The oldest continuously serving Adventist church in Europe is reinventing itself to meet the needs of changing communities in downtown Oslo. Betel Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose building is from 1885, includes a double-usage building that once contained a thriving congregation, a printing press, and sanitarium.
The publishing and sanitarium are now gone, and Adventist university students, residing in converted Sanitarium accommodation, enjoy security and fellowship. Betel church itself, which once saw its congregation soar as high as 500, now has a little more than 100 in attendance.
Leaders began to ask how to make a renewed impact in increasingly secularized Oslo.
“People still have spiritual needs just like back in the early days of evangelist John Matteson,” states senior pastor David Havstein. Matteson found a highly receptive audience when he came to Norway in 1878. Havstein believes there is still interest in spiritual things but that people need to be approached in different ways.
“This church can be a light for Norway, something especially needed,” stated Norwegian Union president Victor Marley. Speaking during the Sabbath morning dedication service on March 7, he noted that God meets people where they are. Quoting Romans 10:15, he stated that “feet that bring good news are always welcome.”
Betel church now offers free classes for migrants to learn Norwegian, a cooking school, a Saturday night mocktail bar, and a conversation café. These are just the start of what they hope will become a bigger program over time.
Delfred and Hanna Onde are both students in the Norwegian classes and the center’s managers. Like Matteson, they are also committed missionaries, having served in Estonia and several other countries before being invited to Oslo. Their experience in helping establish a Center of Influence in Tallin, Estonia, was invaluable in helping bring new life to the old church.
Not that all the members are old. The youngest in the leadership team is Beth Martin, a sports science student at Oslo University. She is enthusiastic about the mocktail bar, serving non-alcoholic cocktails along with offering a wealth of board games, table tennis, and other activities — an attractive venue to a student population.
“You can see straight into the meeting rooms from the pavement outside. Passersby saw what we were doing, asked to come in — and then wanted to know when the next event would be,” Beth stated. She believes it will become very popular.
The same is true with the language school led by a high school teacher, Grethe Opsahl Deacon. It grows larger every week, is now running at capacity, and is in need of more volunteer teachers. The team is also encouraged by the crossover from the language school to other programs. After just a few weeks, two women are already coming to church as a good place for them to practice their Norwegian. Others are joining the international cooking classes.
Rolf Andvik is president of the East Norway Conference. He emphasized that the transformation is a local church project.
“It has to come from them,” he said. “We fully support, and we are equally grateful for union, division, and General Conference support, but it is at the local level where the difference is made.
“We could sell this facility,” he noted, recognizing the severe challenges of parking in the downtown location. At the same time, he observes, it is a central Adventist presence in Norway’s capital city — and a city that has a strong environmental emphasis that fits in with Adventist philosophy. “There is a strong belief that this is the place we need to be, and the place where God can make a difference,” he said.
The dedication service took place just a couple of months after the center started functioning despite some ongoing renovations.
According to leaders, there is a strong belief that Betel, together with the two other churches in Oslo, has a place in making God known to the 675,000 population who live in the city. As Beth Martin sang at the close of the dedication service, “Greater things are still to come, greater things are still to be done, in the city.”