I just came back from camp meeting. Seventh-day Adventists from all over Denmark gathered at Himmerlandsgården for the annual 4-day retreat, with meetings and socialising. There are many traditions, and a wide range of people with very differing opinions. As such, it is a good spot to gauge the mood of the church.
At first, I was tempted to title this post “Oh, What a Circus” (cf. Evita). There is still a lot of patting ourselves on the back, maintaining the sub-culture, and spreading fear of the outside world. The selection of books on display included titles such as “Harry Potter, Witchcraft and the Bible” and “Back to the old paths”. Pampering to fear and traditionalism is always a seller.
On further notice, however, the camp showed positive signs. One thing is the new features (a different marquee, a foyer tent with hot drinks, free ice cream on Sabbath, a new campground site for caravans, and other nice touches). But overall, people simply seemed to be having a good time. Now in a church that has had somewhat an identity crisis the last decade, that is encouraging, and not necessarily a given.
The clearest sign of this was the Saturday evening meeting. Usually this is a youth meeting for the whole church, planned by the youth department. And often these meetings have included drama, satire and provocative messages. I am told that in my father’s time as youth director he would often have angry members tell him off the next day for going too far, and the conference president defying the accusations. In recent years, however, the meetings have been gentler, and the theme has often been unity – probably a health precaution, trying to bridge the gap that some people see in the church. Not that those were bad meetings, but last night’s version had more edge than I’ve seen in a long time. It featured a brilliantly casted and well-performed drama which had the guts to make fun of the president’s accent, caricature other executives, and paint stereotypes of how not to be an Adventist. The message was clear and right-on: telling people about Jesus should be simple and easy.
I see that meeting as a symptom of a sea change in the church in Denmark. We laughed a lot and had a great time together. We may finally be shedding the conflicts of late and moving forward together.