The time approaches 12. People who seem well acquainted converse with one another in the foyer, and young children run around and play. Musicians begin a song and everyone hurries into the hall to find a seat. The atmosphere is casual – several people continue whispering their conversations during the song.
By Gudrun Irving – Photos by Søren Clausen
This is a typical scenario at the weekly Sunday meeting of BCC’s local community in Copenhagen -Tårnfalkevej in the district of Hvidovre. The architect-designed building, with its somewhat softer and more traditional style, stands out a bit in this industrial area.
In 1997, members built the conference center on volunteered time – to this day, everyone involved in the project has a sense of pride and ownership. The large meeting hall is unadorned and functional, accommodating around 900 people at full capacity. The service today is called simply “the meeting”.
The meeting hall in Copenhagen is located in the district of Hvidovre, and has a capacity for up to 900 people. Photo: BCC
At the front of the assembly sits the music leader, and today there are 14 young musicians on the same stage. There are guitars, a piano, violins, a drum set, and a saxophone. They play from BCC’s songbook, called “Ways of the Lord”. The music leader chooses an appropriate song, announces the number to the congregation, and the lyrics are displayed on two large screens while most of the congregation sing along.
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A leader without a title
The leader is not easy to spot because he does not differ from the other members in appearance. He has not studied theology, nor is he paid for the service he does. Emil Borch is a leader without a title, a retired electrician who is just called “Emil” by all. You find him on the first row of chairs, right by the ‘podium’, the only member who has a fixed place in the hall. It is otherwise free for everyone to choose a place in the hall wherever they may wish to sit.
Emil Borch welcomes everyone to the Sunday meeting. He has no title and is called “Emil” by everyone. Photo: BCC
All adult members have the same rights, but not the same authority. No one is appointed as leader of the congregation because of a theological education or their position in society, their financial status, or gift of speech. It is based on the individual’s personal Christian sincerity and integrity, which over time gains the trust of the congregation. A leader is appointed according to how it is written in the Bible.
The song ends, and the hall stills. “We’ll start by praying” says Emil from his chair.
Space and room for the children
The congregation stands during prayer, but many of the children remain seated. Even though it is quiet in the hall during prayer, there is great tolerance for children of all ages. Children are welcome in BCC, and it is agreed that they will not have a rigid meeting culture pressed upon them. Experience shows that they learn to sit still as they grow up.
The children have a natural place in the meeting and can sit in the hall as long as they wish to. Photo: BCC
The meeting has a fairly loose organizational structure. Anyone can participate in the meeting with prayer, song, speech or a shorter testimony; men and women, young and old. Today, there are three members who follow the invitation to pray for the meeting, based on the need for God’s help in their personal lives, and from appreciation for what they have already experienced.
One of them also prays for the politicians who govern Denmark to get wisdom to lead the country in a good direction. Another prays for the sick and frail to be healed, encouraged, and strengthened. The prayers are spontaneous and unplanned. Afterwards everyone takes their seats again and after another song they are ready to hear the first of several speeches.
Those who “have something on their hearts”
“We can hear someone who has something on their heart,” says Emil. Often it is he who begins a meeting, but far from every time, and not today. After a few seconds, one of the congregation goes up to the podium. The speaker relates several Bible verses to practical situations in everyday life and speaks for 10-15 minutes.
Emil Borch starts by saying that it is open for anyone to start and the meeting evolves in a way that is both spontaneous and calm at the same time. Photo: BCC
How can they be so spontaneous without chaos? No one has written a sermon, no one announces the topic of the meeting, or specifies who should speak first or last. Yet the meeting develops in a way that is both dynamic and peaceful. Speeches come freely from the heart and there is no emphasis on impressing anyone with a well-formulated speech.
The first up, a man in his prime, speaks personally and intuitively and without manuscript, based on observations and experiences from his own life. A typical starting point is one or more verses from the Bible, often the New Testament, as this is BCC’s foundation of faith.
Sunday school for the children
Right after the first speech, the signal is given to a small crowd of children of all ages who hurry out of the hall. They are divided into age groups and go to different rooms in the building for Sunday school.
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In the main hall there are now several empty seats after the children have left, but it is calmer and easier to concentrate on the meeting. At the front of the hall, on both sides of the podium, there are several empty seats facing the congregation.
During the next song, these chairs begin to fill up with different members of the congregation who would like to contribute, and several young people also sit in the so called ‘testimony queue’. The need for renewal and continued development in one’s own faith is central to much of what is said.
Speeches from both young and old
As the song finishes, an 18-year-old boy goes up to the podium and tells about an episode from school this week which he found encouraging and wanted to share with the congregation.
In BCC in Copenhagen, over 50% of the members are under the age of 21. The majority of these young people attend the main meeting every Sunday, even though they have their own youth meetings on Friday evening also.
A woman participates with a solo song, accompanied by the piano. Then a grandmother comes up and expresses her thankfulness for her life as a Christian. In the next half hour, the row of chairs at the front fills up continuously.
The testimonies are generally short and last between two and four minutes. When the meeting ends, a large proportion of the congregation has participated with singing, prayer or testimony, while others have been organizing Sunday school for the children.
The youth are happy to participate with both testimonies and song. Here they sing a song for the more adult part of the assembly. Photo: BCC
Time for activities and informal mingling
After almost half an hour, shrieks and laughter are heard from the foyer: Sunday school is over, and it is time to end the meeting. “Are there any announcements?” asks Emil from his chair. Obviously not today.
Again, the congregation stands to pray together, and a man and a woman thank God for the meeting. A final verse from the songbook rounds off the Sunday meeting. The time is just past 1:30.
The parents hurry out of the hall and gather their children, since for the church in Copenhagen, activities like football, ice hockey and ballet follow the meeting every Sunday afternoon. None of the children or young people want to miss out on these activities.
Sunday school: The children are divided into age groups, where they are cared for by older young people. Photo: BCC
There is great tolerance for the children also in the meeting hall, and they are free to go out when they are tired of sitting quietly. Photo: BCC
Music is an important part of the meeting, and both young and old contribute to the songs with instruments like piano, guitars and wind instruments. Photo: BCC