40 Years Åpen Kirkegruppe
It was on 10 February 1976 that Aasmund Robert Vik started with the Åpen Kirkegruppe (Open Church Group) in Oslo, Norway. After spending some time in a Franciscan monastery in Assisi some time earlier, he discovered that he tried to flee from something. His future was not to be part of an monastic order, but to verbalize homosexuality and to work for a better position and treatment of homosexuals, women and men, in the Lutheran Church. Aasmund found inspiration to do so after visiting the then Gay Christian Movement in London and with the support by a Dutch Roman-Catholic priest.
Festive Celebrations in Oslo on 6–7 February 2016
Not only has the Open Church Group brought together lesbians and gays for mutual help and understanding, the group has also become a partner in dialogue for the Lutheran Church, the state church of Norway. Only in 1992, after a very troublesome meeting of the national council of the Church, did one bishop state, lesbian and gays should be treated equally. This one bishop was Sigurd Osberg. Since then, a lot has changed for lesbians and gays, for the better. Evidence of this could be found in the celebration of the anniversary of the Open Church Group in the Cathedral of Oslo Sunday afternoon, where about twenty lesbian and gay ministers, deacons, and catechists were present to celebrate in a festive mass. A large crowd of old and current members, family, and other friends and supporters turned up for the mass.
On Saturday evening, the celebrations had started with a dinner for 75 persons in the dining hall of the Grand Hotel, exactly the same place for Nobel Peace Prize winners to be received for dinner. Both bishop Osberg and bishop Tor Berger Jorgensen were present. The latter also spoke out in favor of lesbians and gays about 15 years ago, after having had a predominantly conservative perspective on sexuality and sexual diversity for a long time. Now, he had the honorable task of being the ceremony master for the evening. Aasmund Robert Vik gave a historical retrospect of all the work the Open Church Group had been doing. Also Kim Friele, a long standing secular LGBT activist, reflected on times gone by and on her involvement with the church. A lot of the history of the Open Church Group will be written down in the book “Jeg slipper deg ikke for du velsinger meg” (“I will not go, unless you bless me”). During the dinner night, a lot of others added to this rich history by telling countless anecdotes about all the evenings and camps that had been organized. I myself was invited to present the work of the European Forum of Christian LGBT Groups, of which Open Church Group has been a long standing member. Aasmund visited the annual Forum Conference in 1984 for the first time and he himself and Randi Solberg have been respected board members of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. I tried my best Norwegian saying, “På vegne av Europeisk Forum vil jeg gratulere med dagen. Takk for alt dere har gjort for å skape trygge møtesteder og for å kjempe for likeverd for LHBT’ere i kirke og kristenliv.”
The Rainbow Mass in the Cathedral, the Church that is used for all official celebrations in Norway, e.g., royal weddings, was the location for the mass celebrating 40 years of Open Church Group. The liturgy of the service was a high church liturgy. In itself, this added to the festivity of the celebrations, but it was also somewhat difficult to see this high liturgy connected to the contents of the Open Church Group jubilee. Bishop Osberg delivered the sermon based on Luke 18, 31–34, in which Jesus asks His disciples to tell Him, who the people and they themselves think Jesus is. In a very personal confessional, the bishop shared the story of his “conversion” back to Christian faith and the church, because of the critical questions a student once asked him. This student turned out to be gay, but unfortunately died soon afterwards. The bishop’s sermon was moving. At the same time, it did neither really verbalize the history of lesbians and gays, of LGBTs in the church nor did it emphasize, how they themselves had shaped their spirituality and their liturgy, in other words, how they had become the subjects of their own lives and faith.
Lesbians and gays still face challenges in the Church of Norway. Within two months, the National Council of the Church will speak about same-sex marriage and on how its blessing should be formulated in the order of the church. The Open Folk Church, a group of both LGBTs and heterosexuals, has managed to get this issue on the agenda. A positive decision is to be expected, but it is unsure whether there will be an integrated formula for the blessing of both same-sex and heterosexual couples or two separate ones. Would it not be a great anniversary gift for the Open Church Group to be presented with one single blessing formula for all people in a relationship, who seek such a blessing from God in the Church?