100 years of church history in Grenland

“I feel privileged to have grown up in a church like this,” says Ulrikke (19).  “But what is the story behind it all? There must have been some people who understood the gospel early on. I would really like to find out who they are, and how they met the others.”

That’s how the film began, and it continued with the story, spanning four generations, of those who have built the church in the Grenland area.  Here we will follow Ulrikke’s great great grandmother, Inger Marie Ravnevand from Sørlandet, who married seaman Andreas Nilsen from Brevik in 1917.  These were the first ones in Brevik to profess allegiance to Johan O. Smith’s teachings.

Others wanted to listen to the gospel because of their care

The family history of Inger Marie and Andreas is a story of poverty, accidents and many struggles.  But first and foremost it is a story about people who had a humble attitide of mind, combined with an unshakeable faith in the future and what God can accomplish in faithful people’s lives.  Inger Marie and Andreas had faith in God and let people they met know how much they cared about them.  The effect of this was that the circle of friends around them gradually widened; they also came into contact with believers further up the Skiensfjord.

Inger Marie and Andreas Nilsen and their family were the first in the Grenland district to profess allegiance to the teachings of Johan O. Smith  Photo: BCC

Johan Oscar Smith himself was often in Brevik, which in those days was a hub for traffic to and from Sørlandet.  As time went on, Andreas Nilsen became one of his closest co-workers during the early days of the church’s history; they travelled around and visited Christian assemblies wherever they were welcomed.

Not a great orator, but a life well lived

However, at home in Brevik the Nilsen couple experienced considerable opposition because of their faith, and it took many years before a number of friends cast in their lot with them.  ”Just wait and see!  You’ll see!” said Andreas emphatically on one occasion in the 1950’s.  Every week he travelled up the Skien fjord and attended house meetings in Porsgrunn and Skien where the friends were genuinely fond of him.  ”I am not a speaker, but life has given me something to talk about,” he said about himself one time, and the word that had become his own, he preached about for the rest of his life.

Reflections on the Grenland history was a moving start to the feast for the almost 1,000 participants. Photo: BCC

A worthy jubilee celebration with almost 1,000 participants

From its infant beginning through the following 100 years, the circle of friends that grew around Marie and Andreas Nilsen has become a large church that today includes over 1,000 members.  What were once three separate churches in Brevik, Porsgrunn, and Skien now gather as one large church, and this Saturday the church meeting hall at Grasmyr was filled to capacity.  It was a glorious and worthy feast for the almost 900 friends present.  Over 250 guests from other places were invited to the celebration, most of whom were people who had either grown up in the area or who had a close connection to the local church.

A look back at the history was certainly an interesting and moving experience.  In his message, Kåre J. Smith drew our attention to the significance that Andreas Nilsen had for his own descendants as well as for the church as a whole.  “The work here began with humble people who stuck to their convictions.  They were poor in themselves but rich in God.  They followed Jesus in His humiliation, and love made them able to help other people,” said Smith.

Kåre J. Smith was present and drew our attention to the significance that Inger Marie and Andreas Nilsen’s humble mindset and care of people had on those they met. Photo: BCC

We build on faith, hope and love.

“The church in Grenland, like other churches, has been built stone upon stone, and the word has been passed on from person to person.  Faith, hope, and love are the main pillars that hold up the church.  They bind us together and give direction to the work that continues today,” continued Smith.

Many thankful messages and lovely music filled the rest of the feast.  The quality of music was something the church in Grenland can be proud of; this can also be traced back to another of the first members of the church in this district, Rudolf Schwaiger.  He was a brilliant composer and musician, and his ability to make the music come alive, drew many to the meetings during the first years.  The church songbook, “Ways of the Lord,” still today contains many of his melodies and lyrics.  A few talented musicians performed a beautiful medley of several of his songs

A classical performance of some of Rudolf Schwaiger’s songs was just one of the many musical pieces presented this evening. Photo: BCC

Bjørn Nilsen, the current leader in the local church in Grenland. Photo: BCC

Bjørn Nilsen who is leading the church here today is clearly moved and enthusiastic about the contents of the feast.  “Many friends have been working for a long time on the feast preparation.  We have been unearthing a lot of historical material while others have been busy planning meals, decorations, and the various elements of the program.  The program included two films that were made to illustrate our history.  Both showed us how from a lowly beginning of only two people, the church has grown and become a vital, enduring church that now provides a good framework in our district for many friends who belong to the third, fourth, or fifth generation.”

The young people concluded the evening

Around 115 young people between 13 and 18 performed a musical, produced by themselves, with real punch and of an impressive quality. Photo: BCC

The feast started with the history and ended with a musical that 115 young people had written and now performed for us.   A firestorm of energy, talent, and youthful joy made sure that the 100 years jubilee ended with a blast!  It was a production that showed what life-giving power there was in the word that Andreas Nilsen preached here for many decades, and which his descendants and those who came after him have preserved and passed on.

One of his descendants is Ulrikke.  The questions she had asked at the beginning of the film were all answered by the end of the feast.  The exciting story about Inger Marie and Andreas Nilsen brought both laughter and tears, and part way through the feast she sung for us one of Andreas Nilsen’s songs, “We thank you, God, for making us a way.”  She sung with emotion and warmth and the words have taken on a special meaning now that we know the history about the caring, faithfully enduring man who wrote them.


“We thank you God, for making us a way”, one of the songs written by Andreas Nilsen. Video: BrunstadTV

Satisfied guests enjoy one of the tasty dishes that were served this evening. Photo: BCC

Many lovely songs and pieces were performed by choirs from all age groups. Photo: BCC