Archbishop Antje Hopes Network will Shape and Reshape Things in Sweden and Beyond

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

Part of, but not in control. Archbishop Antje Jackélen has a heart in the cause of A World of Neighbours. Here participating in group discussions during meeting in Malmö.

– 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, but we are not in control. Marvellous things happen that we are part of, but they do not necessarily show up in our statistics, the Archbishop says.

This spring, as the Coronapandemic has hit country after country, cooperation has once again proven to be essential, even life-saving. As in 2015, when large numbers of people fled to Europe, faith communities have played a vital role in identifying people in need, of whom asylum seekers is one very vulnerable group, organizing food and necessities to be delivered. 

– The grass roots work of practitioners creates a lot of hope. It needs to be showcased, both to give those workers appreciation, and as inspiration for others.

During the last year, the Archbishop has had the chance to meet many practitioners from all over Europe, through the program. 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. 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, homeless people, and that the means of empowerment was Bible studies.

Archbishop Antje Jackelén visited pastor Marta Bolba in Hungary.
Archbishop Antje Jackelén visited pastor Marta Bolba, right, in Hungary and was impressed by her work.

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.

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, there is a fear that authoritarian leaders will take 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.

And she hopes to see the network grow:

– 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 – like a child that moves away and achieves great things on its own.