In Greenland, travel by either air or boat is the conventional – and only – way of getting from place to place. The distances between populated areas scattered along the rugged coastline of the world’s largest island are long and there are no roads connecting cities and settlements. Neither railways nor inland waterways exist and some rural areas can only be reached by helicopter. In winter, dog-sled is an alternative, particularly in the north and east.
Isolation, dark winters and the cold polar climate has made its mark on the way people live. So has global warming in recent decades. Ice in the arctic melts faster than anticipated, causing rising ocean levels and seriously affecting Greenland’s rich wildlife.
Since Christianity was brought to the island by the Danish missionary Hans Egede, almost 300 years ago, a vibrant church life has emerged. More than 95 percent of Greenlanders are members of the Lutheran church of Greenland. For many, worship on Sundays is a must.
“This is where people often gather and socialize with one-another”, says Marianne Platou Olsen, after having led a well-attended Sunday worship and baptized two babies in Zion Church, a 240-year-old wooden treasure in Ilulissat, 350 kilometres north of the arctic circle.
From here, she leads Church of Greenland’s Northern Deanery, which is one of three deaneries within the diocese of Greenland. Along with its popular bishop Sofie Petersen and climate change experts, Platou Olsen is one of several church leaders, interviewed by World Council of Churches (WCC) Communications during a recent tour of the world’s largest island. A place where stunning landscapes and the forces of nature are ever-present.
In a series of feature stories, published on the WCC website in the coming weeks, we will dive deeper into church life, climate change implications, social challenges and other aspects of living and functioning in a remote environment where God’s creation is under pressure from global warming.
The series appropriately kicks off with greetings to the WCC fellowship of churches from our colleagues in Ilulissat, Greenland’s third largest town with a population of 4 600:
“At the 4th Sunday after Easter, we had a pleasant church service with two baptisms at the Zion Church in Ilulissat.
From the North Deanery we hope you have a good and peaceful Sunday.
Dean Marianne Platou Olsen and the staff at the Parish of Ilulissat, Greenland”.