Växjö’s International Committee Visit

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(l to r) Margot Hodson, Elsa Jönsson, Kristina Torin, Åsa Hedman, Martin Hodson, Maria Hagander and Ulrike Kylberg at The Mitre.

Following hard on the heels of the visit from Oxford to Växjö in early November, on Thursday, 17th November 2016, Åsa Hedman, who chairs Växjö’s International Committee, arrived in Oxford accompanied by five other members of the Committee. They were a mixture of lay-people and clergy, united in their commitment to building bridges across national boundaries, and with a particular interest in issues of aid and development. Maria Hagander, the vice-chair of the Committee, currently works with asylum seekers in Högsby, a few miles inland from Oskarshamn on the Baltic coast.  Before taking up that post she worked with local government in Kalmar.  Five years ago she spent three months in the Philippines.  Elsa Jönsson is a retired teacher.  She has been involved in local and national politics for over thirty years as a Social Democrat member of Växjö city council.  She became active in the anti-apartheid movement during her student days in Lund.  She has lived in Växjö since 1969 and sits on the Cathedral and Pastoral councils.  Elsa has been involved with the link through her work as a member of the diocesan board (roughly equivalent to Bishop’s Council) and is vice-chair of the stifstfullmäktige, which equates roughly with the Diocesan Synod.  In 2012 she visited this diocese with Bishop Jan-Olof Johansson.  Ulrike Kylberg is married to a retired priest and lives in Gränna at the northern tip of the diocese.  She trained as a nurse and has taught nursing at university level. For the past six years she has been working with Verbena Consulting in the area of leadership development and mentoring for young women.  As well as being active in her local church, she is involved with Soroptimists and Inner Wheel.  Joakim Larsson comes from Nässjö in the west of the diocese.  He is a layman, married with two girls, and is active in the local church, where as vice-chair of the church council he played a significant role in transforming the parishes of Nässjö into a single “major benefice”.  He is also actively engaged in local politics.  Kristina Torin was ordained to the priesthood five years ago.  She works as komminister (roughly equivalent to “associate priest” or “team vicar”) in Villstad, which is part of the Gislaved pastorate in the far west of the diocese.

The group came to England to find out how this diocese tackles a number of issues relating to work with mission agencies, migration and asylum, and fair trade, and to explore different styles of liturgy. After an initial briefing from Maranda St John Nicolle, our diocesan adviser on World Mission and World Development, on their first evening, they spent Friday, 18th November in Oxford, meeting representatives of the mission agencies, discovering the Fair Trade shop at St Michael’s Church, and receiving an overview of concerns arising from the current migration crisis.  In the evening they had a working dinner at The Mitre with Tony Dickinson (representing the Oxford-Växjö link committee) and Margot and Martin Hodson.

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The group with Michael Bowker, Hugh Ellis and Toni Brodelle at All Saints, High Wycombe.

Margot is Rector of the new Wychert Vale benefice, centred on Haddenham, where she has been vicar since 2009. She also has a keen interest in environmental theology, which she teaches at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.  Martin is an environmental biologist, and operations manager of the John Ray Initiative, a leading Christian environmental think-tank named after a seventeenth-century priest and biologist whose studies influenced the later work of Gilbert White in England and Carl Linnaeus in Sweden.  Not entirely by coincidence, Martin has recently returned from a visit to Växjö to learn about environmental work in the diocese, and in the city which is reputed to be “Europe’s greenest city.”

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Members of the group getting stuck into Christmas crafts with the Messy Church congregation at St Francis Church, Terriers (High Wycombe).

On Saturday 19th November the group travelled down the M40 to High Wycombe, with the aim of learning about the work of the Wycombe Refugee Partnership.  They were met at All Saints, the town’s mediaeval parish church, by the Team Rector of High Wycombe, Revd Hugh Ellis, and by Toni Brodelle and Dr Michael Bowker, two of the other key figures in setting up the partnership in the aftermath of the local district council’s decision not to accept refugees from Syria.  After a pub lunch in the town centre, with Toni Brodelle and Tony Dickinson, the group travelled up the A404 to Terriers, on the north side of the town, where Tony Dickinson is vicar, to share in the parish’s monthly “Messy Church”.  Messy Church is known in Sweden and the members of the group took little persuading to join the adults and children in getting enthusiastically stuck into the various Christmas crafts that were on offer.  They also took the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about Christingle (which is not at all known in Sweden and which they had seen advertised at All Saints).  In the evening the Swedish visitors shared a Chinese meal at Terriers Vicarage, before returning to Oxford.  The next morning they split up to take part in the worship of three of the city’s churches (St Andrew’s in Linton Road, St Mary Magdalene’s, and St Michael’s, Summertown) before driving back to Heathrow for their return flight to Copenhagen.

A Shared Pilgrimage, Voxtorp and Witney

In September 2015 a group from Voxtorp with their Komminister Ulrika Zwaard visited the parish of Witney for a long weekend covering the busy time of the annual Witney Feast.   We shared some walks in the Oxfordshire countryside, and our visitors played a lively part in the Feast programme.  Ulrika preached at the traditional fairground service, with our choir gathered behind her on the gallopers.   On the Monday many groups of schoolchildren visited St Mary’s Church, and our Swedish visitors acted out the story of St Lucia with them.

During this visit we talked of what next for our friendship link.  Ulrika opened out an invitation from Kyrkoherde [Pastor] Magnus Hullfors; that up to ten people from Witney might after Easter 2016 join members of the Swedish parish on a pilgrimage to Assisi.  We responded with warmth.

Magnus has led frequent pilgrimages with his parishioners: to Assisi several times, to Rome, and to Santiago de Compostela among others.   He has a special love for Italy, and for St Francis and St Clare.  Visitors from Witney spent a week in Sweden in August 2014 when the programme included prayer walks led by Magnus in the countryside around Voxtorp.  On a previous visit to Witney, Magnus has shared with us his way of walking and praying together.

In some years, a spring Swedish party to Assisi has included young people, pre or post confirmation.  Ulrika had planned this for 2016, but in the end this did not work out.  So the party that arrived at Rome Fiumicino on the Wednesday after Easter, March 30th, comprised Magnus with ten parishioners from Sweden and eight from Witney.  We were a little disappointed not to be a Witney party of ten.  Various keen people couldn’t make the particular dates.  Our team vicar Neil Trainor came with his wife and eight year old daughter.

Each party arranged its own travel to Rome.  Magnus organised the rest.  We travelled by coach to Assisi and back to Rome.  Magnus has long been friends with the Brigidine Convent in Assisi just outside the city wall, so only ten minutes’ walk from the centre.  Sister Marcellina and her fellow sisters were kind and capable hosts, and the convent is lovely, its rooms, its chapel, its dining room, its setting.

pilgrims together wiith our host Sister Marcellina, in front of the Suore S Brigida

The pilgrims together wiith our host Sister Marcellina, in front of the Suore S Brigida

Magnus had worked out a draft programme in advance and shared it with all who would be coming.  The programme bore in mind that some of us, both Swedish and English, had visited Assisi before, some of them with Magnus; but there were many first timers.  Magnus invited Neil to prepare a scheme for daily prayers, morning and evening, including two Eucharists for the Convent chapel.  He suggested that Neil base the prayers on Common Worship Morning and Evening Prayer, in English.

We arrived on the Wednesday after Easter.  On Thursday Magnus led us on a tour of the city “in St Francis footsteps”.  Magnus would stop and tell us the story at key points, and we would often pause to pray. On Friday we visited the great Basilica San Francesco (where he was buried), and spent time with the wonderful frescoes.  Our Swedish guide then led us through the upper parts of the city.  Saturday we left Assisi by coach to visit Norcia, the birthplace of St Benedict, where a Benedictine brother spoke to us in the convent.  We went on to a mountain village, Castellucio, in whose valley famous organic lentils are grown, and we enjoyed the soup in a restaurant there.  Sunday we were back in Assisi and went to the Anglican Eucharist at the Church of St Leonardo – a packed church, with expatriates from the wider area, and another large group of Swedish young people.

Walking on Mount Subasio (where Francis spent much time later in his life) and hearing from Magnus of his love for this mountain.

Walking on Mount Subasio (where Francis spent much time later in his life) and hearing from Magnus of his love for this mountain.

We had a splendid afternoon walk on Mount Subasio, enjoying the lovely flowers and the broad vistas.  Many of us felt particularly close to Francis here, his life and his world.  The walk led us to the hermitage Eremo delle Carceri where we reflected on Francis’ prayer and retreats in his later years, and on his receiving the stigmata.   On Monday we had a longer walk down from the city into the plain: to San Damiano, where Francis received the call “Rebuild my Church”, and which later became the home for St Clare and her sisters: then to Rivotorto: finally to the Portiuncula, preserved within the magnificent Church of St Maria degli Angeli.  On Tuesday morning we said farewell to Sister Marcellina and her sisters, boarded our coach back to Rome, and with more farewells went our separate ways.

Sculpture at Rivotorto: Francis surrounded by children and birds, and our youngest pilgrim.

Sculpture at Rivotorto: Francis surrounded by children and birds, and our youngest pilgrim.

Magnus’ programme gave us good free space, early evening and some of the afternoons.  Each evening after supper we met in the convent common room for “conversations” to

reflect and to share our feelings and experience.  Some evenings a speaker joined us, including a lively Danish Franciscan from The Basilica San Francesco.  Another evening Sister Marcellina talked about her order, and their ministry of hospitality in Assisi.  But always Magnus invited us each in turn to say something about the day and about whatever concerned them.

cross before which Francis prayed as he sensed the Lord calling him, and waited for Him.

The cross before which Francis prayed as he sensed the Lord calling him, and waited for Him.

On our final evening in the convent chapel we blessed tau crosses and each received one.

The pilgrimage was a rich experience in many ways, for the walk with St Francis, of course, and for our walking and talking and praying together, Voxtorp and Witney.

Martin Peirce