DURING A SPECIAL SERVICE concluding the Church of Sweden’s General Synod on 24 November, Archbishop Antje Jackelén made an official apology from the Church of Sweden to the Sámi for historical abuse.

The service took place in Uppsala Cathedral in the presence of the General Synod, representatives of the Sámi and Swedish society, and international witnesses.

Non-Sámi and Sámi People, as well as Lutheran church leaders from neighbouring Nordic countries, encircled a flame at the front of the Cathedral as Jackelén referenced the Gospel story in Luke of the woman who suffered a crooked back for eighteen years.

“As archbishop of the Church of Sweden, I stand before you, the Sámi, and confess that we have not engaged with you at eye level. We have been curved inward on ourselves, we have not stood up to racism and abuse of power. Our backs are bent by the guilt we carry. We have placed unjust burdens on you. We have burdened your ancestors with shame and pain that has been inherited by new generations.”

Jackelén continued, “We cannot undo what has been done. But we can feel remorse for our part in Sweden’s colonial history. We can feel remorse for our inability and unwillingness to accept the truth and meet you at eye level.”

The Sámi shared personal accounts of mistreatment, the colonisation of Sámi land, and horrific boarding school experiences inflicted on the Sámi People.

“The testimonies we have heard today confirm our church’s complicity in the abuse of the Sámi”, said Archbishop Jackelén. “The wounds, the pain, the shame, the self-loathing, the anger and the difficult memories are real. When we failed the Sámi people, we also failed our Creator. We have not been faithful in our discipleship. We have not been responsive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in Creation.”

Warning that the church must not repeat the errors of the past, Jackelén urged, “While we wait, we pray to God and ask you that we may increasingly meet each other at eye level. That we do not repeat past mistakes. That we all let ourselves be touched by Jesus, who gets down on his knees to straighten those who stoop. Both those of us who bear the burdens of the victims and those of us who bear the burdens of wrongs committed in the name of the Church. Those of us who bear the perpetrators’ burdens of guilt and those of us who bear the victims’ burdens of suffering. So that we can recognise Christ in each other.”

Members of the Sámi community attending the service described the event as the beginning of a long journey. “My hope and belief is that this apology will lead to a change”, said Ingrid Inga, chair of the Sámi Council of the Church of Sweden. “I feel very humble to be part of this apology, and that it isn’t just empty words from the Church. It comes with commitments and a ten-year process where they will be realised.”

In June 2021, the Central Board of the Church of Sweden decided that an official apology would be made to the Sámi. As part of the reconciliation process, work is also underway on eight commitments, and objectives for the Church of Sweden’s work on the process over the next ten years.

A second public apology is planned during the Sámi church conference in Luleå in October 2022.

* Watch the full service from Uppsala Cathedral here.

* Source: World Council of Churches