Sunday 21 December 2014

Ö is for Överraskningar

Överraskningar – surprises – can be pleasant or unpleasant. In this final letter of the Swedish alphabet, and being an optimist, I’ll focus on the former.

Yesterday was a day of pleasant surprises. One was being invited by a 5-year-old to sit next to him at lunch following Meeting for Worship. He had also climbed onto my lap during Meeting – which was quite a new experience for both of us. Another surprise came during lunch. All of a sudden I heard myself chink my glass with a fork, to attract attention. Out of my mouth came words of welcome to a brand new member of the Religious Society of Friends in Sweden. He was surprised too – pleasantly so I believe!

2014 has brought all kinds of surprises. These include being reunited with cousins in the UK, being approached for international Quaker service, being asked to serve again on the town’s education committee as an alternate, meetings with friends and family, a trip to Bangladesh on behalf of Quaker Service Sweden and a deepening of friendships with people there, not to mention beautiful walks in nature with poodle Irma and oohing and aahing at the stunning colours of a long mild autumn.

I wonder what surprises 2015 will bring? 

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Ä is for (De) äldste (The Elders)

In Sweden we have Yearly Meeting äldste (Elders). At present four people serve in this capacity with a view to supporting and nurturing the spiritual life of the Yearly Meeting (YM) and its constituent meetings and worship groups. The YM äldste are also responsible for ensuring that those who seek membership of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Sweden are visited according to our tradition. This always takes place in cooperation with the local meeting or group to which the applicant belongs. De äldste also have special responsibility for the arrangement of Quaker weddings, funerals and memorial meetings for worship.

We have chosen this way of working in Sweden after years of experimentation. It works well, and is still being developed. The development includes a broadening of the oversight function (what we in Sweden call medlemsvård) and a deepening of the eldership function (in Sweden known as andaktsvård).

At its Annual Meeting in 2010, the Europe and Middle East Section (EMES) of the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) focused on the theme ‘Elders as Midwives of the Spirit’. During the Annual Meeting I was one of six Elders appointed to uphold the clerks during the meetings for worship for business, meet with them in worship before and after sessions, welcome Friends into the worshipping space with a formal handshake and a smile at the door, begin meeting by being the first person in the worshipping space, try to be a channel for the spirit during meetings for worship and for business, take responsibility for closing meetings for worship, lead the silent grace at mealtimes and be available for consultation or discussion on matters relating to Eldership during our time together.

At the Annual Meeting I learned more about the role and experience of an “accompanying Elder” and realised that we all – not only those travelling in the ministry – need to be accompanied and nurtured in order to birth and shepherd the Spirit that is within us. It became clear to me that Eldership is something other than Oversight. Eldership involves a faithful nurturing of the Spirit so that it can grow, strengthen and be heard and felt in our meetings and in our wider communities and circles. In other words, spiritual growth requires the skills and tenderness of a midwife, a shepherd, a gardener.

What struck me most during our time at the Annual Meeting was the tangible sense of harmony, gatheredness and discipline. These aspects have also reminded me of the original Quaker meaning and significance of Gospel Order, which in a nutshell refers to the radical transformation and re-ordering of lives and relationships that stems from a covenant relationship between the Quaker faith community and God (or whatever name we wish to use for the Divine or ‘spiritual Other’).

Many Quaker meetings and groups in Europe feel that they are too small for formal Eldership and Oversight and ‘take care of each other’. In the coming year these groups will be offered the possibility of learning more about these functions in an online study circle, run by EMES. That initiative is an adventure. So is the work of De älste.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Å is for Årsmötet (pronounced Ohrsmoetet)

The English for Årsmötet is Yearly Meeting – an important annual event in a Quaker’s diary. In Sweden, Årsmötet is usually held around Ascension Day, which is on a Thursday, is a public holiday, and therefore easy to extend to a long weekend.  It  also usually takes place at the Quaker Retreat Centre, located some 60 km north of Stockholm, with easy access to Arlanda airport and rail and ferry centres for our international guests.

This pattern sometimes varies, though. About once every four years we hold a Nordic Quaker Gathering, at a conference centre in Sweden or Norway, for Quakers of all ages from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. During this 3-day gathering we have a common theme to guide us in study and worship and each country holds its own Årsmötet. These are rich occasions, where we can be serious and also have fun.

In 2015 Sweden's Årsmötet will experiment a little. Instead of being held at the Retreat Centre near Stockholm we will gather at a conference centre near Gothenburg. We hope that by meeting in larger premises more Friends and friends of Friends will be able to come. The proposed theme (translated into English) is “Equality: Disposition and Application with Martin Wilkinson from London as speaker. According to the proposal the theme may include aspects such as our attitudes to people (those with no power and the powerful), whether Quakers should try to counteract the tendency to judge people in economic terms and instead emphasise other kinds of driving forces, and should we Quakers, with our tradition of equality, talk more about scientific results, such as those presented in the book “The Spirit Level”.

In Sweden, as in other countries, Årsmötet is a time for getting together – for business, study, walking, talking, worship and fun. As our Årsmötet is small, it is more like a family gathering. Here we have a chance to catch up with each others’ lives and meet both new and potential members. But whatever we do, and wherever we meet, it is always an enriching experience.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Z is for Zlatan

In Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimović is a footballer who has become an idol and an icon the world over. His every move and his every word is followed and reported. I wondered what the name Zlatan meant and looked it up on the Internet.

Zlatan is a male name of South-Slavic origin and means ‘golden’. It is especially common in Bosnia due to its ethnical neutrality among the three dominant Bosnian ethnicities of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. It derives from the South-Slavic word zlato, from the Old-Slavic root ‘zolto’ (gold). Its ancient form is Zoltan. The qualities behind the name are tenderness, sensitivity, idealism, harmony and balance. Zlatan is reserved and needs a favourable environment in order to communicate effectively.

To football fans across the world Zlatan Ibrahimović is indeed a golden boy. However, what struck me most was the neutrality of the name in a once troubled region, and the qualities that are required in such an environment if peace is to reign.

There is more to our names than meets the eye. Mine means lily. What does yours mean?

Saturday 1 November 2014

Y is for Yule

Although it is only November and not yet the Yuletide season, I have reached the letter Y. As a Yorkshire woman with Viking roots living in Sweden, it is nevertheless appropriate to consider the word and what it symbolises.

Besides being associated with Christmas (Jul in Swedish), Yule is also connected to the winter solstice (the summer solstice for those living south of the Equator). According to the Celtic tradition, on Solstice Night (the longest night of the year) bonfires were lit in fields and trees and crops were toasted with spiced cider. Children visited houses carrying baskets made from evergreen boughs (symbolising immortality) and what stalks dusted with flour (the former symbolising the harvest and the latter triumph, light and life) and filled with oranges and apples spiked with cloves– both of which represented the sun. Holly and ivy was used to decorate the exteriors and interiors of houses to entice Nature Sprites to come and join the celebrations. Holly was hung near the door all the year round as a constant invitation of good fortune and mistletoe was hung as a decoration to represent the seed of the Divine.

The Yule log, usually of Ash, was the highlight of the festival of the Solstice and by tradition must either have been harvested from the householder’s land or received as a gift (but never bought). Inside the house it was decorated with greenery, splashed with cider or beer and dusted with flour before being set alight using a piece of the previous year’s log. The log then burned throughout the night and left to smoulder for 12 days before being ceremonially extinguished. (Reference source:

In recent years I have begun to write ‘Yuletide greetings’, rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ during the Yuletide season.  Somehow it seems more authentic in this secular and materialistic age, when Christmas is increasingly associated with tinsel and tat, spending up and stocking up, and begins already in October.  It may also be connected to my inner desire to reconnect with the earth, and cherish it.

Thursday 23 October 2014

X is for …… Xempel!

Xempel is not a word, but in this context stands for the Swedish exempel, or in English, example.
Here I am reminded of George Fox’s words from 1656: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.”

In today’s world, xtremism (another made up x!) seems to reign – extreme weather, extreme beliefs, extreme views, extreme behaviour, and so on. How, I wonder, can we best be patterns and examples and a blessing in such a climate?

Sydney Carter’s text is an example of how we might be examples. It is quoted in full on the Netherlands Yearly Meeting website (, and entitled “The Ballad of George Fox”:

1. There's a Light that was shining
when the world began,
and a Light that is shining in the heart of man:
There's a Light that is shining
in the Turk and the Jew,
and a Light that is shining, friend,
in me and in you.

(Chorus) Walk in the Light, wherever you may be,
Walk in the Light, wherever you may be!
In my old leather breeches and
my shaggy, shaggy locks,
I am walking in the glory of the Light, said Fox.

2. With a book and a steeple and a bell and a key
they would bind it for ever but
they can't, said he.
O, the book, it will perish, and the steeple will fall,
but the Light will be shining at the end of it all.


3."Will you swear on the Bible?"
I will not," said he,
"For the truth is as holy as the Book to me."
"If we give you a pistol,
will you fight for the Lord?"
"You can't kill the devil with a gun or a sword."


4. There's an ocean of darkness
and I drowned in the night
till I came through the darkness
to the ocean of Light;
You can lock me in prison
but the Light will be free.


Friday 10 October 2014

W is for Wilfrid and Waldemar

Not many words begin with w in the Swedish alphabet, because this letter is often replaced by v. However, as the only children in our Worship Group are called Wilfrid and Waldemar it seems appropriate to write about them in this Quaker-related space.

Waldemar is now six and his brother Wilfrid four.  They come to our once-a-month Meeting for Worship with their parents and are an integral part of our group. Both boys stay in Meeting for as long as they feel able. During that time they draw or crayon in their sketch books or read one of the books from their reading bags. When they come to Meeting they are always well equipped with materials and each boy has his own bag of books from which to choose. When they get restless one of their parents takes them to another room in the house for other activities, while the other remains in Meeting.

This has also posed a challenge to the rest of us in the group. Do we always expect their parents to take care of them and keep them occupied, or can another of us take responsibility for them? In Advices and Queries we are encouraged to “Rejoice in the presence of children and young people in your meeting and recognise the gifts they bring. Remember that the meeting as a whole shares a responsibility for every child in its care. Seek for them as for yourself a full development of God’s gifts and the abundant life Jesus tells us can be ours. How do you share your deepest beliefs with them, while leaving them free to develop as the spirit of God may lead them? Do you invite them to share their insights with you? Are you ready both to learn from them and to accept your responsibilities towards them?”(Advice 19, Britain Yearly Meeting)

Despite attempts to address the issue, it has proved difficult to come to any real solution, given that the group only meets once a month for Meeting, in our homes, and regards it as a precious opportunity to worship together. No-one has really been keen to leave the Meeting for Worship and do something with the children, although one or two have tried to set an example.

A more fertile discussion ground may be prepared when we meet in December, because this autumn we have included a ‘study’ session – in worship-sharing mode – before our Meeting for Worship in order to address topics that concern us. In December we will meet at the home of the children and the ‘study session’ will revolve around them. Might this be the beginning of a more inclusive taking of responsibility? I hope so.