Skip to main content

A home for the Nordic North

Near the centre of Oslo is a large house which, since 1965, has been the centre for the work of Initiatives of Change.

Near the centre of Oslo is a large house which, since 1965, has been the centre for the work of Initiatives of Change. It has no name, and most people refer to it by its street, Sophus Lies gate. My wife Mary and I have just spent five days there.

We came there to launch the book ‘Caux 1946-2021: 75 years of stories’, and to speak about the ongoing work of Caux, which resumes this year after the pandemic. The book tells a story from each year of Caux conferences since the former hotel became a centre devoted to reconciling a war-torn Europe, and then reached out across the world. Many from Norway have helped with these conferences, and the book was received with enthusiasm.

The visit gave us the opportunity to discover what went on in this house. The launch took place on a Thursday, the day when many of the IofC network – teachers, social workers, administrators, active retired – gather there for a meal and a discussion. They include African and Asian, Muslim and Christian Norwegians. They carry responsibility for the house together, alongside Jens Wilhelmsen, who lives there, and his daughter, Camilla, who shares her time between IofC and her teaching job in Drammen. 

The next day Jens invited several Oslo citizens to lunch. I found myself sitting between a well-known journalist and a retired politician who previously had been a champion speed skater. The lunch began at 2pm and conversation flowed on a wide range of topics through the next three and a half hours.

These are just two of many gatherings that take place in the house, bringing together people who seek to bring the principles of IofC into the life of their family, their workplace, their community, their country.

And beyond their borders. Over the years the house has welcomed people and groups from many countries, especially from Eastern Europe and Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall. They come to interact with Norwegians, to discover what IofC offers them and their countries, and to explore how Norway grapples with the challenges facing their societies. And more recently, the house has welcomed Ukrainian refugees.

During the pandemic the gatherings had to move onto zoom, and this has opened a way to a wider outreach. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Norwegians began holding a daily prayer gathering on zoom, inviting all who wished to pray for this tragic situation. Ever since, people from numerous countries including Ukraine and Russia have taken part.

Every year the house holds a Christmas fair. Over the preceding months, the IofC network is hard at work, preparing food and presents. On the day of the fair, hundreds come, enjoy the event, learn about IofC – and the proceeds help raise the funds needed to maintain the house and undergird the work of IofC in Norway.

In recent years IofC teams in the Nordic countries have strengthened cooperation between their countries. This coming weekend IofC representatives from Sweden will meet at Sophus Lies gate to plan together for their joint initiatives. It is a home for the Nordic North.

Written by John Bond