Spiritually Refreshing (Pastor's Monthly Article - October 2017)

Created: Sunday, October 1, 2017

…is how I best can describe my experiences overseas this fall. Without a doubt, meeting and interacting with children and youth in my native country of Sweden truly brightened my time! The moment of joy in receiving the drawn pictures from the children and youth of our participating churches in Queens, whose loving kindness touched the hearts of so many - priceless! I am delighted to share that the joy was so overwhelming that they decided to draw pictures themselves – a gift I presented upon my return during church. Witnessing this before my eyes, I’d never seen a group of children so excited. You would think they were in a candy store!

It has all been one amazing journey though intensive, yet blessed and most rewarding chapter of my life as a pastor and as a fellow human being. God prepared the way and opened the opportunity to minister to people whose tragic journeys deeply touched my heart. These were people in dire distress with no choice but to leave the comfort zone of everything that was familiar. Having said this, these people’s forged migration is causing them to risk the safety of their own lives - a reality for many families with young children who’re terrified and devastated. Over the years, since the late 1970’s until most recently, Sweden has been one of the leading countries in northern Europe to provide relief for asylum seeking immigrants. My heart aches when I think about the many children who’ve also come on their own, some as young as nine years old.

Several churches (including the Church of Sweden, i.e. the Lutheran Church), the Red Cross, and government agencies are doing a tremendous and effortless job assisting asylum seeking immigrants. The families with whom I spent much of my time came from areas of Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. All are very grateful to be in a safe environment as they’re integrated into society. The social aspects of a person’s journey takes place within a timely fashion with the right to housing, medical and mental health, education, employment, and others. All of this is possible because of the nation’s high income tax system.

I started to collect my thoughts several thousand feet up in the air, heading over the Atlantic Ocean with destination JFK Airport in New York City. I recalled my meeting with all the smiling and beautiful faces of Wärmland, Sweden, a region close to Norway, which is believed to have contributed to their peculiar dialect. In fact, some words are not even close to the original Swedish language, you’ll either have to ask or guess its meaning. I smiled as I thought of my first encounter with a lesson in “Wärmländska.” I was presented with a list of all sorts of foreign words for which I determined I had to go back to my office and rewrite my sermon in time for the upcoming Sunday worship service?! As I came to learn, this was just a friendly test to see how much or little I’d knew!

I have truly and thoroughly enjoyed my time in a small town and countryside area, all of which consists of 14 congregations located within 36 miles. The teamwork and camaraderie among the staff is great. Many of them have been loyal employees or volunteers for a number of years.

Among the 14 congregations, at least four of the churches date from the Middle Ages. I had the privilege to preach and lead worship in one of those churches, built in the 12th century. Observing the Lord’s Supper by celebrating Mass was quite a unique experience with old chalices so heavy I had to use both hands to hold!

Unlike here in the U.S., where the clergy must purchase their own apparel, in the northern European countries, each congregation has one or more sets of apparel available for clergy to use. Many find this convenient, and it comes in handy as some of the celebratory apparel is made of thick woven wool, some with golden threads and special accessories sown into the garment itself. However, this apparel is so heavy it takes two to put it on! Wearing it gave me a feeling of utter elegance…

Having been on this amazing and life-changing journey, I’ll be forever grateful to have been invited by those who welcomed me: the Chapter Diocese and Synod of Karlstad, with its Bishop, Rev. Dr. Sören Dalevi, the Senior Pastor and Dean of Säffle Pastorate, Rev. Lena Skoting. Thanks also to the members of our Session, who gave me their blessing to go on this extraordinary journey.

In His continued service,
Pastor Anette