Drop-in services seeking to build new ties to Swedish church drop-outs

From a lone pastor offering “drop-in” nuptials in 2008, these unscheduled types of services for weddings and baptisms have proliferated in the Church of Sweden today, possibly making new connections between parishes and inactive members, reports The Christian Century (August 3). When Pastor Jerker Alsterlund first perform unscheduled weddings at his church in the city of Vasteras, it raised considerable controversy in the Church of Sweden. But the practice has become more widespread, with such rituals now offered in every major city along with many smaller towns—popular enough that Alsterlund was given the Church of Sweden’s Innovator of the Year Award in 2013. Alsterlund and other church leaders now argue that the drop-in services have created new links between Sweden’s very large inactive membership and the church, creating service formats that reach beyond the parishes’ core members. The Church of Sweden has not collected statistics on how many of these services are conducted.07Drop-inServices

The article, which is reprinted from the Christian Science Monitor, recounts a recent drop-in service held in the cathedral in the city of Lund, as 45 couples gather on a Saturday afternoon to get married. Each couple gets a 20-minute premarital talk with one of the pastors, and then they choose two hymns and a song before they go to one of the altars with the pastor and the musician for their 20-minute ceremony. Drop-in baptisms take place in a similar manner, usually in more intimate ceremonies than found in the social events surrounding more traditional baptism services. The innovations are a way to slow down the sharp declines the Church of Sweden has faced; last year, 63.2 percent of Sweden’s 9.9 million residents belonged to the church, down from 86 percent in 1995. During the same time, annual service attendance has dropped from 9 million to 4 million. The Church of Sweden has not yet measured whether the services have resulted in the couples and families remaining involved with their parishes. Alsterlund says that from his observations, about three-quarters of the couples and families stay in touch with him, with many getting involved in their own parish. Sociologist Magdalena Nordin says that the drop-in nature of the services doesn’t necessarily mean that participants take them less seriously. Some pastors argue that because the drop-in ceremonies are stripped of their social attributes, they focus couples’ and families’ attention on the Christian aspect of the rituals.

(The Christian Century, http://www.christiancentury.org/)