The Wartburg community has been blessed by the presence of some of our brothers and sisters from Iceland this October who are attending the CGT Pastors’ Continuing Education Academy. At the convocation on October 23rd, they shared some of their observations and insights as a way of entering conversation on the impact of being submerged in a culture that is not your own.
Rev. Gunnar Sigurjónsson: Gunnar visited WTS for the first time in 2006. “We came as strangers and left as friends. It is a home away from home.” Gunnar partners with Wartburg professor Dr. Sam Giere to provide students with an opportunity to visit Iceland for a cross-cultural J-term.
Ms. Þóra Margrét Þórarinsdóttir: As a CEO for a non-governmental agency, Þóra serves people with various disabilities and helps to link them with services they need in their daily lives and pastoral care. She shared that they “love them all and serve them all” every day. The church of Iceland partners with the organization in caring for people, especially in times of distress.
Rev. Bryndis Valbjarnardóttir: “The welcome has been overwhelming! It feels like you are living the faith. It is very precious.” Bryndis was a funeral director before becoming a pastor, and she shared an Icelandic tradition of gathering when a loved one dies. Those closest to the deceased gather before the funeral and there is a feeling of close friendship. It is a time of thanksgiving and reconciliation. She has had the same feeling of closeness during her visit.
Rev. Jón Ragnarsson: The people of Iceland are surrounded by danger from the environment. They experience earthquakes and avalanches as a result of volcanic activity. As a pastor, crisis management is part of the ministry they do for and with the communities they serve.
Rev. Ingólfur Hartvigsson: Ingólfur was ordained in 2006 and works in the southeast of Iceland. The community that he serves was impacted by a volcanic eruption and earthquake in 2010. There was a foot of ash covering everything and people were in crisis. “First you need to find your inner calm. Once you find that calm, you establish contact with the people that are in your parish. You ask, ‘How are you coping? Do you need help?’ If you can’t find your inner calm you can’t help people.”
Rev. Magnús Björn Björnsson: Magnús spoke about the “overwhelming hospitality” that he has experienced during his visit to WTS. “What I have experienced here [illustrates] what we mean when we confess ‘I believe in the holy catholic church.’ I can see how the students are formed by the community here at Wartburg.”
The assembly enjoyed table conversation together about their own cross-cultural experiences and how these experiences opened their horizons. The theme of hospitality seemed to be the common thread of the stories shared at the table where I was seated. Intentional hospitality and what that means as we see the image of God in ourselves and those we come into contact. We need to consider how we present ourselves, as the guest and as the host/hostess, remembering that we are all acceptable to God as we learn to participate in the discipline of intentional hospitality. As we each shared around the table it was clear that no matter where we found ourselves, we were welcomed. I think each of us would agree with Gunnar, “We came as strangers and left as friends. It is a home away from home.”
Three women pastors from Iceland were part of a group of 14 (12 pastors and 2 spouses) on Wartburg’s campus this past week for the Center for Global Theologies Icelandic Pastors Academy. They led and participated in many presentations. Midweek, Rev. Halldóra Þorvarðardóttir, Rev. Hulda Hrönn M. Helgadóttir, and Rev. Jóhanna Sigmarsdóttir led a lunch-time discussion on women in ministry, saying that women were always a part of the history of the church.
Hulda shared some background saying that many women were mentioned in the early letters of the church. She told a story of visiting a very old church building where many images were of women: angels depicted as women; Mary the Mother of Jesus; and female leaders of the church. Women held positions of prominence before the Church of Rome was built and a patriarchal influence became the norm. When did women vanish from the forefront of the church? This is uncertain; however in 1974 women started to return to leadership in Iceland and the first woman was ordained.
How have women’s roles changed in the church of Iceland? Today there are sixty women pastors in Iceland; approximately 40% of the pastors of the Lutheran Church in Iceland are women. Iceland has recently ordained their first woman bishop, Reverand Agnes Sigurðardóttir.
There was not a theological argument against women belonging in the church, but it was difficult because it was a male dominated field, said the Icelandic women. However, women saw it as natural to want to become ordained priests.
Halldora, a Dean of the Church of Iceland advised: “Be who you are. Don’t think about being a man or a woman, but be yourself. She said it is good to have women in leadership. It does however change the cooperative leadership. Women are not afraid to admit that they don’t know everything. Men don’t show their vulnerability; they need to look strong and can’t look fragile or they will appear weak. Men think of their roles differently.”
At the lunch meeting many men as well as women participated in the discussion. Both the women and men from Iceland agreed that there has been a change in the last decade. Women are now senior pastors and with a woman as Bishop, things will continue to change. They said, “This is the first time in history that we heard the Bishop talk about the weaknesses of a Bishop, maybe because she doesn’t have a ‘power struggle.’ There is no history behind her.” It is too early to judge if this will change the church of Iceland; however they are on a new path.
Where was the turning point for women in Iceland? They all agreed it came with the first women president of the country, elected in 1980. June 19th was designated as Women’s Day with women gathering in the streets to support women’s equality.
Halldora lifted up that equality is for both genders not just the women. “We need to remember that this is not about women taking over, but sharing in the roles of leadership. Equality will become a non-issue when we do not have to think, talk or do anything about it. Respect is the beginning of equality.”
The Reverand Agnes Sigurðardóttir, pastor at Bolungarvík and dean of the Westfjord region (far Northwest Iceland), will be the first woman to serve as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland. She was elected after the second round of ballots this past week. She will succeed Bishop Karl Sigurbjörnsson, who has served as Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Iceland since 1998. Wartburg Seminary has a number of significant relationships with the Church of IceIand, particularly through Professor Sam Giere who regularly takes students there on J-Terms. He invites holding in prayer sisters and brothers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland, Bishop Karl, and Bishop-elect Agnes as they continue to walk forward in faith.