Pastoral Letter on Terrorist Attacks in Norway


Dear Friends in Jesus Christ:

By now, many of you have heard the news reports and have seen photos of two terrorist attacks that took place in Norway that have left 92 dead. A 32-year-old Norwegian has been arrested in what some news outlets are comparing to the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.

Because we are a connectional and global church, I share with you the words of my colleague, Bishop Christian Alsted, episcopal leader for the Nordic and Baltic Area:

Life in Norway that we usually experience safe and secure was brutally shaken by a violent bomb explosion in the government district in Oslo on Friday, July 22, and further by an incomprehensible massacre at a national youth camp run by the Labour party on island Utoya.

At this time the police have reported more than 90 victims, of which 84 are from the youth camp, and a number of people are injured. The police has arrested a 32-year-old extreme right wing Norwegian who, while impersonating a police officer, shot and killed youth at the camp and also is charged to be behind the bombing in Oslo.

In the past 24 hours we have seen pictures and heard stories of events that we would not have thought could take place in a peaceful country like Norway. Young people on island Utoya have been exposed to experiences so horrifying, that it will impact them for life. This incident affects the whole nation of 4,5 million, and families across the country grieve their loved ones. In this national tragedy the Norwegian people needs the support, care and prayers of the churches.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has encouraged the Norwegian people to respond with openness in protection of our democratic society, and the cabinet fully supports this attitude. We know that our churches and pastors will actively participate in the care and support of affected families and friends. Many people will have a need to get together with others to share their thoughts and emotions in coming to terms with this terrible experience, therefore we encourage congregations to make our churches available for conversation, silence and prayer. We have also encouraged our churches to organize memorial services, preferably ecumenically, to give people the opportunity to express their grief and despair and to find comfort and strength in Christ.

The first memorial service will be at the Central Church UMC in Oslo on Sunday, July 24, where Bishop Emeritus Oystein Olsen will preach. At the worship services I will call Methodist Churches in the Episcopal area to prayer for the families who have lost loved ones. We also encourage prayer for wisdom and strength for the Norwegian government, and that Norway as a nation will not be ruled by fear but that we will be able to continue to live in trust and openness with each other.

As you gather for Sunday worship, join with the people of Norway in solidarity. A number of worship resources related to 9-11 are quite appropriate on this occasion as well.

In the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11, when the United States and the world were grieving, mainline denominations called for prayer, inclusion and reconciliation. In an ad near Ground Zero, The United Methodist Church proclaimed, "Fear is not the only force at work in the world" with a set of praying hands.

When the South Asian tsunami brought massive death and destruction to the people of the Asian Rim, The United Methodist Church said that it was not the work of a vengeful God. Instead, they said, God was in the suffering, standing with those experiencing great loss. The Church called on the world to assist, and people around the world did exactly that.

The Apostle Paul was right when he wrote young Timothy, "God didn't give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving and self-controlled." Once again, we are called to proclaim God's spirit provides hope in these tragic times. Please join me as we stand with the people of Norway.

Yours because of Jesus Christ,

Gregory V. Palmer