5th October 2011

As the time got closer to my journey to Sweden as part of my sabbatical, the anxiety levels predicably began to rise. I was planning to travel by train, which was quite an adventure in itself: train from Oxford to London St Pancras; Eurostar to Brussels; Brussels to Cologne; overnight train from Cologne to Copenhagen; Copenhagen to Alvesta. All in all it would take about 28 hours. I’d never done such a journey before, and my husband thought I was mad! I had a wallet full of train tickets, and a European Train Timetable to clutch and follow the journey. I had a range of currencies with me to cover the range of countries I would go through. Would all the connections work? Had I allowed myself enough time for the changes? The day before I packed and unpacked a few times and settled eventually for my trusty backpack that has done pretty sterling service these past few months.

So on Wednesday 5th October I set off. The journey provided plenty of beautiful scenes to remember – some gorgeous stations. I was so excited – could hardly contain myself when the train emerged from the tunnel into France!

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So begins the grappling with different ways of travelling, different currencies, different languages. The listening to and observing of fellow travellers can be a way of finding reassuring connections and similarities: a lively group of young American teachers gather at St Pancras – they are at the beginning of something – just beginning to get to know each other; a woman sitting next to me on the train explores personality types on the computer; a seasoned traveller gives words of advice to young man going to Cologne for the first time. A theme for the journey: discovering similarities, celebrating differences.

After not much sleep on the night train to Copenhagen, I arrive in a cloudy, drizzly day, into a beautiful station. I have a couple of hours before my final train into Sweden. It’s too wet to wander very far, so I wander around the station quite a few times, negotiate a SJ ticket machine to pick up my ticket (very pleased with myself!), change a bit of money into Danish currency so I can buy a snack and do more people watching. There are school children eating McDonalds and teenagers laughing, students trying to interview passengers, a  group of men – maybe a sports group or team?

At Alvesta station the rain has set in with a vengeance. I am met by my host Elisabeth Lindow, kyrkoherde (rector?) of 3 country parishes: Ryssby, Agunnaryd and Tutaryd. http://www.svenskakyrkan.se/default.aspx?id=565270  We enter directly into parish life as Elisabeth takes me to a confirmation group – young people from these parishes meet very regularly after school, at the parish hall to prepare for confirmation. It sounds like quite an intensive preparation, in comparison to my experience. They meet for about 9 months, and have to attend church for an agreed number of times (they have a book that has to be signed off by the priest). Photos of the young people are posted around the parishes, to keep them in the prayerful minds eye of the congregations. Eating burgers together is following by discussion in small groups, and I’m asked to say a few words of introduction about myself. I use a few hesitant words of Swedish (“Hello…My name is… I don’t speak Swedish..!”) It feels good to be with these young people, and I tell them a little about the young people of our parish group. It’s good to see the familiar way young people operate – friendly, some very quiet, open and honest (‘Church is boring’). Then I talk with a parish teacher, an artist who has created a way of teaching children using doll-like figures. I tell her about Godly Play which uses many similar techniques and principles that she is doing intuitively, and we resolve to communicate further about Godly Play.

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We have supper at Elisabeth’s house, in Sommersate, out in the country, with some of her colleagues who work at the parish offices. Later a local priest comes to join the conversation – again about similarities and differences between church in Sweden and in England. The church in Sweden is adapting Oxford diocese’s Living Faith for its own application: Till Tro.

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The conversation is relaxed and friendly, and although it’s been a long day, I feel comfortable and at home. I am a bit shocked to discover later on in my stay that the priest is anti-women priests, and impressed with Elisabeth’s determination to maintain a good relationship with him – and at his willingness to come and meet me after a long day’s work and family commitments.

More to come…

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