I was reading an article on the BBC website today about the island of Vrango (Vrångö), one of the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago outside Gothenburg. The little community there is struggling to survive, because people have left in droves over recent years. I was surprised by this statement:
Christianity, now shunned by so many Swedes on the mainland, still has an obvious presence on Vrango…
Is Christianity shunned in Sweden? I suppose I agree in a sense, but disagree in another sense. Christianity is still very much embedded in Swedish culture. People may not go to church but they still want their kids to be baptised, and even be confirmed later in life. People still want church weddings, and the thousands of beautiful churches of Sweden are well maintained and comfortably heated from the public purse. There are Christian high days celebrated throughout the year – from Christmas and Easter to Pentecost and Ascension Day and All Saints Day.
But personal faith is regarded as a private thing in Sweden, not to be spoken of. Indeed it seems almost offensive to share openly about faith. Prominent Christians, like the pop singer Carola who publicly acknowledge their faith, are thought of as at best rather odd, at worst downright inappropriate.
However, the influx of other faiths, mainly Muslims, to Sweden over recent years, has put public Christianity back on the agenda. I find Muslims less reticent to hear that I am a Christian than my secular Swedish friends. I find it odd that even many of the people that I know are Christians seem so hesitant to talk with me about their faith even after they know I too am a believer. If I ask direct questions they answer them, of course, but it is easier to talk about church than about faith. Swedes tend not to speak so openly about personal thoughts, feelings, beliefs, as perhaps Australians do. It requires a deeper level of friendship than a casual day-to-day acquaintance to speak of such things. Swedes do not often “wear their hearts on their sleeves.” To speak openly about a daily experience of God and his interactions in our lives seems off limits.
Which is why I found the last paragraph of the article about Vrango refreshing, and I will quote it here:
But what if the disappearing tide cannot be stopped, and the population keeps dropping? Would Johan and his family ever move back to the mainland?“No way,” he says when we reach the shop, seemingly shocked by the thought.“Well,” he adds quickly. “Not unless God tells me to.”
I am staying at Båsenberga Hotel and Conference Centre, near Vingåker in Central Sweden, about an hour’s drive from Örebro. This is my third visit here, this time for a 2-day GP training seminar. Once we came here with the vårdcentral (health centre) where I work for a 2 day professional development retreat. Båsenberga is a big old mansion, by a lake, in the Swedish countryside. It is one of many such grand old houses which are scattered across Sweden. Most were used for quite different purposes in past days but now they really only lend themselves to being used for conferences. The Swedes are good at conferences, and just in the area around Örebro there are several large venues like this with hotel facilities in beautiful locations. In the last year I have been to several others – Loka Brunn, Hennickehammar Herrgård and Kåfalla Herrgård – for various events. But there are others too: Karlslund Herrgård, Bredsjö Herrgård to name just a few.
Herrgård could be translated “manor house” but Båsenberga has never really been a manor house in the generally understood sense of the term. In fact, Båsenberga was the poorhouse for this area in the 1870s, but it later became an old people’s home. It has been a hotel and conference centre for many years now. Hennickehammars herrgård where we had a vårdcentral meeting about 3 weeks back, was a real manor house. It is beautifully located in the forest of Värmland by a small lake. I am not sure of the history but I think it dates from the 1700s and was originally the home of a mine owner. Many of the big houses around this part of Sweden were associated with iron ore mining.
Loka Brunn, which is a favourite for conferences from groups in Örebro, was previously a health spa, built in the 1700s. People with chronic pain from rheumatism, arthritis and such diseases, went there to “take the waters.” Loka is still a popular brand of mineral water which can be bought al over Sweden.
Kåfalla Herrgård is near Lindesberg, north of Örebro, and was the location for the annual meeting of the Christian Doctors and Students Association back in April this year. The house itself is owned by the Evangelical Free Church, but it too was previously owned by a wealthy landowner. I am unsure of its history.
Karlslunds Herrgård is the local manor house in the west of Örebro, on the road that heads out towards the Kilsbergen hills. It is used for conferences, but it is many years since I was there for that purpose. It has a nice café which is open in the summer, and has some lovely walks in its grounds along the river and through the forest. It is also used for Christmas dinners and other large functions. It is beautifully located near the river, Svartån. Bredsjö is another old estate, up north near Nora. We were there for a vårdcentral function some years ago.
The other manor house that remains a lovely memory was the one where Maria and I stayed the night after we married. It is called Svartå Herrgård. It was cold when we were there, in April 1993; the snow was still disappearing. It is beautiful in summer. But now I imagine that it is like all the other mansions, fading into the autumn grey.