’s Anglican Church, Copenhagen First Sunday of Epiphany, 7 January 2007‘ in Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol 76:2, Jun 2007.
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Saint Alban’s Church in Cøpenhagen, Denmark
Church Visit on Epiphany Sunday (January 7th 2007)
by Duane Alexander Miller
Located next to one of the canals that are so prevalent in Cøpenhagen, Saint Alban’s is a beautiful church in the Early English style that towers over Churchill Park. Holy Communion is said at 9:00 according to the information provided by the church, but this reviewer was present for the 10:30 sung eucharist.
Upon entering one is present in a narrow and rather small narthex, turning to the right one enters the nave through a large door—the only entrance. There is a single aisle between rows of pews on either side. There are no side aisles, nor is there an alternate entrance for the chapel, which also faces east, and is to the left as one enters. The pews are attractively carved of wood. The kneelers are not attached to other pews, rather they are pulled out from the pew in front of the pew in which one is seated. There are seats for the choir positioned in front of the congregation; the dominant feature is the altar and behind it three tall stained-glass windows, the central one featuring Jesus Christ crucified. The ceiling is made of wood, the walls of Danish stone.
The stained-glass windows are beautifully detailed and have been maintained well. Prominent figures are Saints Alban, Peter, James the Great, Elizabeth of Hungary, and Hilda. The windows portraying Saints Elizabeth of Hungary and Hilda are part of the Alexandria Memorial. King Christian IX of Denmark had a number of daughters, one of which was Alexandra. She married the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. King Christian X unveiled the Alexandria Memorial in 1929. Under a profile of Alexandra is written in English, “TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN PERPETUAL MEMORY OF ALEXANDRA PRINCESS OF DENMARK AND QUEEN OF ENGLAND THE FOUNDER OF THIS CHURCH EQUALLY RENOWNED FOR HER CHARITY HER BEAUTY AND HER VIRTUE […]”. Opposite her memorial is that of King Edward, her husband.
An excellent booklet with historical information and color photographs is available in the narthex for a suggested offering of one euro or the equivalent; this booklet is referenced throughout this review. According to this pamphlet the church took two years to build, was designed by Englishman Sir Arthur Blomfield, and was consecrated in 1887. Present at the consecration were the King and Queen of Denmark and the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, and the Prince and Princess of Wales. The stone used was from a quarry south of Cøpenhagen which has since been closed. The tiles on the roof are English, and the stone for the bell tower, which houses tubular bells, comes from Öland in Sweden.
The church does not have any transepts facing north or south. Rather there is a northern transept which faces east, which, after World War 2, “was made into a chapel of thanksgiving for the maintenance of worship throughout the German occupation of 1940-1945. The chapel now houses the Reserved Sacrament….” A Christmas tree was placed to the left of the altar, which was adorned with a number of candles. There is a small table with a nativity on it, in front of the pulpit.
The priest is the Ven. Mark Oakley, who in addition to being the chaplain of this parish is the archdeacon for Germany and Northern Europe in the Diocese of Europe (formed in 1980) of the Church of England. There are no other Anglican churches in Denmark, though an Anglican congregation meets eight times a year in Århus and is served by Saint Alban’s clergy. A deacon is assisting him. The Gospel is read from a slim volume in the midst of the congregation. The priest which is part of the Diocese of Europe (formed in 1980) of the Church of England, is both preacher and celebrant. He is dressed in an alb, stole, and a golden-colored chasuble that coincides with the dressings of the altar. The deacon wears only an alb and a stole.
Regarding the assisting deacon, he is Danish and a member of the Old Catholic church. In an e-mail, Fr. Oakley writes, “Since the 1930s Anglicans have been in communion with OCs and as there is such a small community of OCs in Denmark he worships with us. We are also helped from time to time by a Danish woman who is an ordained Church of England priest who having worked in London has now returned to Copenhagen.”
The hymns are from the C of E hymnal: Brightest and best (49); Bethlehem, of noblest cities (48); As with gladness (47); The race that long in darkness pined (57); and lastly, O worship the Lord (52). Additionally, the Gloria was sung, as was most of the Eucharistic liturgy. The Old Testament reading (Is. 60:1-6), Epistle (Eph. 3:1-12), and Gospel (Mt. 2:1-12) were read, not sung. Psalm 72:10-15 was sung. The Gloria was also sung.
The sermon was enjoyable and enlightening. The preacher started with a brief history of how the Christian imagination had interpreted the Biblical story about the wise men. It was mentioned that they were most likely fortunetellers or astrologers (the preacher using the correct Greek pluralization of magi), probably from Mesopotamia or Persia, or perhaps Arabia. The point was made that the Kingdom of God was being advanced by the most unlikely people: Joseph and Mary, shepherds, and astrologers. As of the 9th C. the wise men were given names, but they were different than the names given them by the Syrian Christians. Inexplicably, they were patrons for those who had been bitten by wild dogs and their intercession was sought for victims of attacks by such animals. Prudentius in the 4th C. followed the Patristic tradition of interpreting the Scriptures allegorically and explained that the gift of gold symbolic of Jesus’ royalty, the incense suggested prayer and worship, the myrrh death and burial. The preacher proceeded to speak of the symbolic meaning of the gifts: gold is a signifier of wealth and comfort, but also of anxiety and fraud: yet the wise men left their gold with the Christ child. Incense was perhaps part of the show of the astrologer-wise men, and do we not use exterior acts of piety to cover our lack of interior conversion and true virtue? Yet this garment of piety was left with the Christ child. Myrrh: the great preserver, or conserver, he explained. “Sin can sometimes be surprisingly conservative at times,” because it conserves our resistance to God’s grace.
But it is precisely this grace that we should open ourselves to during Epiphany, being willing to venture into new lands and frontiers. The wise men returned by a different route, having been warned by an angel. We too must be open to returning to our home by “another road.” Overall the sermon was very good. It combined scholarship, practical insight into the Christian life, and a real engagement with the Gospel text at hand. Few sermons manage to do all three of these.
The offertory was placed in placed in cloth bags, which this author had never seen before. The congregants kneeled to receive Communion. Due to a lack of side-aisles, returning from Communion was somewhat confused. The choir received Communion first (about six individuals and the organist), and then the congregation. There are around 70 people, though a precise count would be quite difficult, including around ten children. Most of the congregation was white, though there were also a number of people from other ethnic backgrounds (Asian, African). Regarding the congregation, Fr. Oakley writes, “We have an international congregation – eg from the UK, US, Canada, S. Korea, Iraq, Sierra Leone, India, Denmark, Sweden, Kenya, Botswana, New Zealand, Australia, China. Many of them are Anglicans in Denmark, some come because we worship in English, some because they like the style of preaching or liturgy. We are fairly stable but people do come and go with jobs…”
After the service was completed coffee and biscuits (or cookies, as they are called in America) were served in the nave and it was quite crowded. The church is commendable for the quality of the artistry in the stained-glass windows as well as the baptistery. While presenting greetings from the brothers and sisters at Church of the Redeemer in Amman to the priest, a parishoner overheard and said, “We used to go there!” The parish represents well the changing face of Anglicanism around the world, presenting an attractive balance of England, Denmark, and the world. It is also a testimony to the worldwide nature of Anglicanism today, precarious as that may be, founded by a princess, but now a place where people from every tribe and tongue and nation worship.