At the end of February into March, we had a staff trip (Fr Philip, Lisa, Andreas and I) to Uppsala, in Sweden, so we could learn about the Church of Sweden, which is Lutheran church by tradition. It was a most fascinating trip. We had been invited to go by a Swedish clergyman, Rev Dr Per Hansson, who is in charge (until his upcoming retirement) of The Peter Fjellsted Foundation, which is a place of further education for priests in the Church of Sweden. I was pleased to be able to go to Sweden, a friend of mine has been and said it was a beautiful place-he wasn’t wrong. The only difference was that when he went he’d gone in the summer. I arrived in February, it was minus 5 I think when we got there. Everything was white with snow, and river was frozen over in the centre of the town. I really did enjoy the snowy weather, as I like snow and frost-but a London winter doesn’t give very much of it. The Swedish I must say cope incredibly well with it. Apparently the snow that we saw has been there since November. The thing that surprised me was that I only found one bit of slippery ice the whole time that we were there. I had commented a couple of times that the Swedish ice isn’t as slippery as English ice. Every road, footpath and step is treated-even on flights of steps they could be covered with ice, but there had been so much salt and grit put down it just wasn’t a problem and could be walked on with ease.
Revd and Mrs Hansson invited us to their home for a meal the second evening that we were there. It was to be one of a long line of delicious meals that we enjoyed in while we were there. They have a white, west highland terrier called Milton (with emphasis on the “ton” as well, as in tonic). When we arrived the dog, naturally came up to greet us, and, as I have done many times before bent down to stroke him. He, being in a playful mood, latched onto the finger of my glove that I was holding, and despite me telling him to get off, he took no notice - it didn’t occur to me at the time that the dog only understands commands in Swedish!
We spent quite some time learning about how the Church of Sweden works. It is quite different to the Church of England. In Sweden, you register as a member, and in doing so, are required to pay a church tax, which is overseen by the state. Failure to pay carries the same penalty as not paying any other tax. The vast majority of the population are signed up members. We also spent time at their equivalent of Church House, which is in Uppsala. We spent quite some time talking with the chief ecumenical officer of the Church of Sweden about relations between the Church in Sweden and in other countries.
We also attended mass every day, (only once in English) and on the second day it was taken by the Archbishop of Sweden himself. That was in the very nice Cathedral in Uppsala, which I was surprised to learn is the largest cathedral in Scandinavia! Quite a thought for someone from England where there are Cathedrals of huge proportions everywhere just about!
The Swedish people are very pleasant, and every where you went, if they heard you speak English, they spoke English to you, every one of them. I felt a bit ashamed that in England we aren’t taught a foreign language as well at school. Another interesting feature of Uppsala was the heated seats by the river. What a civilised feature it was, to be able to sit in temperatures below freezing, next to a frozen river, and be warmed! Uppsala is an old university town, and I was fascinated to learn I was standing in the town of Carl Linnaeus (the man who gave all living things their double-barrelled Latin names) and Anders Celsius-the creator of the Celsius temperature scale! Just two names amongst a lot of clever people out of history who were at Uppsala.