Swedish Lutherans celebrate 50 years of ordaining women

By Ecumenical News International
September 23, 2008

The Lutheran Church of Sweden will today mark the 50th anniversary of its decision in 1958 to ordain women as priests, and cathedrals in all of the church's 13 dioceses are to hold services to celebrate the anniversary.

"With our jubilee, we wish to celebrate that the Church of Sweden is a church of equality, and that we can deepen this conviction together in the future," said the Rev. Boel Hössjer Sundman, the church's project manager for the commemorations.

A special celebration service will take place at Uppsala Cathedral today, on 23 September 2008, at the beginning of the denomination's governing church assembly. A seminar the previous day will focus on church leadership in a changing world.

The events will culminate with the diocesan services on 27 September, the date in 1958 on which the Church of Sweden took the decision to open its priesthood to women.

The first three women ordained on 10 April 1960 were Elisabeth Djurle, Ingrid Persson and Margit Sahlin. Now, 1915 of the church's 4386 priests are women, according to April 2008 statistics.

Opponents of women priests in the church set up their own breakaway diocese in 2003 for like-minded Lutherans, who believe the ordination of women is against Christian faith and tradition. "There is no place for us any longer in the Church of Sweden," Bengt Birgersson, a Lutheran priest, who was the prime mover in setting up the new grouping called the Mission Province, said at the time.

The Church of Sweden is encouraging parishes and dioceses to take part in the celebrations to mark the anniversary of its ordination of women. An anniversary book will be presented to the church assembly. In the publication, writer Lina Sjöberg and photographer Sanna Sjöswärd depict in 20 portraits the 50 years of history since the ordinations began.

"The 1958 decision is something to be proud of but life has not always been easy for the ordained women. They have faced bullying and harassment as well as encouragement and appreciation," the Church of Sweden said in a document about the anniversary.

"Ever since 1960, many women have faced opposition and discrimination, but even more have received support from elected representatives, bishops and colleagues, and experienced great joy in their work," it further noted.

The Lutheran church is also cooperating with the Museum of Work in Norrköping, and an adult educational organization to produce an exhibition on women as priests, while a documentary film has been produced to provide a starting point for discussions on career choices, the situation of professional women, discrimination and leadership.

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

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