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.
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.”
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.