The Church of Sweden now has more female than male priests for the first time, a sign of tremendous progress in gender equality since women were first initiated in 1960.
he Lutheran institution, which was the official Swedish state church until 2000, now has 1,533 priestly women and 1,527 men. The Archbishop and several bishops are also women.
After delivering a sermon in a small church in Stockholm, Rev. Elisabeth Oberg Hansen said: “It is in a way a mirror of society. It is as it should be. ‘
She became a priest more than 30 years ago and she clearly remembers the discrimination she faced when the first parish to which she was assigned did not accept her.
But times have changed. The European Institute for Gender Equality ranked Sweden at the top of the annual equality index last year, giving the country a score of 83.6 compared to an average of 67.4 for the European Union as a whole.
“It’s a good thing, but I don’t think about it that much nowadays,” said Ms Oberg Hansen in her work on the gender issue.
Sweden’s path to equality between men and women is shared across Scandinavia, with about as many men and women in the clergy of the Church of Denmark and women well represented in the priesthood of the Church of Norway.
Church of Sweden Bishop Eva Brunne, who retired after a decade that led the Stockholm Diocese, has contributed to women’s acceptance – but emphasizes that she does not believe that the priesthood should become a predominantly female profession.
“During my ten years as a bishop, I was asked,” Where are all the men? and all I can say is “I don’t know. I don’t know, ” she said.
“It’s the same when you look at universities in Sweden – more women than men. That means more female lawyers, female doctors, and so on. ‘
The Swedish Church has approximately 5.8 million members, which equates to 57.7% of the country’s population. But many pews are empty nowadays and are more often occupied by women.
Rev Cristina Grenholm, the head of theology of the Swedish Church, described the gender imbalance as “striking”, adding, “I think we should always take this as a warning when we see an imbalance.
“I really think men have something to discover in church.”
Anna Inghammer, a mother of three studying theology and a candidate for the priesthood, welcomed the gender balance in the Church, but said she thinks more work is needed to bring equality to other areas.
She said, “Jesus was championing justice for people of all classes and genders in his day, so I think it’s time for women to take another step forward.
“Of course representation is good, representation of women, but also ethnicity and class… and that is also something we have to work on.
“The church is for everyone.”