A Christian voice in the public debate

28 April 2015

Antje Jackelén is back in Uppsala, which she visited as a guest student from Germany in the late 1970s. As a newly appointed archbishop, she is happy to take part in public debate, for example on Twitter. “It’s a challenge to say something significant and perhaps even beautiful in 140 characters.”

Every Saturday evening at 18.00, and every Sunday morning at 9.00, Antje Jackelén sends out a ‘#söndagsord’ (literally, Sunday word) to her 10,698 followers on Twitter.

“On Sunday I wrote: ‘Every hate crime is an attack on humanity. Every compassionate action heals the world’ and people clearly liked that, because I got an unusual number of responses,” says Antje Jackelén.

She gives an open and curious impression as she sits on a sofa in the church secretariat in Uppsala. At the same time she is thoughtful and careful in how she formulates her words. Perhaps that’s why she likes Twitter?

“If we’re going to say something in only 140 characters it’s likely to be a little terse. But I enjoy really working on the words. It’s a bit of a game.”

As archbishop, she meets many people at meetings of various types and during morning mass at the Cathedral on Wednesdays, which she leads every week—if she isn’t travelling.

When we meet, she has recently returned home from a trip in Europe, first to Germany and a meeting with the Lutheran World Federation. Then on to Estonia, for the ordination of an archbishop.

The fixed point is Uppsala, where the archbishop’s residence is a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and the church secretariat. A new yet well-known environment for Antje Jackelén. She was a guest student in Uppsala in the late 1970s. Now she is back again as the archbishop, and lives right next to the university's main building.

“I haven’t managed to relearn the city yet. I came here in August and since then I’ve been very busy with the job. Then it was November and winter,” she says.

She isn’t entirely  new to Uppsala. She has strong memories from the first summer in Uppsala in 1977, when she could scarcely speak any Swedish at all.

“The first thing that happened was that I took part in the Uppsala International Summer Session for four weeks. It was a really good language course, but you could also do courses in parallel. I remember that I took one in archaeology, and I learned to read runestones in the university park. That was great.”

When she arrived in Uppsala, she had studied theology in the German town of Tübingen for nearly three years. Her decision to become a priest arose gradually and in January 1980 she was ordained.

There then followed an eventful career devoted to her work as a priest, to research, overseas visits and most recently to the role of bishop of Lund, which she occupied for seven years.

A decisive period, and one she looks back on with pleasure, was her years in Chicago as a teacher of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology.

“My time in the USA was amazingly stimulating and I am very thankful for those years. I have said many times that without that period I probably wouldn’t have dared to agree to stand for election as a bishop.”

She explains this by the fact that it was an intellectually and socially stimulating environment, but also one that reinforced her self-confidence.

“It was absolutely the opposite to the Law of Jante’s ‘You’re not to think you are anything special’. I remember that I was so touched when I had only recently arrived in Chicago and had succeeded in publishing an article in a good newspaper, and one colleague after another came and said: ‘Well done; congratulations! That’s wonderful for all of us.’ It was important, and I believe is important for everyone, to get the right type of encouragement.”

As the archbishop, she is the representative of the Swedish church not only nationally but also internationally. She has several times mentioned how important it is for the church to occupy a position in society.

“We should be a church in the world; we have a mission to talk about Jesus in word and deed. For example this includes standing up against injustice and when human dignity is threatened.”

Sometimes the church has the answer to questions, but it’s often a case of asking questions that nobody else may be asking.

“We ask questions about a long-term view which are perhaps not natural for companies, who are oriented around quarterly reports, or politicians, who are oriented around mandate periods. We have an infinite perspective and in this way we can be an important voice.”



Title: Archbishop since June 2014.

Age: 59

Family: Married, with children and grandchildren

Education: Studied theology in Tübingen and at Uppsala University and was ordained as a priest in 1980. DTh from Lund University 1999.

Leisure pursuits: I enjoy reading things I shouldn’t read! I love going for long walks.

Last book read: Araben, by Pooneh Rohi, about a student at a Swedish university who is the daughter of an Iranian man. It shows from the inside how much damage can be caused when dreams are dashed and how rootlessness makes it difficult to build long-term relationships with another person.

Hidden talent: That question quickly becomes impossible to answer. I usually say that I played the trumpet in my youth, but then it’s not hidden any longer!

Favourite place in Uppsala: I think I will discover more favourite places, but something which I really enjoy at the moment is the flat I live in. I love the view towards the university park and the main university building.

Favourite student nation: Upland nation.

What makes you happy: My grandchildren.

What makes you angry: The Law of Jante; it destroys so much creativity.