Sea, Soil, and Souls in Denmark


Danske members are stronger for the choices they make in a land of affluence and permissiveness.

To enter the century-old farmhouse where Palle and Esther Blond (pronounced Bloon) live, you will probably choose to duck as you go through the low door. They restored this thatch-roofed cottage, on the outskirts of Fredericia, from near-ruin and furnished it in antiques. Its dark wood walls and shelves are covered with original art—including a Carl Bloch oil sketch of Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount, part of a series of his artworks on the life of the Savior that are on permanent display in the Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød near Copenhagen.

Not only in the home of Palle and Esther, but also in the way of life they have chosen, their sense of what is virtuous, lovely, and of good report is apparent. Throughout Denmark, Latter-day Saints are making deliberate choices—choices that reflect the principles of the restored gospel.

Preserving the Beauty

Even before they chose to accept the gospel, Palle and Esther had chosen to value their Dansk (Danish) heritage. They are committed to preserving and enjoying it—its arts, its crafts, and its natural beauties, as well as the gospel, which for them enhances these.

According to Esther, Palle is one of two surviving craftsmen in all of Denmark’s main peninsula, Jylland, who still does the kind of fine handwork you see carved in the columns, crown moldings, and corner plates of old architecture.

An artist and retired building contractor, Palle also breeds rare birds. In large pens behind the house, adjacent to his workshop, bright-colored birds perch on rods or cling to the sides of their cages, singing. Green-winged King Parakeets and their colorful cousins are still in existence because of people like Palle.

Friends smile admiringly and refer to Palle and Esther as “rare birds” themselves. Their enjoyment of nature has found a very humanitarian expression. For twenty years, they have taken a group of handicapped people, most of them in wheelchairs, into the woods to camp every summer.

“The twenty-five people we take with us range in age from thirty to eighty,” says Palle. “We stay together in a wonderful old house deep in the woods. Then we spend the days wandering through the woods together, stopping for picnics and enjoying the beauty.” He and Esther are also founding members of the multiple sclerosis society for the county, and they volunteer on the board of health.

“We love to study the gospel together,” Esther says. They joined the Church after the missionaries came to their home in 1954. “Eternal marriage impressed Palle, and I was struck by the plan of salvation.”

They took the discussions for a while in 1956, and Palle felt spiritual promptings when he read Nephi’s writings. Then one day, without mentioning it to Esther, he was baptized. Soon, Esther noticed a difference in him and asked, “You’ve been baptized, haven’t you?” After more missionary lessons, she was baptized, too. Since then, she has served as Relief Society president twice, and he has presided over both the branch and the district, as well as serving as Fredericia’s first bishop.

Their baptisms occurred just a little more than a hundred years after the first baptisms in Denmark in August 1850, after Elder Erastus Snow had opened the Scandinavian Mission. Today, Denmark has two stakes and 4,100 members.

Working the Soil

Another Church member whose conscious choice includes a home amid the pastoral beauty of the countryside is Christian Kuntz, branch president in Sønderborg, just across the Flensborg Fjord from Germany. When the missionaries called at the Kuntz home, Christian’s wife invited them to come back, and although she has never joined the Church, “she is wonderfully supportive and always has been,” he says.

Their stone home amid gardens and animals is spacious. Within the double-thick walls of the Kuntz home, the branch met on special occasions as his son, Soren, and daughter, Susanne, were growing up. Soren is now a missionary in Seattle, Washington, and Susanne is a student. For Susanne, “having branch meetings in the library in our home was how church was supposed to be.”

Conscious choice also led Ove and Karen Christensen to their farm on the outskirts of Ribe, twenty miles from Esbjerg, Denmark’s major westbound shipping port.

Since 1984, the Christensens have farmed thirty-three hectares of barley, wheat, peas, and raspberries. They raise pigs and cows for food and horses for fun. In some ways, the Christensens are typical Danes: approximately 70 percent of Danish land is devoted to agriculture, predominantly small farms like theirs. “We wanted farm life for our family,” says Ove. “So much good comes from working the soil and learning the law of the harvest.”

The Christensens’ facial features and fair complexions are distinctly Nordic, as is their warm hospitality. Before them on the table is a polished tray with carefully sliced cakes, rolls, bread, cheeses, and a clear glass pitcher of homemade elderberry juice.

Danes are a convivial people in whom there seems no trace of their fierce Viking ancestors who stormed through northern Europe a thousand years ago. For Danes, having visitors means having a snack, a treat, or even a meal. Missionaries who serve in the Denmark Copenhagen Mission are fond of saying, “Here in Denmark, we have one meal a day, and it lasts from our first visit in the morning until our last visit in the evening.”

Ove has been on the nursing staff at the hospital in Esbjerg for sixteen years, and Karen has been there for six. They work their schedules in complementary shifts in order to be with their four children, ages two to twelve. “He’s great with the kids while I’m working,” says Karen. “Ove is a wonderful father.”

She adds, “People at the hospital who knew Ove before he joined the Church in 1981 credit his tremendous growth to the way he lives now.” Karen had joined the Church in 1978, after living in New York with a cousin for a year. Now, she is in the Esbjerg Ward Primary presidency, and he teaches the Aaronic Priesthood lessons. Twice a year, Karen and Ove journey to the Stockholm Sweden Temple, which requires a lengthy journey by car and ferry.

Concerns of the Sea

One does not have to go as far as the temple in Stockholm to require the services of a ferry. The kingdom of Denmark itself is an archipelago made up of 483 islands surrounding Jylland. To drive from the Århus stake, for example, on the east coast of Jylland, to the Copenhagen stake, on the east coast of Sjaelland, the largest island of the archipelago, requires traveling part of the distance aboard a ferry.

Ferries with jaws that open at either end—to receive on one shore and deliver on another—are proof of Danish resourcefulness. They are punctual, efficient, and comfortable. Once aboard, you may eat a meal, browse in a shop, or sleep in a berth, gliding along as smoothly as on any bridge.

Water surrounds or permeates nearly all aspects of Danish life. At no point in the country are you ever more than forty-seven miles from the sea. The North Sea shipping lanes to Great Britain and Germany provide major agricultural markets. Commercial trade has made Denmark one of the richest countries in the world.

The shipping industry is a major employer, and it would have employed Richardt Andersen, Copenhagen’s stake president, if his commitment to the Lord had not changed his plans.

“I had served in the Danish Navy and wanted to be trained as a navigator,” President Andersen recalls. But after completing his mission in Denmark in 1970, he married Helmi, and they had the first of their six sons. Instead of Esbjerg and a life on the sea, he was called as bishop of the Copenhagen Second Ward and became a policeman. For the past nine years he has been the stake president.

“The Church’s biggest challenge in Denmark today is that we are an ungodly country,” he says, sighing heavily. “One positive thing I can think of about the national state of things in Denmark is that the bad is so blatant that it is obviously wrong to moral people. To our youth, for example, it’s like black and white.”

He points to the permissive laws passed in the 1960s as the country became more prosperous. “Suddenly our country was affluent and wanted to show the world that our wealth gave us sophistication and understanding. So we passed laws allowing pornography, nudity on beaches, abortion on demand, marriage of homosexuals. Moral barriers fell all around us.”

Though Denmark is not alone in these social ills, it has received considerable international attention for them. On the positive side, President Andersen sees Church members, along with other good people of Denmark, fortifying themselves more than ever against the trend. “Temple marriages have really blessed our people,” he explains. “We have many now who are so strong and doing what they should. Their children are serving missions, and the families are solid. We’re gaining the strength it will take to get the gospel to the people of Denmark.”

The Rising Tide of Missionaries

For the past three years the number of convert baptism in the Copenhagen stake has doubled, growing from twenty-seven in 1988 to one hundred in 1990. “We stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before. We’re working to finish the building on the foundation they laid,” he says. His work includes Saturday jobs with his sons, who are earning money for their missions; whatever he earns while working with them goes into the fund.

One example of the missionary force is Annette Mathiasen Jensen, age twenty-four. “Something special about the missionaries made me want to serve a mission,” she says. “So when I was confirmed I was grateful to hear the words ‘the Lord is pleased with your desire to serve a mission.’”

From 1988 to 1990, Annette served a full-time mission in Denmark. She recently married Ole Jensen of the Odense First Ward and hopes to continue her studies in communication for the deaf.

On the isle of Odense, which is famous as the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, Trine and Steen Kreiberg were, respectively, ages three and two when the missionaries came to their door. Their parents, Finn and Inge, were baptized, and the family was later sealed in the temple. Now, Steen, who served a mission in Oregon, and Trine have each married in the temple themselves. Trine’s husband is a returned missionary who served in San Antonio, Texas, and is now a banker in Odense. And Steen’s wife, Lone, is the granddaughter of the Århus stake patriarch, Verner Buur.

The second-generation Church members in the Kreiberg family are solid evidence of President Andersen’s assessment of the fortification that comes through temple marriages. For Inge Kreiberg the strongest proof of this is in their third child, Caroline.

“We wouldn’t even have Caroline if we hadn’t joined the Church,” Inge explains. Like most Danish women, Inge felt she was through with having children—“I thought two kids and a job were enough. Then one evening as I prepared to teach an institute class on women’s role in giving birth, I stopped abruptly. I knew I wasn’t practicing what the lesson taught.”

She recalls believing the lesson was teaching the truth. She knew she needed to study and pray about motherhood, and her study became intense and personal. She decided that, for her, having another child was right—a choice of no small significance in Denmark. Now Finn, Inge, and Caroline, eleven, live in Odense, in a sturdy house with lots of leaded windows, converted from a derelict railway station where Finn had played as a boy.

Gaining Power in the Temple

Eternal perspective and temple covenants have also strengthened Knud and Bodil Christensen’s marriage. Knud manages an electronics and appliance store, and Bodil teaches school. Health problems brought one trial after another, recalls Bodil, now Relief Society president of the Herning Branch.

“There have been many mountains for us to climb, but we could always count on each other for support,” says Bodil. This understanding alludes to her difficulty with childbirth, Knud’s struggle with cancer and subsequent chemotherapy and recovery, their infant daughter Katharine’s meningitis, and the faith and gratitude these have all brought to the Christensen household.

“Going to the temple for strength has provided a spiritual core to our marriage,” adds Knud. He is a man of quiet strength, yet he and his outgoing wife are equally yoked.

As Denmark is nearly surrounded by water, with its contrasting images of purification and pollution, the Danes themselves are surrounded by a sea of temptation. Prosperity has brought leisure, abundance, and unprecedented opportunity for choice.

Newsstands, night spots, movies, and television show immorality so openly that sensitive people must be on guard constantly. If the same kind of ingenuity and resolve that conquered literal seas could attack the immoral sea in which many Danes are adrift, their prosperity and progress would be an instructive blessing.

Denmark has long been respected as a harbor of uncluttered, functional beauty in its architecture, furniture, and art. Those who have indulged in the raging tempest of pornography and permissiveness have detracted from that heritage, needlessly disturbing those calm waters.

Having Righteous Desires

The right choice can be a lonely one, as Jette (pronounced Yetta) Schmitz of Aalborg found out when she joined the Church. Jette speaks frankly of her nine-year marriage, which couldn’t withstand her conversion. “I’m stronger now than I could have been without the Church,” says Jette. “It brought clear direction into my life. I’m so grateful for it that I bring it up whenever I can in conversations with people.”

In a country where under 3 percent of the people attend church, it is fair to say that Jette is not a typical Dane. Given that the Danish people are generally quite reserved, she is unusually outgoing. She has adapted so naturally to her calling as ward public affairs director that she thought nothing of phoning the local television station to inform them when the youth of the Århus stake were putting on a play.

“I thought it a remarkable thing, that when most Danish young people just hang about, these teenagers had chosen to put in all this time to practice and perform a play; it seemed something worth telling about.” The TV station must have thought so, too. Her call resulted in a televised segment informing viewers about the Church in Denmark.

Jette is among the many Church members in Denmark who enjoy square dancing. It is not one of the first things that come to mind when you think of Denmark. But as far back as 1952, Danes began to adopt traditional American square dancing as a variety of traditional Danish folk dancing.

In 1982, Preben Klitgaard, a Church member in Aalborg, wrote a book on square dancing. Since then, Brother Klitgaard and his wife, Henny, have devoted themselves to teaching and performing square dancing. For them, it has become a missionary tool, as the dance room of their home fills up four nights a week with stomping, clapping, and whooping.

Their children, Susanne, Elisabeth, and Jimmy, also love to participate. It became a family pastime and then much more. “The interest in square dance was so strong,” explains Sister Klitgaard, “that Preben and I began offering classes in an evening school. When the crowds later outgrew our rented room, we built this new wing onto our home to accommodate the growth.”

Often, after an evening of square dancing, she explains, people will stay and talk to the Klitgaards about their way of life. “To us, that’s an open invitation to bear our testimony, because it’s the gospel that has given our lives purpose. Dancing has opened many people’s hearts to the gospel.”

It’s not only adults that are responding to Dansk square dancing. The Copenhagen stake boasts a youth group called Mormon Danserne, a twenty-five-year tradition of folk dancing that began with a youth conference in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1966. Complete with American-style petticoats and gingham dresses, these high-stepping, hand-clapping enthusiasts expand upon the traditional square dance. Under the seasoned direction of Marion Als of the Copenhagen Fourth Ward, they have clogged and folk-danced their way from Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens to Germany and Sweden, from stage to festival to television.

As the Church grows in Denmark, more and more members are finding their way into the public eye. Palle Hattig’s photography of the Faeroe Islands has been published in a commemorative volume by the postal service. Jan Birk of the Odense First Ward has a regular radio program that deals with family issues. He and his wife, Carol, have ten children and have become prominent family advocates in the Danish media. “Gospel values have taught us truths that we share freely to help other families,” says Brother Birk.

Eddie Karnil of Odense is probably best known throughout Denmark as Richard III. His performances of Shakespeare have been lauded as among Denmark’s best, and his portrayal of Charles Dickens’s Scrooge has been an annual classic at the Odense Theater. He and his wife, Ida, have seven children.

Another Church member whose performances are gaining public attention is classical guitarist Jan Pedersen, of Esbjerg, who served a mission in London. His wife, Marie-Hélène, served in Brussels. After studying seven years in a music conservatory, Jan performs regularly, directs a music school, and teaches private lessons. All of these Danish members are visible missionaries in Denmark.

“This is a choice land,” says President Richardt Andersen. “In Denmark there is so much worth preserving, and there is much good to be done. Danish Latter-day Saints are becoming a force for good.”

Danske Saints clearly seek to demonstrate respect for the best of what Denmark stands for—its natural, uncluttered beauty, the power of life in its soil, the renewal and regeneration in its water, and its rich artistic and cultural heritage.

As portrayed in the fine figures of the famous Royal Copenhagen porcelain—a milkmaid in scarf and apron, a mother reading with a child in her lap, or young girls in bonnets and ankle-length sundresses—purity and simplicity are timeless virtues. These innocent images are reflected in the conscious choices of Latter-day Saint Danes who are living and sharing the gospel in their daily lives.

[photos] Photography by Giles H. Florence, Jr.

[photo] Esther and Palle Blond stand on the back porch of the farmhouse they restored in the countryside near Fredericia, Denmark.

[illustration] Original sketch by Carl Bloch for his painting of Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount, on permanent display in Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød near Copenhagen.

[photos] Center: Karen and Ove Christensen of Ribe, with their children (from left), Rune, Bjorn, Camilla, and Canna. Right: Windmills, both antique and modern, are a feature of the Danish landscape. Opposite page: Århus stake president Carsten Larsen enjoys a moment with his daughter, Maria, prior to a stake conference.

[photos] Above, left: President Richardt Andersen of the Copenhagen Stake, standing in front of the stake center. Center: Children’s choir singing at an Århus Stake conference. Right: Ships and ferries improve and facilitate travel between Denmark’s towns and cities located on nearly 500 islands.

[photos] Above, left: Classical guitarist Jan Pedersen at home in Esbjerg with his wife, Marie-Hélène, and their son, Allan. Right: In the recording studio in their home in Ballerup, Palle and Halbörg Hatting produce music, soundtracks, and programs used in and out of the Church. Opposite page: Since 1966, the Mormon Dancers of the Copenhagen Stake have performed folk dances internationally.

[photos] Left: Henny Klitgaard in her Aalborg home where she and her husband, Preben, hold square dancing classes. Center: Knud and Bodil Christensen of the Herning Branch, with the youngest of their four children. Right: Shakespearean actor Eddie Karnil and his wife, Ida, at home in Odense.