Sixty years of female pastors in the Church of Sweden

This week marked 60 years since Sweden’s Riksdag first passed a law allowing female pastors to be ordained into the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

Sixty years of female pastors in the Church of Sweden
Bishop of Stockholm Eva Brunne. Photo: Creative Commons

The formal decision was made by the Church Assembly, the body for the governance of the church, on March 19th, 1958. Prior to the decision, there had been several decades of discussion regarding the ordination of women.

Although it trailed behind its Nordic neighbours — Norway and Denmark have ordained female members of the church since the Second World War — the move came some 38 years before the Church of England first began ordaining women in 1994, while the Roman Catholic Church still upholds doctrine that only baptised men can receive ordination.

Founded in 1536 by King Gustav I of Sweden, the Church of Sweden is an Evangelical Lutheran national church headquartered in Uppsala just over 70km north of Stockholm. In 1593, the church became Lutheran, adopting the Protestant Christian theology of German ecclesiastical reformer Martin Luther.

Throughout the 20th century, the Church of Sweden swayed further towards liberal Christianity and human rights. The monumental law allowing women to be ordained as priests was passed in spring 1958, but it wasn’t until two years later, in 1960, that the first women were ordained.

Furthermore, since 1994 men who opposed working with women were themselves not allowed to be ordained into the church. 

Same-sex marriage

The church’s liberal status was cemented in 2009 when it approved gay marriages and began conducting wedding ceremonies for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Later that year, Sweden's first lesbian bishop was consecrated in Uppsala.

Bishop of Stockholm Eva Brunne is the world's first openly lesbian bishop of a mainstream church and the first bishop of the Church of Sweden to be in a registered same-sex partnership.

“I know what it is to be called into question,” Bishop Brunne said after her election in an article on the of the Church of Sweden's website. “I am in the lucky situation that I have power and I can use it for the benefit of those who have no power.”

Inclusivity in Sweden

Of course, Sweden’s liberal attitude doesn’t just apply to its church.

The country has long been a pioneer for gender equality, with a series of policies that ensure everyone enjoys the same rights, opportunities, and obligations in all areas of life.

In 2017, Sweden topped the EU Gender Equality Index showing that it is the best in the world at giving both women and men the same power to shape society and their lives.

This inclusivity applies to both secular and spiritual life in Sweden. 

Just one example is the Swedish gender-neutral pronoun hen which can be used when a person does not wish to identify as a 'he' or 'she', and late last year the Church of Sweden urged its clergy to use gender-neutral terms when referring to God, refraining from language like ‘he’ and ‘Lord’.

Sweden's first female archbishop, Archbishop Jackelén, explained that the decision to use more inclusive language had been debated since 1986.

“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations. God is not human,” she told Sweden’s TT news agency.

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Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

Ronoh Philip, who is studying for his masters degree in Infectious Disease Control at Södertörn University, explains why he thinks the Swedish concept of 'lagom' is the best way to achieve good social health.

Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

During my one week orientation program on August 2019 at Södertörn University, we were presented with many aspects of Swedish culture and practices. One of the new aspects that I learnt was the “lagom culture”, As I quote one of the presenters about applying lagom to our studies, he said: ”Lagom will reduce your stressful burdens of hectic lecture schedules and ensure that you spend equal time of working and socializing in the university.”

So being a student with a background in public health and society, I got interested and searched for the deeper meaning of lagom, and how it can  apply to society and health. I found out that it is a Swedish way of life, it is a concept which means not too much and not too little, just enough. I learnt that it came from a Viking tradition laget om which means 'around the group' and was allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group.

If this concept is applied to achieve social health goals, it would really fit well. So, what is social health at first? Social health is how you interact with other people and adapt in different situations, it deals with how people in society deal with each other. It is important to note that there is a close link between good social health and improvement of the other aspects of human health, this can lead to the achievement of SDG goal of good health and wellbeing. It also leads to self-satisfaction and happiness; no wonder Sweden is ranked as one the happiest countries in the world. It is ranked 7th in 2019, according to world happiness report. I believe lagom has a big role in this achievement.

In the country where I come from, Kenya, one of the greatest challenges we face in our society, is the ability for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to interact and form positive and cohesive relationships with each other. From my perspective, when I finish my studies and return, lagom will be worth implementing in the workplace, the place where I live and the society as whole, as it is the best way of finding simple, attainable solutions to our everyday worries like stress, eating better, having downtime and achieving happiness. It’s a balance of work and life, so everything is in sustainable existence with each other.

My goal during my entire university studies at Södertörn, will be to learn more about the lagom principle and also be able to apply it on our SI NFGL Local Network platform, because it is surely one of the best ways to achieve a good  work-life balance, reaching consensus with my colleagues and adapting a team minded approach in dealing with issues in an organization and the society.