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Conversations
about the conditions for unity in plurality within the Swedish church

This document was sent from the Central Office of the Swedish Church in Uppsala in June 2003.

Background

At the Church Assembly year 2001 there was a motion by Yngve Kalin about the future for the minorities within the Swedish church (2001:9) and the proposer of the motion wrote among other things:

"By turning away large groups of people, from different spiritual traditions and with different theological background, who  still are united in their hesitation concerning the reform of the ordained ministry, the Swedish church is rejecting many of its most devoted and faithful members and is pushing them out into the cold. In addition there  are people within the church, not an insignificant group, who are convinced that the reform of the ministry is right but refuse to accept the methods of the official church to solve theological issues. By labeling all resistance and hesitation in the same way. the Swedish church has put itself in a position causing amazement, not the least in ecumenical circles abroad."

In the motion the Church Assembly is asked:

to charge the Board of the Church to arrange talks with the minority groups in the Swedish church in order to find a possible way forward  to handle theological differences of opinion and to give these spiritual movements proper space, so  they also in the future might be able to work in the Swedish church, and

to demand that the Board of the Church propose changes of the Church law expressing this attitude.

The Doctrinal Committee states the following in its response:

>"A document, Kmot 2001:9, about the future for the minorities in the church, has been delivered to the Doctrinal Committe for comments. The Doctrinal Committee, affirming the importance of open and continued dialogue, in this context refers to its statement Ln 1996:14.

The visible unity of the church is a calling for the ecumenical movement but also a fundamental and constitutional task for every church and congregation.  Thus the conversations about ecclesiology (view on the church) and unity  need  to be kept alive. The Swedish church as an open folk church must strive toward  unity in plurality and express this unity in its worship.

The Doctrinal Committe also stresses the responsibility every bishop has accepted to conduct on-going conversations about these issues in their own dioceses.

Finally, the Doctrinal Committee wants to emphazise and affirm what is expressed in Charta Oecumenica - Guidelines for the Growing Cooperation among the Churches in Europe (Strasbourg, 22 April 2001):

"We ccommit ourselves - in the event of controversies, particularly when divisions threaten in questions of faith and ethics, to seek dialogue and discuss the issues together in the light of the Gospel."

The document  expresses an ecumenical obligation, which our church has accepted as its own, in relation to other churches. That obligation should prevail also in our internal church relations."

The Ecumenical Committee emphazised the statement of the Doctrinal Committee about the necessity of  conversation. It also pointed out that the experiences gained from ecumenical conversations and cooperation with other churches,  with which we are in intercommunion or have ecumenical dialogues, might be helpful in the continued conversations. The Committee particularly stressed the importance of creating meeting places to build trust through personal encounters and conversations.

The Committee continues:

"The Committee did not see any reason for official deliberations, rather the matter is a case for trusting personal conversations and meeting places. Imagination is needed to find new models that are not tied up in traditional organizational structures, but are rather networks and forums of conversations for exchange of experiences between different traditions within the Swedish church. The goal is the same for the work within the Swedish church as it is in the ecumenical movement, namely unity in a reconciled plurality. The Committee wants to find other ways to break down polarization and create mutual understanding, rather forums for conversations than formal deliberations. The Committee agrees with the statement of the Doctrinal Committee that as it is "an ecumenical obligation" in relation to other churches when schism is threatening, "to seek dialogue and talk about the issues together in the light of the Gospel" (Charta Oecumenica), this obligation needs to prevail also in our internal church relations. Such a dialogue starts with respect for each other's honest desire to live together in the same church. A dialogue always involves a mutual listening and a preparedness to change."

The Church Assembly then voted according to the Committee line and decided to reject the motion 2001:9, but at the same time to charge the Board of the Church "to take the initiative to conversations, in a way the Board of the Church finds suitable, as part of the work for a deeper participation."

In January 2002 the Board of the Church and the Bishop meeting discussed the charge and possible ways forward, but no concrete decisions were made on that occasion. In the month of June a letter was received by the Board of the Church as well as by 12 of the 14 bishops. The letters had been formulated at a large meeting in Falköping and had well over 30 signers, among them bishop emeritus Bertil Gärtner. In the letter the signers ask the Board of the Church what the it is prepared to do to "protect the possibilities of the minorities to serve in the church" and in the letter to the bishops  it is asked for "answer from you as a bishop" if "you actively will work for a change of qualification rules for ordination to the priesthood, so also those who cannot in all respects cooperate with female priests, may become priests in the Swedish church."

The reply from the Board of the Church, signed by the archbishop KG Hammar and general secretary Leni Björklund, strongly states the present  order, but  is also open for continued conversations. In the letter it says among other things:

"In the Swedish church the priesthood is open for both women and men. This is part of the identity of our church, and it is not in question to take any initiatives to change this law. It is an asset for our church to have women in the ordained priesthood and the Swedish church is pleased with this order in the international cooperation and in meetings with other churches. Those who want to become priests in the Swedish church have to be in agreement with the present law.

(...)

The Church Assembly year 2001 has charged the Board of the Church with taking the initiative to conversations with representatives from different minorities within the church, as part of the work for a deeper participation. The Board of the Church has had an initial deliberation with the bishops about this charge. There are also informal dialogues conducted in many places. It is an important task for the Board to get a picture of this work and study the experiences gained from it."

Against this background the Board of the Church invites to continued dialogue:

"It is in the nature of things when starting a dialogue that it cannot be prescribed from either side what the outcome of the dialogue will be. However, we believe we agree about one important starting point, namely that the conversations are conducted for the sake of the parishes and for the people who seek God in the fellowship of the parish. Then the dialogue has to be allowed to be an open process. We welcome you in such a process."

The Bishop's meeting delivered a common reply, where they write among other things:

"In the letter it is asked if we, as individual bishops, are prepared to actively work for a change of the qualification rules (for ordination to the priesthood). As the question is formulated our united answer is no. In this context we want to mention that there is no documented position taken by the groups, who do not accept the law of women as priests, concerning the basic issue of the validity of the ordination of women to the priesthood and their administration of the sacraments. In different contexts different opinions have been accounted for. In the conversations the Board of the Church is inviting to, we take for granted that this basic issue will be discussed."

The two letters were answered September 24, 2002, by bishop emeritus Bertil Gärtner. As representing those gathered in Falköping he expressed his gratitude for a positive answer. He continues among other things:

"The gathering in Falköping consisted of people from different spiritual traditions within the Swedish church, people who feel not accepted by the official church,.both on a national level and here and there on the local level, the cause being the qualification rules (for ordination to the priesthood.This in spite of a great love for the Swedish church in these large groups. It hurts that capable and devoted candidates to the priesthood, with a clear calling to become priests, are not allowed to serve as priests in any capacity in the church. Therefore it feels positive that the Board of the Church will open a dialogue with representatives from different spiritual movements in the church. The gatherings in Falköping concerned the future of these spiritual movements within our church. However, the participants have not seen themselves as delegates from organizations but as leaders within the movements: the old church people, the Church Alliance, the Church Association, Friends faithful to the Bible, laestadians, high church people, charismatics, the Synod, SSB, foundations and others."

Bertil Gärtner is also asking for information about what size the group should be and when a first meeting could take place. In a reply KG Hammar invites to "introductory deliberations about the conditions for the conversation" and suggests six people. The six who since then have met on three occasions are Bertil Gärtner, Kjell Petersson, Berit Simonsson, KG Hammar, Carl Axel Aurelius and Kajsa Ahlstrand. After the first round of conversations the group agreed on the purpose of continued conversations, namely to find constructive possibilities for the different spiritual movements to live together within the Swedish church. After the meeting bishop em. Bertil Gärtneer  stressed that the purpose was not to "change the order in the Swedish church where both men and women have access to the priesthood". After the second round the group agreed on continued process of conversations in two phases. Phase one was suggested as conversations in 6-8 groups dispersed over the country. The groups were to be comprehensively composed of representatives from different movements within the church. The groups were to have conversations about a given set of questions, and after at least a year of conversations in the groups phase two was to be introduced. The task would be to put together concrete ideas from the conversations into a material that might be used in the parishes of the Swedish church. The group emphazises that the planned conversations are just conversations, not negotiations between groups but conversations between individuals who want to find what they have in common and what can be expressed together.

The purpose of  the conversations

The Swedish church consists of a plurality and thus ought to express itself with many voices. Within our fellowship there is room for high church and low church, laestadians, EFS, BV etc. The labels we use about each other and ourselves are many. We are many and we are different. It belongs to the conditions of the folk church today. The plurality concerns not only different church groupings and movements, but  it exists also in other respects. For example, some are Swedes for generations, while others are immigrants from near and far. The experience to be in a minority belongs to many. Is plurality a problem or an asset? Is it something to be checked or promoted? Whatever our answers,  it remains that plurality is a fact. As a church, how are we to handle this plurality? Sometimes it doesn't matter if the opinions differ. But sometimes the issues concern an opinion that seems to exclude another. Then, what can we do?

Some problems concern where we put the focus. We may choose to stress what separates us. In a big and varied church as the Swedish, it is not difficult to find such separating issues. In that case, different groups and movements tend to be identified depending on how they define themselves against others. But the choice may also be to focus on what unites, for example the common task of making Christian faith known and confessed. The differences remain, of course, but they do not in the same way become the base of identity.

One of the challenges in this context is to find such forms for the conversations that they bear the stamp of a mutual desire to meet in an open dialogue, where the participants strive after listening to each other to the end. Within  democracy research today, they talk about deliberative conversations. Such conversations are distinguished by giving space to differing points of view and different arguments. It takes tolerance for granted and respect for the other. In addition, there should be an element of collective will, i.e. striving to agree or at least arrive at temporal agreements. To make such conversations possible, it is required that no opinions are excluded in advance and that no individuals are excluded. It is futher stated that the process should be regulated by mutuality, publicity and responsibility.

If the conversations in the groups are going to be marked by this deliberative model, the purpose will not in the first place be to reach consensus. Initially the object is to try to understand the other, how he or she thinks, what the deepest motive is. For the conversations to be fruitful, some conditions have to be fulfilled. Everyone has the right to present the case the way he or she sees it. But this right does not mean that my view of the issue should determine all the other in the group. Different opinions have to meet on the same conditions. All have the right to talk  but nobody has priority of interpretation. Both these starting points, the negative one telling us what we are not allowed to do, and the positive one indicating our rights, pose implicit questions about power. Therefore, the issue of power always needs to be illuminated and be under critical review.

In order for the conversations in the groups to be fruitful, it might be a good idea to start with everyone telling "their story", about their background and their life in the Swedish church. By sharing experiences of different kind and from different periods in their life together, a foundation is created for the main task, the conversation  about the conditions for unity in plurality within the Swedish church. In this conversation questions of the following nature may be discussed:

  1. What does plurality really look like? How will we describe plurality in our conversation group? In the church? Where are the dividing lines? What concrete issues are involved most of all? What is it that separates us in our view of these issues? What are the driving forces behind the different points of view?

  2. How do we describe unity in our conversation group? What do we mean with "unity"? How do we express what we have in common? In this context, what does it mean: baptism, worship, service to our neighbor, communion and prayer? What do we need to agree on in a church? What role does it play that we have a confession in common?`What does it mean that unity is given, in spite of our schism?

  3. What do I view as important and less important in my own tradition, in how the faith is expressed in my own life? What essential contributions to the whole might come from my spiritual tradition?  What is foreign to me and what do I critizise? Why?

  4. How consistent could you be? What am I prepared to abstain from? For the sake of unity? For the sake of others? What can I not abstain from? Of what reasons?

  5. What are our dreams and visions for the future? What is the anxiety? Imagine if everyone , without being interrupted, were to start describing both their "night mare" and "wishful dream"! However, the rule about being allowed to talk unopposed, does not prohibit questions about possible consequences. Are there any visions to unite around? What do the concrete ideas about the future look like? How do they live with differences in other churches? In our Nordic neighbor countries? Within the Porvoo fellowship? What can we learn from the ecumenical efforts? From the efforts for peace and reconciliation?

These are examples of issues that might be formulated differently, added to or concentrated, in the groups. The results of the conversations with possible suggestions for the future should be summarized and reported to the Board of the Church before the end of 2004 for further preparation to the Church Assembly.

 

To Yngve Kalin's Web page

2003-07-28