The first LDS missionary in Denmark, Peter O. Hansen, was an eye-witness to the departure of the first Scandinavian Saints to immigrate to Salt Lake City. He left this account:
"The day appointed for the emigrants to start was Dec. 24, [1853,T but I think they started two days sooner in two steamers from the Customhouse Wharf. I went out there to bid farewell and see them off, as there was a great cry about the Mormons persuading people to emigrate. Thousands of inquisitive persons were crowding the wharf to see them." (Autobiography of Peter Olsen Hansen, p. 103.)From 1850 to 1926 about 14,000 Danish Latter-day Saints immigrated to Utah. Since the Church headquarters for Scandinavia was located in Copenhagen from 1850 until 1905, this was the gathering point for most of the Scandinavian Saints before the voyage to America.
Once the emigrants had assembled in Copenhagen they originally traveled by ship to Kiel or Lubeck, Germany, and then by rail to Hamburg. In Hamburg they secured passage to Hull or Grimsby, England, and then by rail to Liverpool. In Liverpool the Scandinavian Saints united with Saints from other parts of Europe before crossing the Atlantic.
Later, the Scandinavian Saints began to sail directly from Copenhagen to England or the United States.
Even though thousands of Danish Saints went to Utah during the period when immigration to Zion was part of the Church program, about 4,300 members of the Church remain in Denmark today with the largest concentration of members living in Copenhagen, the capital of the Kingdom of Denmark.
As Copenhagen was a gathering point for the Saints who immigrated to Zion, even today most international airlines use Copenhagen as their gateway to Scandinavia.
"Copenhagen played a historic role in the spreading of the gospel in the Nordic countries," said Jens Kristoffersen, Church Educational System director for Denmark. "The mission office serving all of Scandinavia was located here for more than 50 years of the history of the Church in the area. A very liberal constitution, which I believe was inspired, was passed the year before the missionaries came to Denmark. This was one reason the Church was able to gain a solid foothold here in Copenhagen, from where the gospel could spread throughout the rest of the Nordic countries."
The Church Educational System has been in operation for 20 years in Copenhagen, and according to Brother Kristoffersen, it has had a tremendous influence on the progress of the Church.
The Copenhagen Denmark Stake is located in a typical metropolitan area, and the presence of seminary and institute of religion has an important religious influence on the community, said Brother Kristofferson, who is a counselor in the stake presidency in addition to being CES director.
"Before seminary and institute of religion were introduced in Copenhagen, we lost 60-80 percent of our youth [to inactivityT. Today we retain 75-80 percent. A major factor in this improvement is that the youth today solve their problems by using the scriptures.
"When you hear the youth of the Copenhagen stake bear their testimonies today, they are much more focused on the scriptures than previously. It is wonderful to witness this change among the youth."
Another well-known institution in the Copenhagen stake for more than 25 years has been the Copenhagen Square Dancers. Originally inspired by the BYU Square Dancers, they have provided a weekly activity for two generations of Church youth.
In addition to being an attractive opportunity for the youth of the stake to be together, the Copenhagen Square Dancers are also a great public-affairs instrument since they always have many spectators when they perform in malls or on public squares. Recently the Copenhagen Stake Square Dancers performed outside the Copenhagen City Hall with a group of square dancers from Ricks College on tour.
Area wise, Denmark is about one-fifth the size of Utah, but it has a little more than 5 million inhabitants. About 1.2 million people reside in the Copenhagen metropolitan area. Copenhagen was fortified and incorporated in 1167. Excavations have shown traces of people living here since the Stone Age.
The large majority of Denmark's population belongs to the Lutheran state church. Although about 50 percent of all Danes claim to believe in God, only about 3 percent attend church regularly.
"Religion is not a topic a Dane talks about often," said Svend Aage Andersen, a counselor in the Copenhagen 4th Ward bishopric. "Compared to Americans and Englishmen, Danes are very reserved, especially in regard to religion. This gives the missionaries some problems when they proselyte, it being quite hard to start a religious conversation with the people.
"Lately we have experienced a growth in the Church in Copenhagen. More are being reactivated and the number of baptisms is growing. This probably ties in with increased interest in the subject of religion in Danish society."
The stake Public Affairs Council has lately had a number of activities aimed at making the Church more known. When Johan Koch was called as a stake president in October 1992 he was interviewed on one of the most popular TV shows in Copenhagen.
"The Church in Copenhagen is still in a maturing process," said Pres. Koch. "We hope the members soon will be able to take better care of new members. Right now we are experiencing some difficulty with properly integrating a number of refugees because of problems with language and culture."
Concerning another aspect of the language and culture issue, the stake president commented, "Even though we have worked together with a number of excellent mission presidents from abroad, we look forward to the day when a Dane will be called as a mission president."
He concluded: "We are experiencing a period right now where individuals and families are being reactivated, bringing children and spouses along into the Church. Men are receiving the priesthood and families are being sealed in the Stockholm Temple."