The Norwegian Seamen's Church: Background information when reading I Refuse

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I Refuse

by Per Petterson

I Refuse by Per Petterson X
I Refuse by Per Petterson
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 224 pages

    May 2016, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene
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About this Book

The Norwegian Seamen's Church

This article relates to I Refuse

Print Review

Norwegian Seamen's Church of SingaporeAt several points in Per Petterson's I Refuse, two different characters find themselves feeling lonely while in Singapore. One character says she begins to feel a "certain weariness inside, a reluctance to speak English and nothing else for a long time to come" and decides to head to the Norwegian Seamen's Church, which is not simply a church in Singapore, but one of several religious outposts which serve as a reminder of home and offer community for Scandinavian travelers.

Norwegian Church Abroad, or Sjømannskirken, is a religious organization that is affiliated with the Lutheran Church of Norway, but maintains its own independent status. The organization serves 900,000 Norwegians abroad, in 106 churches in more than 80 countries. The organization was founded during the first boom in merchant commerce abroad, when Norway was finding its place in the 1850s as the third largest seafaring nation. Johan Storjohann was the first to try to form some sort of religious nourishment, but it was Jorgen Johansen who really helped move beyond a gathering of seamen to what would later become a vast network of churches around the world specifically tailored to provide the kind of comfort homesick merchants longed for. The Norwegian Seamen's Church's original mission, when founded in 1864, was to provide moral and religious education, as well as provide a place where travelers, students, business people and tourists could find comfort in a little "taste of home" through both its culinary offerings and its community events.

Norwegian Seamen's Church of SingaporeIn a profile of today's Norwegian Seamen's Church in Singapore, Pastor Eva Marie Jansvik, underscores this point. "Our identity is always strongly connected to where we came from. When living abroad, we often need to confirm our identity by bringing our traditions from home. Especially for children; I think it is valuable to teach them about Norway, especially in maintaining the Norwegian language. At the same time, I personally think it's valuable to learn about other cultures when I'm here."

The Singapore church was founded in 1955 and provides Scandinavian solace to some 1,500 Norwegians. Often, food is the quickest way to feel the comfort of home, and in addition to social events, the Church regularly serves Scandinavian fare such as waffles, jams and soups typical of Norwegian culture. Though today the Internet helps connect weary travelers with news of home, Jansvik stresses the importance of physical gathering that the church provides. "But as always, we have an important role in gathering people at pleasant events, serving traditional food, talking to them, and being a place to nurture the Christian faith. Our vision is to give people the courage for hope, faith, and commitment."

Norwegian WafflesWhile visiting the Singapore church, one of the characters from I Refuse learns of an unexpected connection to her past. She leaves feeling a little confused "but also happy". One cannot imagine a better place to learn unexpected and confusing news while abroad than a place whose purpose is to remind one of the familiarities of home.

Both images of the Norwegian Seamen's Church in Singapore courtesy of
Norwegian Waffles, courtesy of Scandikitchen

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to I Refuse. It originally ran in April 2015 and has been updated for the May 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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