"I wanted to examine and question my own opinions"
13 January 2022
Former Archbishop Anders Wejryd, now about to defend your PhD thesis The Church of Sweden Aid that Disappeared at the Department of Theology: how did you get interested in Lutherhjälpen (Church of Sweden Aid, or the Swedish National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation)?
“I joined the board of the independent organisation Lutherhjälpen as a youth ‘hostage’ in 1970 and remained for ten years. During that time, I got increasingly interested in this popular movement that reached beyond the traditional ecclesiastical sphere, although its roots were in the Church.
“When the Church of Sweden was due to be more clearly organised ahead of a probable new relationship between itself and the state, in the 1980s, Lutherhjälpen became fully integrated into the Church of Sweden’s organisation, with what we nowadays call the General Synod as the highest decision-making body. In the years around 2000, I chaired the committee that was Lutherhjälpen’s governing body under the Synod. In retrospect, I’d like to review and question my positions.
“In 2008, the name Lutherhjälpen disappeared. After that, it was a matter of variations on the name ‘Church of Sweden’s International Work’. Why? What has it led to? How have different people interpreted the change? I’ve found these to be interesting questions.”
What’s it like doing research on something you’ve participated in yourself?
“If you’d asked me that a few years ago, I would have said: ‘You should be wary of doing it – it won’t be objective.’ However, I’ve met researchers who claim that we can turn familiarity to advantage, if we work through our standpoints and venture to question them, and if I reflect in depth on the implications of having had this commitment and various positions of authority. I devote a substantial part of the thesis to methodological issues associated with these aspects, and include an autoethnographic chapter to give the reader a chance to assess my preconceptions and tendencies in the other chapters.”
What conclusions did you arrive at?
“Above all, that everyone wished Lutherhjälpen well! Nonetheless, it disappeared. Clearly, a lot of us underestimated what it meant to be engaged in something we felt was more ‘our own thing’ than being a cog in the whole big Church of Sweden. The importance of visible, trustworthy leaders can’t be overestimated. The fact that the name disappeared, as part of the Church’s branding process, in which everything was supposed to be get a name like ‘Church of Sweden in Uppsala’ or ‘Church of Sweden’s international work’ was seen by active members as a huge upheaval. Big organisational and brand changes like these tend to be somewhat unsuccessful unless a great deal of effort has been devoted to impact analysis, preparation, obtaining support and implementation.”