Northernmost United Methodist congregation thrives
The Rev. Per Bradley is exactly where he wants to be — “back home” in Hammerfest, Norway, serving the world’s northernmost United Methodist ministry.
Bradley is just a stone’s throw from the North Cape where he spent his early childhood. Despite being far north of the Arctic Circle, the harbor remains ice free because of the Gulf Stream. Hammerfest is home to some 10,000 people.
Six years ago, Bradley was a student at Menighets Fakultetet, the seminary in Oslo, for those seeking ordination in the United Methodist and Lutheran churches. As he signed up for a work placement for his seminary parish studies, Bradley applied to join the thriving ministry in Hammerfest. The church – which had come near to closing in the late 1990s, “has had exciting turnaround in its development,” he says today.
Bradley was excited about the possibilities, sensing “this was a ministry which suited me well.” He is also “a bit provoked by the low number of people who wanted to travel to the exciting ministries we have in the northern parts off Norway,” he admits.
“The work placement, gave me a taste for more of the ministry — and they expressed a desire for me to come back to them. Pastor Leif Anders Hansen was about to end his service at the same time as I was starting mine, so we both got what we wanted,” Bradley said.
Hammerfest proved a good fit for Bradley. The church’s former pastor mentored the newcomer, while giving him complete responsibility.
Today Hammerfest is a church on the move, led by a pastor with a reputation for motivating and including people. While working as a data programmer – before being called to ordained ministry – Bradley led the local Christian Student Association, which grew from seven to 70 active members during his tenure.
Moving, shifting continue
Per and his wife, Hanne Bradley, arrived in Hammerfest to a warm reception from both the congregation and the city. “Many … stepped up and helped us settle here,” Bradley said.
Initially, Bradley said, “I sensed the ministry was in the middle of a generational shift.
The positive turnaround in the church and its ministry have continued. “New people moved to the city and the ministry, and new members from the city have joined. Today it’s an active and vibrant ministry.”
Older members groom younger members for leadership. “We have managed to include more of the younger ones in management,” Bradley said, “but we`re not done with that process yet.”
Children who were toddlers and younger elementary age when Bradley arrived in Hammerfest are now tweens and adolescents. The church is reaching out to them through “Super Friday.”
“We hope this will provide a comfortable environment for them,” Bradley said. When the youth are encouraged to help grow the church, they gain confidence and strengthen their sense of belonging.
‘I see great possibilities’
The congregation is also involved in youth work with other denominations. “This gives us a sense of community and unity,” Bradley said. “Multidenominational work in Hammerfest is flourishing.” Last autumn, in collaboration with three other denominations, the congregation offered courses on basics of the Christian faith.
Because so much needs to happen, Hammerfest leaders are prioritizing needs and goals. They invited two advisors, Leif Jakobsen and Jon Løvland, to help visualize paths for growth and strategize to meet these goals. Jakobsen and Løvland work in congregational development throughout the Norway Annual Conference.
“We`re looking at many different possibilities,” Bradley said. “Do we want to have a family group for parents and children? Should we have groups that include all the generations? Whatever we choose, I think the will to succeed is there.”
The congregation is very positive and open for all generations in the Hammerfest area,” says Løvland as he shares Bradley’s hope and optimism. “I have been told that the Methodist Church in Hammerfest is the most active and most visited of all denominations there.
People are interested in small-group ministries. “We think these smaller groups are the key,” Bradley said. “It will strengthen the community in our ministry. It will give more people the opportunity to share … their faith. It will be a better offer for new members who join the ministry. It will fortify the development of the prayer service and help people feel familiar and safe with their gifts.”
Bradley also wants the Hammerfest ministry to emphasize ministry with families, especially married couples. After participating in marriage counseling and couples’ weekends, the Bradleys joined the group planning similar events. Bradley believes, “We as Christians have a lot to contribute to issues pertaining to marriage. We can help and strengthen couples, so they will have better unions.” As the parents of three young children, Per and Hanne Bradley know the challenges and “need to focus on making time for each other and investing time and energy into our unions.”
A church with open doors
What are Bradley’s dreams for the ministry?
“First and foremost,” he said, “my dream is that we continue to be a generational ministry, where everybody has a place and an affiliation. It`s hard not to mention the basement under the church hall when one talks of dreams because the possibilities are so many. I dream of a church with open doors.
“The basement could be our window toward the city. I haven’t quite figured out what to fill the basement with, but we will be a church that is open and active all week long. With the big window in the basement looking out on the main street of the city, we will become much more visible. If we can manage to become more visible and continue to be as inclusive, I see great possibilities. We will include, develop and be a ministry of service in our town.
“Today, we have a church service, prayer service, afternoon meetings and Super Friday. That’s not a whole lot, but we would like to have more gathering venues,” he said.
One idea is a café open 24/7, where members and newcomers could meet.
“That would be perfect,” said Bradley with a warm smile.
Karl Anders Ellingsen is the head of communications for The United Methodist Church in Norway. Johanna Lundereng is head of the Norway Annual Conference Office.