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A wave of sympathy and shock followed the murders apparently committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway.
Church leaders in Norway and internationally offered their prayers and condolences as the country struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

The atrocity came very close to Norway’s small Baptist community.

A nephew of Rev. Billy Taranger, a former president of the European Baptist Federation, was on the island of Utoeya where 69 people died, but swam to safety. Eight others were killed after a car bomb exploded near government buildings in Oslo.

“Not since the Second World War has there been a situation like this in Norway,” Roger Dahl, spokesman for the Baptist Union of Norway, said.

“We hope that we, as Baptists and also all other Christians in Norway, can convey hope and forgiveness in a difficult situation.”

Ian Spink, head deacon at the International Baptist Church at Sandvika, just outside Oslo, said that while no one in the congregation was directly affected, the events had been deeply shocking.

Many of the congregation gathered for prayer the following day, and Sunday’s service had included prayer for the injured and bereaved.

The tragedy might make the largely secular Norwegian people ask questions they had not faced before, Spink said.

“I want to assure you of the love and prayers of our churches after the horrifying violence that you have experienced in Oslo and on Utoeya Island,” Rev. Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, wrote to his counterpart in Norway, Per Overgaard. “We have been stunned and appalled by the news and we want to stand with you, our Baptist brothers and sisters, in this time of deep sadness and reflection.

“I know that tens of thousands of Baptists in this country will be remembering you in their prayers today and the coming weeks. May the Lord draw you together with a new urgency and depth and may you discover afresh the faithfulness and comfort of our Lord.”

Rev. Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, wrote to Norway’s Baptist Union saying, “At this time we hold in our hearts and our prayers families who have lost loved ones in such tragic circumstances. And we pray for your nation in the coming days as it tries to come to terms with what has happened.

“We know that there is a good and close relationship between the different churches in Norway, and we pray for you and the other churches as you minister to individuals, communities and your nation at this time, that together you may be able to share something of the love of God which is there even in such suffering and devastation.”

Since the attack, Oslo Cathedral, which is two blocks from the bomb site where eight people died, has become a center for the nation’s mourning.

The cathedral’s dean said that people of no particular faith as well as Muslims and those of other faiths had been coming in to pray.

“People are religious, and part of the response is a religious one,” he told the BBC.

The killer is thought to have been motivated by a right-wing pseudo-Christian ideology, which included a hatred of Muslims.

Norway’s immigrant population has been rising in recent years. This has led to tensions with the majority community, though Norway’s churches have been in the forefront of attempts to combat this.

An interreligious and ecumenical declaration in 2007 on freedom of religion saw the Islamic Council of Norway and Norwegian churches agree a protocol for conversions.

It marked the first time an Islamic body had agreed to the validity of conversions out of Islam, traditionally regarded as virtually impossible.

Last December, Norway’s churches launched an ecumenical document framed by Baptist leader Mette Marie Bommen on migration policy and integration, with recommendations on political actions to integrate migrants into wider society.

This article appeared originally in TheBaptistTimes of Great Britain.

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