Methodist marriages in Norway might be invalid because of “wrong liturgy”


Northern Europe


A wedding ceremony in Norway. Photo EPA, Audun Braastad

Couples in Norway may have celebrated their wedding thirty years ago, have happily lived together afterwards – but have officially not been married. A law professor warns that marriages concluded in the Methodist Church over the past 30 years are not legally married.

The problem is that the liturgy had not been officially approved but the authorities. That is the conclusion of the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Families (Bufdir).

This may pose a problem for the Methodist Church in Norway. The denomination has been using marriage liturgies for over thirty years without receiving approval, Dagen writes. In total, almost 800 couples got married during that period.

In 1970, the Methodist Church requested and received approval for its wedding liturgy. However, since then, the denomination has changed the liturgy five times: in 1991, in 2009, in 2017, 2019 and 2023. However, according to Bufdir, only the versions from 1970 and 2023 are approved.

The Bufdir director of Matrimonial law warns in an e-mail to Dagen that this has serious consequences: "The consequences of marrying a couple without the wedding ritual being approved by Bufdir is that the marriage has not been concluded."


Even though he acknowledges that it is regrettable if the nearly 800 weddings are judged to be invalid, general manager Emil Skarveit from the Methodist Church emphasises that the priests who officiated the weddings were always approved.

He explains that he did not know the Church had to ask for renewed approval if it changed the liturgy. According to Skarveit, the different versions of the liturgy are identical to the one approved in 1970. The changes were only linguistic and did not need new approval, the denomination had believed. Therefore, it did not apply for renewed approval.


Kristine and Håvard Larsen got married in 1994 in the Methodist Church of Norway. Now, they wonder whether they are actually married at all after almost thirty years of living in wedlock. "When I saw it, I was a bit like, wow, I got a bit of a shock. Because I think we have been married for 30 years, and we have a good, solid marriage", Kristine tells Vart Land.

Now, the couple wonders whether they need a new marriage ceremony with a priest or whether the tax authorities will do new calculations because they were not married after all. The greatest problem, Håvard believes, is that his wife changed her maiden name to his name. That would mean that she has lived under the wrong name for 30 years.

It is up to the state administrator to decide on the consequences of the unapproved wedding liturgy, Vart Land reports. However, it does not make a difference to Kristine and Håvard. "We think that marriage is "good enough" when we were blessed in the Methodist Church and that in the presence of witnesses, we promised to be faithful to each other until death do us part."

Loss of reputation

According to Asbjørn Strandbakken, the law is very clear. "Those couples are not married", the law professor from the University of Bergen says. He calls the problem a "loss of reputation, a scratch in the paint" for the Methodist Church. Strandbakken is in favour of abolishing the right to seal marriages for religious communities. "I think you should have a state arrangement for marriage and then have a religious ritual afterwards."

At the same time, the problem of invalid marriage is not unsolvable. Strandbakken points out that couples can apply to Bufdir to get their marriage approved retroactively. Bufdir confirms this possibility but says it is too early to say what the specific consequences of the unapproved wedding liturgy are.


Some Methodist pastors do not see the lack of approval as a real problem. Priest Torgeir Tveter from Stavanger says to Vart Land that it is "most likely a storm in a teacup.”

Tveter points out that the changes in the liturgy mostly concern Bible texts and some prayers, not the wedding ritual itself. "I cannot see that marriage should be declared invalid because we have moved a comma in the section." In addition, the priest does not believe the state should have a say in which hymns should be sung during the wedding ritual or in the change of these hymns for the matter.

Also, Dag Martin Østevold, the pastor of the Methodist Church in Bergen, does not see the case as severe. "I think this whole thing is a big joke", he says to Vart Land. "I have a great deal of respect for what the general manager presents, namely that it is a question of linguistic formulations which have clearly been changed in the liturgy. It's completely natural. We change Bible translations, and our language evolves. That there are linguistic changes in the liturgy is completely normal", he argues.


Bufdir points out that it is difficult to say how significant the changes in a wedding liturgy must be for it to be approved again. "We can say that there must be significant changes, not just modernisation or a change in language use", the department director, Marija Rosenqvist, writes in an e-mail to Vart Land. However, she stresses that it is especially important that the parties "must be asked the same questions as to whether they wish to enter into marriage with each other, answer yes and be declared as legal spouses by the marriage ceremony" to ensure that the marriage is voluntary and that both spouses are equal in marriage as required by Norwegian law.

The Methodist Church has issued a statement on the issue. In it, it informs members about the news. "If this turns out to be correct, it is something we would like to apologise to the ministry and those who have been affected", the Church writes.



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