October 2021 #1 – 1 million vote in Church of Sweden elections

News in brief.

Widening participation in Church of Sweden elections. In its elections every four years, the Lutheran Church of Sweden aims to encourage a high participation rate among its 5 million eligible voters.“This year, we saw a voter turnout of 17,4 percent,” said Jiang Millington, Church of Sweden’s communications officer for the church election. “That is slightly lower than the 2017 elections, but a distinctly higher number than elections during the 2000s. Then turnouts were 11 to 14 percent.” Measures designed to promote participation include making election information available in a range of formats and languages, a variety of voting methods, and holding the General Synod, Diocese and parish elections at the same time.  

Annual European Baptist Federation Council. Last week saw the European Baptist Federation hold its annual council in Amsterdam. Alan Donaldson was elected as the new General Secretary of the Federation. The Council also adopted a Resolution on COP26 to encourage its member unions to highlight the importance of caring for God’s creation. 

Resistance saint. A new saint, Giovanni Fornasini, was beatified in Bologna last week. Giovanni Fornasini was a parish priest in Bologna who on several occasions offered himself as a hostage in exchange for Italian civilians during the Second World War and challenged the Nazi authorities by holding funerals for people murdered by them. He was himself also likely murdered by the Nazis in 1944. A contemporary said of him: He was always around trying to free people from their difficulties, and to solve their problems. He had no fear. He was a man of great faith, and was never shaken.”

Image of city of Helsinki with church

Spotlight on Helsinki

Dominating the Helsinki skyline is the striking white Helsinki Cathedral (Unioninkatu 29). Designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and completed in 1839, the cathedral was built on command of Alexander I of Russia who introduced a tax to fund the building of new Lutheran and Orthodox churches in Helsinki as part of a programme to develop the city. The cathedral would be the centrepiece of a redesigned city centre, orientated around Senate Square. The small church of Ulrika Eleonora was demolished to make way for the cathedral; its bell was installed in the central tower of Helsinki Cathedral. The cathedral was named St Nicholas during the period of Russian rule, and changed to Suurkirkko in Finnish (Storkyrkan in Swedish) (the Great Church) after independence. In 1959, when the Diocese of Helsinki was formed, the name was changed to Helsinki Cathedral. The Neoclassical (in Finland the style is known as Empire) dome is surrounded by four smaller domes and statues of the Twelve Apostles at the apexes and corners of the roofline. The statues were added to the rooftops after the death of the architect Engel. A church building committee at the time considered there to be an imbalance between the central dome and the main body of the church, and the committee recommended  that statues of the Twelve Apostles at the skyline would remedy  the imbalance. Inside the cathedral are statues of the Lutheran reformers Martin Luther, his colleague Philipp Melanchthon, as well as the Finnish Reformationist Mikael Agricola (c. 1510–1557). 

Kallio church (Itäinen Papinkatu 2). This extraordinary grey granite church was built in the National Romantic / Art Nouveau style of the early twentieth century and designed by Lars Sonck. The church was inaugurated in 1912 and was soon adopted as a base by the Tolstoyan Movement in the approach to Finish independence.

The altarpiece is a wooden relief ‘Tulkaa minun tyköni’ (‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened’) by Hannes Autere, carved in 1956. Seven German bronze bells in the granite tower of the church play a chorale (op.65b), written by Jean Sibelius for Kallio Church, each day at noon and at 6 pm. 

The characteristically Russian redbrick Uspenski Cathedral (Kanavakatu 1) is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. Constructed in 1868 on a granite rock on the Katajanokka peninsula, the cathedral features elements of traditional Russian wooden churches, as well as Byzantine and Russian cathedrals.  The bricks used in the construction were transported from the Bomarsund fortress in Åland, which was destroyed during the Crimean War. The ceiling features a painting of the night sky, and nearly all the interior surfaces, vaulting and base of the domes feature Byzantine ornaments and icons, many painted by Russian artist and academic Pavel S. Šiltsov. 

St Nicholas’ Anglican Church (Tehtaankatu 23). The Anglican Church in Finland was originally founded by members of the Anglican Chaplaincy in St Petersburg who fled the Russian Revolution. The cross and church plate used at St Nicholas’s are originally from the English Church in St Petersburg. During the Russian Revolution, the cross was shipped for safekeeping to the British Embassy in Peking and later to the British Embassy in Ankara before arriving in Helsinki in the early 1980s.  The Anglican congregation currently worships at Mikael Agricola Church. This church was also designed by Lars Sonck. The 30-meter metal spike on the tower can be retracted if necessary, and this was done during the Second World war so that the tower didn’t act as a navigational aid to enemy bombers.

Martyr of the week: William Tyndale

Image of Walter Tyndale on gold background

It is thought that from his earliest days as a priest in England, William Tyndale wanted to help make the scriptures available to the English people in their own language. At this point the Bible was read only in Latin in church. Realising this had little support from authorities in England, he travelled to the Continent, settling for a time in Germany, where he encountered Erasmus’s Greek edition of the New Testament, and immediately began working on an English translation. When the translation was published in 1525, authorities in England were outraged. Tyndale became a wanted man. He fled to the relative safety of Antwerp, where he not only continued work on translating the Bible, but ministered to the poor of Antwerp and religious refugees from England. Tyndale was betrayed, arrested and put on trial for heresy. He was found guilty, and on Friday 6 October was executed in the town square of Vilvoorde, near Brussels.

Looking ahead.

Sunday 3 October (10.00-11.00 CET), the American Cathedral in Paris will host a Cathedral Forum on the theme of “Listen to the Cry of the Earth”. Theologian and parishioner Anne Marie Reijnen will examine what our collective and individual responses be to the climate crisis should be. 

At 11.00 CET on Tuesday5 October Helsinki Cathedral is offering a Short presentation about the  Cathedral in English. These tours take place from time to time and are advertised on their website. 

At 12.30 CET on Wednesday 6 October the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) is hosting an online presentation of the documentary Libertad directed by Raúl de la Fuente, raising awareness on the situation of minors serving their sentences in the Pademba prison in Sierra Leone. This is part of efforts by the COMECE to encourage EU leaders to support reforms to the penal system for children. 

Picture credits. Photo of Helsinki by Tapio Haaja | Graphic design by European Churches Chronicle.

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