Rev. Antje Jackelén claims a lot of firsts. She’s the first woman to be voted Archbishop of Sweden. She’s the first archbishop to have a twitter. She’s also the first female archbishop to meet and be recognized by the Pope. On October 31, 2016, she and Pope Francis led an unprecedented service together in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
On November 29, 2017, Jackelén added another first to her ever-growing list. She visited Sioux Falls for the first time.
Her visit was prompted by Augustana University’s own celebration of the Reformation. On November 29, she spoke at Augustana’s Chapel of Reconciliation, and on November 30, she met with students studying religion to have an open Q & A session.
Jackelén answered a variety of questions: She’s not a huge fan of Swedish Fish; one of her favorite American foods is ribs; at the moment she prefers organs to pianos, but it’s usually a toss up; and if she had to eat one flavor of ice cream for the rest of her life, it would be the mango from her and her husband’s favorite ice cream joint back in Chicago.
She also touched on the future of the church, her faith, and what it means to be a woman in her position.
The Lutheran Church in Sweden is different from Lutheran churches in the United States. While freedom of religion is a first amendment right in the United States, it wasn’t in Swedish laws until 1951. Sweden also had a state church until 2000. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Sweden is now one of the most surface-secular countries in the world. However, the increase of immigration into Sweden by refugees is bringing religion to the forefront once again and opening up dialogue. Jackelén noted that 80 percent of Lutheran parishes in Sweden have engaged in working with refugees, many of them Muslim.
“You need to be even more curious to meet different perspectives,” Jackelén said of parishes today.
With the influx of immigrants, many Christians are experiencing new worship opportunities. Worship, Jackelén said, is at the heart of what the church must continue to do.
Senior Austin Krohnke attended the Q & A with Jackelén and found her focus on worship impressive.
“Worship of God is central to who we are as a church, we simply cannot move forward with things like education and dialogue and social justice if we do not first claim and function from that centrality,” Krohnke said.
Just like worship is important to the sustainability of the church, Jackelén noted the importance of interfaith and ecumenical dialogue as well, and suggested that atheists are invited to those conversations.
“I do think what we need as parts of the one universal church is to be more aware of each other,” Jackelén said. “We can’t just sit in our small denominational corners and think that that is the world. Being enriched by ecumenism is part of it. Throughout the 2,000 years [the church has existed], how the church manifested itself has some things that can be traced through the centuries, but many things have changed and that’s probably the way it is going to continue.”
In the U.S., the question of the role of LGBT people in churches is very controversial. Jackelén acknowledged that while more and more churches are moving in the direction of affirming LGBT individuals and communities, and while Sweden is progressive on that front, it wasn’t always that way.
“When I grew up, questions of homosexuality were never on the table, we never talked about them,” she said. “The church of Sweden started in the 1970s to work with questions of homosexuality, and at that point, in Sweden, homosexuality was still classified as a disease. The disease stamp was removed in the late 1970s, and before that the church worked on theologically understanding homosexuality. So our church was quite early to affirm partnerships between gay and lesbians, and also for blessings of same sex couples.”
Global perspective is something that Jackelén finds important, especially when dealing with questions of social justice.
“When we look at the church globally, that looks very different in different places,” Jackelén said. “I talked once with a bishop from one of the Christian churches in India, and the bishop said, ‘Homosexuality is not an issue. I know it’s going to be one, but for now, we’re still so wrapped up getting to terms with the caste system, which is still affecting us so much, that it seems like we need to cope with that first, but we certainly will also have to engage questions of homosexuality.’”
Jackelén continued, “It is important that we in the global Christian community listen to each other, inspire each other, and abstain from judging each other as well.”
So what grounds the Archbishop in her faith and theology? For Jackelén, she said that her baptism is the keystone to who she is. It was her first experience with God.
“I was baptized as a five week old baby. It’s not a conscious experience, but it’s an experience that has come to mean more and more to me during my life. I am baptized, nobody can take that away from me,” Jackelén said.
Baptism is also something that has come into into its own sort of controversy, both in the U.S. and Sweden. People are hesitant to indoctrinate children into things the children might not end up wanting. However, Jackelén finds that hypocritical.
“You’re not going to take your child to Target or Office Depot because your child didn’t chose this?” Jackelén asked. “There’s a tendency to be very picky about indoctrination when it comes to religion, but when it comes to consumerism there’s not this pickiness.”
Baptism, as Jackelén sees it, is a promise.
“God’s grace is always there before we can say yes to it,” she said. “No matter how my life develops, this moment when I was baptized, I received the promise of God, that God is with me, that I am accepted in the eyes of God. That is a basis that you can really stand on. Giving that gift is good.”
Archbishop Jackelén is undoubtedly an impressive theologian. She’s researched and written on the intersection of science and religion, she’s taught at Lund University in Sweden and at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and was the Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science before being voted in as Archbishop of Sweden. However, despite that, she’s faced criticism and sexism in her career, both internationally and from local religious leaders.
“Sometimes I break down,” Jackelén said, bluntly. “But then I pull myself together.”
Instead of focusing on the negative, Jackelén has learned to focus instead on the positive. If you’re the only woman in a photo, surrounded by men, Jackelén said, people are going to focus on you. Take advantage of that.
Hannah Norem, a senior who plans to go to seminary, sees Jackelén as a role model.
“The archbishop’s unique experience of being a woman in a persistently male dominated field was very insightful for me. Her ability to be articulate, eloquent, and unapologetic about it all in the face of unthinkable adversity is so inspiring,” said Norem.
Jackelén left Augustana on Thursday, November 30. On December 7, she’s meeting with the Pope again.