We have been hosted so very graciously and well while teaching in Sweden. Particularly notable to me (since I love people being on time)is the impecable punctuality. Since we do not know Swedish and we are being met and handed off to the host at the next diocese or theological institution, we are totally in the hands of the Swedish people. We have a list, and then precisely at the appointed time the next host appears. Likewise I am using a variety of teaching styles throughout the day, interspersed with Fika (coffee breaks...a word they insisted I learn) I am continually surprised and appreciative when the group automatically returns to the room at the appointed time. Now this may seem insignicant, but it coincides with my commitment to mutual accountability. People in Iowa are punctual, too. I'm not comparing. I'm simply appreciative and saying punctuality assists learning community.
Our host in Stockholm is Rune Larsson, from whom I received the invitation to come to Sweden. One would have thought that I as a Lutheran would have been invited by the Lutherans. Rather, the connection is ecumenical. Rune, who is with the Covenant Church had read my book "The Church as Learning Community" which was published by a Methodist publisher (Abingdon). We became acquainted through the Religious Education Association, an international, interfaith professional organization. While in Sweden, of course, most of the participants are Lutheran, part of the Swedish Lutheran Church. So our assocations ecumenically often lead us full circle back to our own communion. On our first Sunday we worshipped with the central Covenant church in Stockholm, which was a wonderful experience, a vital church with mission outreach. In many ways it was very similar to Lutheran worship in the States. The Covenant Church in Sweden may have more in common with the ELCA than with the Swedish Covenant church in the United States.
Thinking about being the church, whether the "established" church in a country, or county, or being the one who is different leads to important questions about being a Christian in the world and in one's own daily life. Nineteen years ago we visited the Lutheran Church in Namibia, shortly after independence, the 20th anniversary of which Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque is celebrating at this time. The question the Namibians posed while we were there was, "How do we be the church when those in ruling power are no longer the enemy, but we can now be in official leadership?"
The Lutheran Church is no longer the officially established church of Sweden. So what is its role now? And what can we learn from the small churches in Sweden, the Covenant,the Baptist, and the even smaller Methodist church? While we are here they are meeting to take the next steps in joining together, along with choosing a name which may be something like "Community Church." What is our calling, our vocation, in the public world as various churches at various points in history?
Meanwhile, we hear news from the States that the Texas school board has passed a series of resolutions to change the curicuulum in Texas schools. This has implications for the entire country since many textbooks for public scools across the nation are published in Texas. The nation is now to be portrayed not as pluralistic but as Judeo
Christian. The nation will be described not so much as a democracy but as a republic with an emphases on capitalistic corporations shaping young people. The USA is to be seen as a exceptional nation in the world with an exceptionalist role to play. There are more resolutions. The role of the Civil Rights movement is to be downplayed.
Although in the USA there is no state church, what do these measures mean for teaching about the nation and about a certaian kind of Christianity's place in the nation?
All of us at each point in time need to continue to discern the church's vocation in the public world.
One more story about teaching and learning. We took a train to Gothenburg. Some (including ours) are still being cancelled because of snow on the tracks. We took a train an hour later (ah, the convenience of public transportation). We were greeted warmly by yet another host, Annika Broman. I sat in the front of a taxi while she and Burton got in the back. They were surprised when a taxi driver popped in the back seat with them. It seems he was the teacher for the new driver in the front. We were glad the teacher was there in the evening traffic. Interestingly, the next day when once again Annika took us by taxi, another man popped into the back seat with her and Burton. This time we discovered the learner was watching while the teacher was driving the cab. He new man told us clearly that before he could be at the stage of driving himself he has to observe his teacher. Annika and I were delighted at this one more example of informal teaching/learning communities all around us in which we daily partipate.