Sarah Clemetson reports:
‘A Weekend in Växjö – Our Swedish Exchange’
In April 2004, the choir of Högstorp church, in Växjö, paid a visit to St Mary’s, Headington. They stayed for only a long weekend but have become friends for life. So we had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to make a return visit on Advent weekend. The “choir” from St Mary’s, as we were billed in the local Swedish paper, made their journey at the end of November.
Choosing the right music for a very mixed ability “choir” (some regular choir members, others definitely not) involved two enjoyable dinners beforehand. It was a tough job but it had to be done… After a hiccup involving a forgotten passport, our party set off for Copenhagen, via Stansted, then by crowded train to Växjö, where our host families were waiting to welcome us.
There is not the space to tell all we did that weekend, but it would not have been possible without the kind hospitality of our host families and the organisation of the diocesan staff. On Saturday morning we were given a tour of Växjö Cathedral by the Rev’d Dr Christopher Meakin, the Cathedral Chaplain, Area Dean and Swedish Co-ordinator of the Oxford-Växjö link.
The cathedral has changed appearance many times since it was built in the mid-11th Century – sometimes planned, sometimes not (it was burnt down by the Danes in 1570 and in 1611). Its most recent restoration was in 1995 and it now has outstanding artwork, using the glass for which Växjö is famous. This includes an altar triptych, a font and a wonderful tree of life. The cathedral also possesses three organs.
Next we visited Bishop Anders Wejryd in his residence, Östrabo. Before being shown round his home we had the famous Luciakat and ginger biscuits. These are a seasonal speciality, which we also enjoyed at Högstorp in the evening. Lunch in the refectory was part of a tour of the University of Växjö – just a little younger than Oxford’s (it is less than 10 years old!). The evening entertainment took place in the “church-hall” at Högstorp. After a short service where we sang one of our pieces, we ate and drank our fill including a glass of glögg – a variety of punch. Then there was a concert with contributions by people of the church – we sang “In an English Country Garden”.
The high point was the St Lucy’s day procession, brought forward a week for our benefit. As is the custom, the children dressed in white with the girls wearing crowns of candles (electric bulbs not real flames!). On Advent Sunday there was a baptism during the Eucharist at Högstorp, the older siblings pouring the water into the font. After a visit to the glassworks museum in the afternoon, we attended an Advent service at Växjö Cathedral, with hymns, readings and carols sung by their small choir of boys. Following the Christian Calendar means that specific hymns are sung at certain times of the year, whichever language or country you are in. Which meant that over the weekend we had the same three Advent carols and could sing them fluently in Swedish without knowing precisely what they meant.!! I was pleasantly surprised by what a big deal Advent seemed to be in Sweden. Perhaps, as in Britain, the lead up to Christmas in the shops starts in October, but Advent is noticed as well. In Växjö there was a street fair, a craft market and a photograph in the local paper of a Cathedral choirboy lighting the first candle of Advent. What made it really special for us was that there was snow on the Sunday. There was a real feeling of anticipation.
All too soon it was Monday morning and time to return to Copenhagen airport by train through the Swedish countryside and over the Øresund Bridge. Suddenly there was the realisation that there wasn’t long to go. Not a card written, not a present bought, and the airport bar playing “Merry Christmas, Everybody” by Slade.
Sarah is a member of the congregation of St Mary’s, Headington.
Wendy Jones adds: ‘Advent at Högstorps Kyrka, Växjö’
In Sweden, the first Sunday of Advent is celebrated on a grand scale. Churches across the country are packed with worshippers, and often there are more people at Church on Advent Sunday than on Christmas Day.
This year a group of eight people from St Mary’s joined in with the celebrations and attended services at the Högstorps Kyrka, Växjö, and experienced first hand the packed church and baptisms that are common on Advent Sunday in Sweden. Many of you will remember that in April this year a group from Växjö had visited us at St Mary’s. This was our chance to see how things were done in Sweden. It was a very busy weekend and there will be a fuller report in a future edition of the magazine.
On Advent Sunday, we awoke to falling snow, which continued as we made our way to the church. There were to be two baptisms during the service and there was another after the main service had finished. The service itself was in Swedish and English and many of the hymns (sung in Swedish) were full of “Hosianna” and “David’s Son”. As in England there are some hymns that are only used at certain times of the year, and we sang three of these Advent hymns many times over the weekend!
The service itself was very similar to ours, but the baptisms were held early on in the service at the front of the Church. The older siblings of those being baptised helped to fill the font with water. As the Church was so full Holy Communion was administered from the Chancel and the North aisle. It was only at this point that some of us, English and Swedish, realised that the Bishop of Växjö had been in the congregation.
After the service we enjoyed coffee with members of the congregation. It was just like being at home!
Wendy Jones is PCC Secretary at St Mary’s Headington