Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bicyles in the Snow

I write from Sweden. We--husband Burton and I--arrived at the Arlanda airport, half way between Stockholm and Uppsala last Monday evening. After our long winter of Iowa ice and snow, we had worried a blizzard might hinder our leaving Dubuque, but it was Sunday fog that caused the plane from Chicago to simply circle overhead and head back for Chicago without landing. Burton quickly rented a car and we, plus two other stranded passengers, took off, making our l0 p.m. flight from Ohare to London.

We were greeted by a taxi which took us to Uppsala. Sweden, too, had had one of the longest, coldest winters in decades. The piles of snow still a meter high everywhere do not stop people, particularly students at the university, from traveling on their bicycles. On Tuesday, guided by our host, Berne Persliden, we walked to the cathedral which he told us is the largest Lutheran cathedral in Scandinavia. Begun in the 12th century, it retains its original beauty. Our eyes rose to the magnificent height; I also noticed out of the corner of my eye as we went by the chapel behind the altar, a woman, dressed plainly, standing there. When the Reformation came to Sweden, the statue for the veneration of Mary had been removed from the chapel. The woman, so lifelike one had to look twice to see she was a statue, is “Mary returned.” In her eyes one can see all women.

I was invited to Sweden to lecture at four locations, primarily on my book, “The Church as Learning Community,” and also on lifelong faith formation, leadership and ministry in daily life. The first was Johannelunds teologiska hogskola in Uppsala. What a amazing joy Wednesday morning at 8:30 to see 170 students (half the seminary) come for the lectures, most studying to be Lutheran priests, and also those who will become diaconal ministers and educators. Their attentiveness all day (we ended at 3:30) for my four lectures, small group discussion in Swedish, and a panel of eight students interacting with me, they in Swedish and I in English, was most gratifying. We dealt with ecclesiology and various images of soteriology. Many said they had not thought before about everyone being a teacher and a learner. They were concerned about ordinary people being intimidated by teaching authority. They wanted to know more about “starting from the other direction,” where people are in their daily lives. I give thanks for them and for that full and wonderful day.

The next day was equally long and challenging when I gave four lectures to priests and educators of the diocese of Uppsala, just six blocks from our hotel. No, we didn’t ride bicycles; we walked. The church in Sweden, of course, had been a state church. My interest in issues of church and state led me to many questions about the Lutheran church now since disestablishment in 2000. Still most Swedes belong to the church, but membership does not translate into regular worship or regular lifelong learning. This day the lectures and conversation were different, but the gracious hospitality of Nina Carlsson Garloev and Bertil Murray and the receptiveness of the group to the topics was no less. They of course know English well, but still it is a challenge to listen all day in English and to stay engaged. I tried of course to speak clearly; I could see connection in their eyes when we dealt with issues of power and partnership and authority, working from the book by Craig Nessan and myself, “Transforming Leadership.” The topics from both books merge when we talk about “setting trustworthy environments for us to be different together.”

Karl-Eric Tysk, a priest and scholar whom I knew when he was a student of ours in a D.Min. program at the University of Dubuque, brought us north to Storvic and Kungsgarden where we have been staying for two nights in his rectory, a very large home built in medieval times and brought up to date in the l9th century. He has a pastorate of two parishes which combined have five churches and l0,000 members. Services are held in each church every other Sunday. Sweden, like Finland and Estonia, is today a very secular country; the church is important as part of the heritage.

We worshipped with some of the 35 staff at the beginning of their Friday work and I told them how the Wartburg community would be gathering for worship also on Friday morning. We attended a small village funeral where Karl-Eric spoke the Word with warmth and dignity to the family in attendance. He then drove us further on to visit a most beautiful part of Sweden with lakes and mountains. The snow itself is piled high like small mountains. But the bright sun promises that spring will come.

Today we go to Stockholm for more lectures at the central event for which we were invited. Burton, also, will give a lecture on the use of media. Later in the week we go to Gothenberg.


Chris deForest said...

Thanks Norma for this evocative report. Being here in the United Kingdom, I struggle with understanding the idea not only of being church in a very secular society - but also with the cultural difference of church as heritage. In the U.S. too, we have our biggest attendance on Christmas and Easter - but here in the UK, the connection is somehow stronger at those times. There is a real difference. And for U.S. Lutherans, national church identities still exist, but they seem to be ebbing away. Here, they continue as a kind of "background radiation."

Karin Johannesson said...

Thank you very much for your lectures at Johannelunds Teologiska Högskola last Wednesday! It was very inspiring to listen to you! Today I am thinking a lot about what you said since I am writing a short text about your lectures. It is going to be published in a Swedish journal dedicated to religious education/learning. Just a moment ago I wrote about "re-membering the body of Christ" and what that might imply within the Church of Sweden. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in Sweden and that we will meet again some day!