I have just got back from 4 days teaching at a Homiletical week in Uppsala in Sweden, 45 minutes north of Stockholm. The Johannelund bible school has 80+ students many of whom are training for ministry in the Lutheran, Church of Sweden.
The staff made me feel very welcome and seemed appreciative of my 4 lectures on Preaching from Old Testament narrative, 1 Samuel. The students were also engaged and asked some good questions. Many of them are quite young; lots of them do 5 years study and end up with a Masters Degree.
The Lutheran Church seems fairly ‘mixed’; whilst some of them would have a strong preaching, evangelical ministry, the state Church is also quiet ‘high’ with some of them seeing themselves in a sacerdotal ministry. The denomination is also struggling with many of the same issues with respects to homosexuality, pluralism and interfaith issues as the Church of England. I guess one factor which plays out quite differently for them is the taxation system in which those who register as Church members are required to pay into central funding, so despite falling Church attendance there seems to be plenty of money around.
We had an interesting discussion about the use of the liturgy. Unwittingly I put my foot in it! I was asked by one of the students about preaching from the lectionary (i.e. the set readings for each Sunday) and responded by saying that whenever I could I didn’t and have always preached through books (or part of the book) of the bible over several weeks. This is because I feel that the agenda is set by the Scripture rather than by the lectionary or by the preacher. Also, it enables the congregation to begin to get a feel for what the Bible message is. My concern with Lectionary preaching is also that preachers spend their time trying to locate the ‘golden thread’ that runs through all three lectionary readings to find a uniting theme rather than do justice to 3 or even 1 of the passages listed.
Apparently one of the previous speakers had used a very similar illustration to my ‘golden thread’ line commending the lectionary and, moreover, there is a high expectation that preachers keep with the lectionary. Oops! To which the best answer is that they should be encouraged to expound one of the three readings set for the day rather than try to speak on all three.
However, the sessions seemed to be well received and I noted quite an appetite among students and staff, and, after all they had invited me to speak on Expository Preaching!
I had a very nice day in Stockholm, enjoying the wide tree lined promenades, eating Swedish meatballs and drinking strong black coffee in a street cafe overlooking the lovely waterfront. It was cold mind you, feeling quite autumnal by comparison with Portugal or even Oxford!
Finally, I visited the famous Vasamuseet. It houses a ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, built as the pride of King Gustov Aldoph. I commented on the great self-deprecating nature of the Swedes in building such a monument to a huge failure! The great interest is the fact that in the 1960’s the boat was raised and rebuild in the museum giving a great example of a 17th Century warship.
So, I had a tiring but profitable trip. It would seem that there is a great need to continue modelling and encouraging faithful expository ministry and I feel privileged to be involved in some of this ministry.