When in Sweden, visiting my son and grandchildren (as I did in the past week), I do not attend church on Saturday/Sabbath. There is no Adventist church anywhere near Kramfors where they live. Last Sabbath, therefore, once again was a day without church worship. However, during this past weekend I did go to church. On Sunday I attended the worship service in the Swedish (Lutheran) Church, just outside Kramfors.
My oldest granddaughter sang in the children’s choir that had a significant part in the special autumn-service. Of course, it is exciting to be present at such on occasion as ‘farfar’ (the Swedish term for the paternal grandfather). And so, last Sunday, I sat in the not very comfortable pew in the beautiful white, early 19th century, church building, just outside the town. I had often driven by it, but at last I had a chance to see the interior.
It was a most interesting experience. Until 2000 the Swedish Church was the state church. Until then every person born in Sweden became automatically a member of the national church. This is no longer the case. As a result of that change and the ongoing secularization of the Swedes, church membership now drops annually with about one percent. But even today more than half of the Swedish population belongs to the Svenska Kyrka (Swedish Church), a Lutheran denonomination that has close ties with the British Anglican Church. Church attendance is at an all-time low. Only two (!) percent of the members come to church on a regular basis.
Last Sunday the population of Kramfors did not come en masse to the special service. My guess is that there were about 150 people. Among them was a signifant percentage of immigrants. The picture was very clear: this church in Kramfors is on its way to become an immigrant church of Eritreans, Afghans, Iranians, Syrians , Albanians, etc.
The ethnic shift in this church was further highlighted by the baptism that took place during this service: four adults and one child—all from Albania—were baptized. Although they were not immersed—which is the biblical model—it was an impressive event. The pastor emphasized that the five new members were now part of the global church, the people of God—not just as members of the local church where they found their spiritual home, but of God’s people worldwide—all the men and women who confess Christ as their Lord. This aspectis usually not mentioned in many of the baptismal services that I have attended through the years. Those who are baptized are baptized into the body of Christ , but this does not coincide with one particular faith community. (This, of course, does not mean that one’s choice of what church to belong to is unimportant.)
Celebrating the communion was also an important part of he service. It was clearly an ‘open’ communion service and I joined the people who came to the front, where the pastor placed a piece of (glutenfree) bread in the hands of the communicants. Having received the bread the participants dipped their bread in the (non-alcoholic) wine, in one of the two large cups that were held by ladies who assisted the pastor. For a short moment I hesitated to go forward, but I joined my granddaughter of almost eight years, who apparently was also very welcome to partake of the communion. After this we could light a candle together, in memory of some loved one. We decided to light the candle for grandma who had remained in the Netherlands.
Was it is beautiful service? No, not really. At least not if you prefer a solemn and quiet service. It was somewhat disorderly and it was rather long. Yet, it was good to be there.
II did, however, ask myself what the future would be for this local church. Will the number of church-leavers by compensated for by the influx of immigrants? And in what ways will those new members change the atmosphere of the church? I clearly had the impression that at this moment the arrival of these new members is seen in a very positive light. It seems to me that it is (probably somewhat naively) simply seen as a welcome reinforcement of the church—without perhaps fully understanding the long-term consequences. What, for instance, will happen when the ‘real’ Swedes have become a minority in their church. Will they still feel it is ‘their’ church, where they continue to feel at home? For a short moment I toyed with the idea that I might establish myself as a consultant in Sweden. My church work in different countries, where a lot of immigration took place, may have given me the kind of experience that might be of use in Kramfors (and possibly elsewhere)!
As I post this blog I am on my way back to the Netherlands. I must now focus on a series of presentations for Adventist pastors in Hungary, in early November. However, I do intend to pay a visit to this Lutheran church in Kramfors during my next visit here and to follow the process of change that is taking place.