Strengthen trust, says Finland's first woman Lutheran bishop

By Stephen Brown
September 14, 2010

Finland's first female Lutheran bishop has been consecrated at a service in Helsinki Cathedral at which she said that both Church and society need to strengthen trust.

"People long for trust," Bishop Irja Askola said in a sermon at her 12 September 2010 consecration. "If … we cannot get into good terms in order to be able to communicate with those with different opinions, backgrounds or ways of life, we are on the way to destruction. Different opinions will not destroy us."

Askola was elected in a 3 June vote in which she received 591 votes to 567 for her rival, Matti Poutiainen.

The Helsinki Times reported that one of the differences between the two candidates concerned marriage, with Askola being willing to bless same-sex couples, whereas Poutiainen held that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has about 4.5 million members, accounting for more than 80 per cent of Finland's population.

In her consecration sermon, Askola said that in the midst of the search for high profits and choices that seem unreasonable, there is a need to hear about mercy. "The longing for mercy and [a] merciful God can be concretely sensed. Unlimited mercy belongs to everyone, to people of all sorts."

She added, "A moderate way of life and sharing what one owns are a richness shared by all religions."

In his speech addressed to the new bishop, Finland's Lutheran archbishop, Kari Mäkinen, reminded Askola of the need to work to create unity and break down barriers in her diocese, the Finnish church's communications centre said in a report.

Askola took office on 1 September, following the retirement of Eero Huovinen, Helsinki's bishop since 1991.

She was previously a special assistant for theological affairs to Bishop Mikko Heikka of Espoo. She graduated with a master's degree in theology in 1975, and was ordained in 1988. From 1991 to 1999, Askola worked in Geneva for the Conference of European Churches.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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