Archbishop of Church of Sweden on Network and Perilous P:s

October 19, 2021
By Magdalena Wernefeldt

Losing control is normally not a sign of achievement. But seeing the A World of Neighbours program turning into a interreligious network beginning to stand on its own feet, gives the Archbishop of Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, a sense of excitement.

– I am excited about this being a network. In a sense, this way of working is new to the Church of Sweden. Usually when we set up a program, we own it. The activities take place in our buildings, we pay and we measure. This is different. It is networking, which means we don’t own it. We try to inspire and to support. Marvellous things happen that we are part of, but we are not in control, the Archbishop says.

Through the network A World of Neighbours, the Archbishop has had the chance to meet many practitioners from all over Europe. The encounters have made lasting impressions on her.

– They are too many to name them all. But I particularly remember a young Lutheran pastor who I met in Hungary. Her name is Marta Bolba. She said: “How can it be wrong to receive the stranger and care for the poor?” That is what she wants to do, and does, in her praxis and yet – she is questioned. It was so impressive to see the compound, how she had built an inclusive community of Muslim families, Christian Students, and homeless people.

Archbishop together with collegues visiting Hungary.

Getting the chance to sit down and listen to leaders having to balance between voicing critique of the political development in their country and being silent for the sake of their social work and the unity of the church has also stayed with her.

– I saw the pressures that you can be subject to as a leader.

The Perilious P:s

Archbishop Antje has summarized the challenges of our time in what she calls the Perilous P:s.

– The destructive synergy of Polarization, Populism, Protectionism, Post-Truth and Patriarchy still worries me. We see shrinking space for democracy in many places. With the Corona-virus,  authoritarian leaders has taken the pandemic as an excuse to weaken democracy, and strengthen their own rule. I worry about the long-term effects of the Corona-crisis, in terms of mental health, effects on the world economy and what it does to global solidarity.

The Perilous P:s is one reason why the network A World of Neighbours came into being. It is an effort to strengthen fruitful, trusting relations between religious practitioners to defend human values and foster peaceful coexistence.

– I really like the notion of neighbour. A good neighbour is a person with whom you not necessarily agree on all things, but who you trust at least at a basic level. Someone who cares. That is my definition of a good neighbour. In that sense, A World of Neighbours has a realistic vision. It is not naïve, it is not romantic.

HIAS and then …

Last June a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society  (HIAS) and the Church of Sweden (CoS).

HIAS then became the first non-Christian faith-based organization to join the Church in its support of A World of Neighbours practitioners network. Under the agreement, HIAS will work to engage Jewish communities across Europe to join this network and support refugees and their local integration.

Now the Archbishop Antje Jackelén hopes to see the network continue to grow and work strategically to contribute to a welcoming and inclusive society:

– I hope organizations like Religions for Peace will get to know about A World of Neighbours and lift the experiences and methods of this network to a new level, so that is grows, shapes and reshapes things in Sweden and far beyond.

AWoN Programme vs AWoN Network

With the programme Interreligious Praxis for Peace – A World of Neighbours, initiated by the Archbishop Antje Jackelén in 2018, the Church of Sweden (CoS) set a goal to strengthen its collaboration in Europe with religious communities in the forefront of welcoming the stranger: providing safe haven, offering assistance and accompaniment, establishing platforms for a new start, as well as doing extensive advocacy work.

In doing so, CoS has sought to make this work more connected and visible. Furthermore, the initiative aimed at enhancing opportunities for the interreligious community to voice more strongly an ethical, moral and humanitarian concern for refugees, in the public discourse, in Europe.

As a result of the programme, A World of Neighbours Network evolved. At the heart of the network are the practitioners, essential to the work of receiving communities, to their collaborative partners and on behalf of people on the move. They occupy a pivotal position in the ecology of migration. AWoN Practitioner Network is self-determining, supported by Church of Sweden and HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Soceity Europe.

The AWoN programme is coming to a close. The AWoN Network has only just begun.