With one eye on the British Airways website (would their flights be operating?) eight representatives from the Diocese of Oxford left for Sweden at the beginning of June. They were among the international guests at Världens Fest (“The World’s Celebration”), a celebration of the international work of the Church of Sweden, which this year was being hosted by our Swedish partner diocese of Växjö.
The eight representatives were Bishop Stephen Cottrell, who was due to speak on spirituality and mission, and his wife Rebecca, Maranda St John Nicolle, the diocesan World Development Adviser and Chair of the Council for Partnership in World Mission, Judith Scott, the Lay Chair of Diocesan Synod, Roger Williams, Diocesan Chaplain to Deaf People, who was also one of the speakers, Gillian Straine from the Kidlington Team Ministry, Hugh White from Deddington and Tony Dickinson, the European Contact for the diocese. Bright sunshine greeted them, accompanied by warm hospitality and many cups of strong Swedish coffee (“the third sacrament of the Church of Sweden”, as it has been described). Summer, it seemed, had arrived in Scandinavia before it reached the British Isles. There was time for orientation, and a quick guided tour of the Cathedral with its beautiful contemporary glass-work, before the formal opening of the Celebration by Archbishop Anders Wejryd. Archbishop Anders was formerly Bishop of Växjö and initiated the Oxford-Växjö partnership.
Earlier in the day Archbishop Anders had welcomed the international guests, who came from Germany, Costa Rica, Tamil Nadu in south India, Tanzania, Palestine, Brasil, Italy, Ethiopia and the Philippines as well as from Great Britain. Among the guests was Fr Luke Gregory OFM, a Franciscan from Sheffield who serves as Roman Catholic Vicar-General on Rhodes. One of the Tanzanian visitors presented the Archbishop with a hand-carved wooden cross.
The Costa Rican delegation included Kattia Castro Flores, a theologian from the Lutheran Church there, who was one of the keynote speakers, and the Lutheran Bishop Melvin Jiménez. Bishop Melvin preached at the closing service on Sunday and at the opening ceremony signed, on behalf of his Church, a covenant between the Lutheran Church in Costa Rica (ILCO) and the diocese of Växjö, which now has as many overseas links as the diocese of Oxford.
In all there were around 2,500 people in Växjö, from all parts of Sweden, and the informal conversations, over coffee, over meals, over a drink in The Bishop’s Arms (an “English pub” just down the road from the Cathedral), were often as important as the formal talks and workshops. At the celebration supper on Saturday night, Hugh White and Tony Dickinson found themselves sitting opposite the Archbishop’s PA and the member of the Church of Sweden’s international team who had special responsibility for West Africa – not natural Lutheran territory in many ways, but an area where the Swedish Church’s aid agency has been active in the fight against advancing desert in the Sahel. Judith Scott met her opposite number, the Vice-Chair of Växjö’s Diocesan Board. Bishop Stephen took another step on his way to his new diocese when the Bishop’s Chaplain from Chelmsford’s partner diocese of Karlstad introduced herself at the beginning of his address, “Luminous Christianity – apostolic spirituality for a mission shaped church”.
Both Tony and Hugh come from parishes which have links with congregations in Sweden and both were delighted to meet folk from those congregations during their time in Växjö. Rebecca Cottrell, who is an accomplished potter and teaches ceramics, was intrigued by the installation “Wholeness and Fragment” which a woman potter from Bethlehem had set up in one of the chapels in Växjö cathedral. Maranda St John Nicolle was busy keeping up with developments in the Church of Sweden’s engagement with issues of development, trade justice and concern for the environment, while Judith and Gillian continued to reflect on and develop insights from the preliminary conference which they had attended at nearby Kronoberg.
Some of the party knew Sweden well and were able to greet old friends. For others it was their first visit to Växjö and an introduction to a way of being Church which was at the same time comfortingly familiar and almost disturbingly strange. For all it was a learning experience, emphasising how much we have to give and receive from one another as our partnership broadens our horizons and deepens our awareness of God’s presence in his world.
(All pictures by Tony Dickinson)