As part of my three month sabbatical in autumn 2011, I made my first visit to Sweden and to our link diocese of Växjö. I stayed for a while in the parish of Ryssby with Kyrkoherde Elisabeth Lindow, and then later at St Sigfrid’s Folkhögskola a few miles outside Växjö, with Leif Adolfsson, sub-dean of the cathedral as my guide.
Firstly I continue to express my thanks for the way I was made so welcome during my stay in Sweden, for the generous hospitality, for the conversations shared.
Although it was a short stay of 10 days (including travel), I was pleased to see different parts of Sweden and different parts of church life.
People continue to ask me what my impressions were, and I continue to think about this, and here are my reflections:
– This was my first visit to Sweden and I wanted to make it an adventure – as I took time to travel! I travelled by train, by Eurostar to Brussels, on to Köln, overnight to Copenhagen and then into Sweden. I enjoyed travelling on my own and gaining a different perspective than that of being part of a group. It was a great adventure! I loved seeing the country, feeling something of the space of the country, the peace, enjoying the trees and the lakes. Even in the city there was not so much of the rushing and busyness as here.
– Church and society – though the established link between state and church has gone, there still seems to be a relatively strong place for church within society. Though numbers attending may be declining, the church seems to be held in generally good affection. (Maybe more so in the country?) In comparison to UK there continue to be large numbers of young people coming for confirmation. The church in the city perhaps faces more the challenge of people more distant from Christianity, knowing Bible stories and church practice. It felt good to be in a place where there wasn’t (yet?) a certain defensiveness at belonging to a faith community.
– Financial support for church – there seems to be good financial support for the church, including its buildings, although broadening the use of church buildings and exploring different ways to make church buildings resources for the whole community, is challenging.
– Accepting the other – the sensitive issue of immigration, of assimilating people from different countries and different faiths, continues to be a challenge for society in general, including the church. Seeing the Utvandrarnas hus (Emigrants Museum) and seeing the stories of Swedish emigrants was a good reminder of the continuing struggle to find home in a foreign place, and find a way of living in diversity. In many ways Sweden shows the way of accepting the other, eg different sexualities, gender equality. (Not perfect, but maybe more open)
– Leadership – good to see gifted women in positions of leadership, in ordained ministry in the church. Questions of how to recognise and share the gift of leadership within the church community – the challenge of working together! Following the catechumenate model sounds a good way of devolving pastoral care, spiritual nurture and learning within the church community. I was struck by how Elisabeth and Leif had such good knowledge and understanding of the place and people where they worked, having grown up there and therefore understanding the concerns and experiences of those people and places.
– Healthy living and working – maybe the church in Sweden might think again about the idea of sabbatical! I heard from Elisabeth and Leif about the importance of healthy living and working. I saw how hard you work, and heard how important it is to make time for exercise, for family – for body, mind and spirit. Meeting up with some Swedish friends that I made during my visit to Iona (also during my sabbatical) I also glimpsed some of the spiritual resources being offered alongside parish life – places of retreat and refreshment such as Wessershus, near Jönköping, and Vadstena, where there is a Pilgrimscentrum and focus on the spiritual practice of pilgrimage.
You can see more details of my travels and thoughts at http://revhillers.posterous.com/
My hope is that the link with Sweden will lead us into further conversations, visits and explorations into what it means to belong to a Christian faith community in the 21st century.
Revd Hilary Campbell,
Parish of Kidlington with Hampton Poyle
20th December 2011