Church leaders mull separation from state

Oslo, Norway - Leaders of Norway's state church are holding their annual meeting (Kirkem√łtet) at Hafjell this week, with the very existence of the state church at stake.

The annual meeting serves as the Norwegian church's highest representative assembly, and is held every year to handle critical issues.

Highest on the list this year is a proposal to spin off Norway's evangelical Lutheran church from centuries of state control. Nearly 90 church representatives, including all 11 bishops in Norway, will be debating the question.

King Harald, who serves as the ultimate head of the Norwegian state church, attended the opening day of the meeting and said he hoped for "a unified solution" to the question of how the relationship between church and state should be organized.

"The church still means a lot to our people," King Harald said. He stands to lose his position as head of the church if it's separated from the state.

The monarch maintained his traditionally neutral position, refusing to get involved in the debate over whether the time is ripe for fundamental change.

"I'm glad the meeting has set aside so much time to the question," he said, after noting that the "steady attention" paid to it reflects changes both within society and the church, "at the same time that it can affect what's been the foundation of the Norwegian people's values for centuries."

He claimed the discussion also shows "that people are fond of their church and concerned about its future."