On Friday, May 30, 2014, The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Florida/Miami held its 2014 Annual Gala Dinner. Olof Olsson, the pastor of the Swedish Church in Florida was honored as the SACC “Swede of the Year.” He received the award for his outstanding contributions to the Swedish community. With the assistance of his wife, Marie, and the local church council, the Swedish congregation has grown from dozens to several hundred.
SACC members, corporate executives, foreign clergy and government spokespersons celebrated Olsson at the famous Grand Bay Club in Key Biscayne, Florida. After several hours of laughter and congratulations for all of Olsson’s extraordinary accomplishments in Florida, he received the traditional “Swede of the Year” plaque, together with an artistic “Open Minds” Face vase by the Swedish artist Ulrica Hydman Vallien.

Olsson’s speech of thanks covered his years with the new Swedish congregation. “It all started in October 2009, when I came from Săo Paulo with four suitcases, two kids and one wife," he said. "The mission was clear: to establish the Swedish Church in Florida. There were just a few minor problems. We didn't have a place for activities. We didn't have a church for services. We didn't have a house to live in. But we did have some packages of yellow peas. And some bottles of Swedish punsch. And that was a good start.”

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Olsson paused and looked at the guests. “And we had YOU.” Then he added, “To establish a church is not to rent a house or to buy a property. It is to gather people.”

He continued: “And here we are, five years later. It has been a marvelous journey. Together we have created something unique. A church without walls and ceilings. It has been a journey filled with joy, laughter, jokes (at least some Norwegian ones) and close friendships. But also a journey with tears, pain and sorrows.”
Olsson used the smile that often came in his laughter-filled Sunday sermons. “There’s a saying … behind every successful man there is always a surprised woman. That's probably true.” He looked at Marie. “But in this case there is not just a surprised woman, there is also a superb woman! So Marie, thank you for your hard work, your loyalty ... and especially for your patience! I love you.”
Olsson’s five years of hard work in Florida will live on, long after he and Marie leave their Florida flock. After many successive and successful years abroad (Brazil 2004–2009, Florida 2009–2014), the Olssons are going back to Sweden at the end of June.
Olof Olsson will always be the Swede of the Year. And to many of us, he has become the Swede of a Lifetime.

Text: Kerstin “Kickan” Williams (kickan@bocaswede.com)
Photo: Ĺsa Holstein