Church Chat with Pastor Staffan Eklund
Months before members of the House of Sweden in San Diego planned cultural activities for the 2015 Midsummer celebration, Pastor Staffan Eklund offered to help in some way. Based at Svenska Kyrkan (Church of Sweden) in San Pedro, California, he would also participate in the Los Angeles Midsummer event, and visit the faithful in "the valley" just north of LA during Midsummer week.

In publicizing the House of Sweden’s Midsummer week of educational outreach in San Diego, Viking Vista indicated Pastor Eklund would talk about matters material as well as spiritual. The history of Christianity in Scandinavia and the development of the Lutheran Church in the United States were possible topics of conversation. Rather than give a lecture, sermon or formal presentation, he wanted to interact with anyone who showed up and respond to their questions. His appearance was dubbed "Church Chat."

As people dropped by — with or without specific questions — Pastor Eklund and his wife Maj-Lena Eklund (also known as "Maja") were perfect ambassadors, greeting everyone and engaging them in conversation. While Maja tackled questions about Sweden from some college students, Pastor Eklund described the programs of Svenska Kyrka in San Pedro to a Swede who now belongs to another Protestant denomination.

The hands-on, be-in-the moment style of the preacher and his wife livened up the educational theme of theology planned for that day. The editor of Viking Vista was eager to know why it took the Vikings so long to convert to Christianity. This question was never asked, however, because it became apparent that the spiritual calling of Pastor and Mrs. Eklund was more interesting than Swedish religious history.

Answering the call
During the late 1970s and early 1980s while Pastor Eklund worked in a hospital in Stockholm, he went to church regularly and sang in the youth choir. Friends encouraged him to attend Bible school and seminary.

"I didn’t want to be a pastor. I tried to escape," Pastor Eklund said, noting that he was seriously considering becoming a doctor or possibly a surgeon. A life of service in medicine gradually shifted to the background as the call to serve God gained volume. "Inside it grew," he said. "It was a call from the Lord and through people, of course."

One of those people was the future Mrs. Eklund, whom Pastor Eklund met at the youth choir while he was studying in Uppsala. At the time Maja’s father was serving as pastor of Gamla Uppsala’s historic church.

"When you’re part of a minister’s family, so many people have ideas about who you are and what you should do," she recalled. "As the daughter of a pastor, I didn’t want to marry a pastor." But as the young couple’s mutual attraction grew, what they each hoped to avoid they came to accept.

Staffan Eklund became a pastor, and Maj-Lena married him. She likes to joke that he is married to the church; and consequently, so is she.

In Sweden, he has worked as a youth minister in Norrköping and Umeå, as an associate pastor at Härnösand’s cathedral parish and as chaplain of the Strängnäs diocese. Before his assignment to Svenska Kyrka (Church of Sweden) in Los Angeles in 2013, Staffan served as the senior pastor of Stockholm’s Ekerö parish, which includes Adelsö-Munsö and Lovö.

While serving in Ekerö in 2005, Eklund was asked to become a royal court pastor. He attributes this assignment to the proximity of Ekerö parish to Drottningholm Castle, where King Carl XII Gustaf lives with his family. "You don’t say 'no' to the King. It’s an honor to be appointed royal court pastor."

Although the Church of Sweden has 25 royal court pastors, Eklund has conducted the Christmas Day service six times. As a result, the Eklunds have eaten Christmas lunch with Sweden’s royal family five times. "I think our king prefers continuity."

A variety of reasons prompted Pastor Eklund to apply to work outside Sweden. For one, he wanted to continue working as a pastor with parishioners rather than administrative work, a typical career step for experienced pastors of his generation.

Eklund also wanted the experience of working in a different country with a different culture, and in his particular case, to get to know the American west coast. "I like the United States. I think it’s nice that people say hello to you here. In Sweden people don’t say hello to one another."

He also welcomed the opportunity to work with Maja. "In Sweden, it’s not common to work as a couple," he noted.

Carl Englund, a former president of the House of Sweden in San Diego, said he was impressed by the teamwork of Staffan and Maja when he first met them in 2014. At the time the Eklunds conducted a "celebration of life" service at the House of Sweden for members who had died. Staffan led the prayers, and Maja played the piano. "Those who attended were pleased by the simple but elegant beauty of the ceremony," Englund said.

Echoing other members of the House of Sweden in San Diego, Englund said he is most impressed by the Eklunds’ genuine desire to help and serve. "They minister to the needs of others while balancing challenging schedules and family life. They are a living example of what is good about people. Somehow they have managed to blend and present a wholesome, spiritual existence in a world divided and confused."

Suzan Hagstrom

Pastor Staffan Eklund writes for Nordstjernan regularly. Here's one example from earlier this winter: Light in the darkness

Suzan E. Hagstrom is the secretary and editor for the House of Sweden, a charitable, nonprofit organization that educates the public about Swedish culture, history, language and traditions. It is among several dozen similar organizations representing different countries that form a "mini-United Nations" within Balboa Park in San Diego, California. These international cottages were founded 80 years ago before the UN existed. The "houses" of Denmark, Finland and Norway are also part of this global village within Balboa Park, which is owned by the city of San Diego. Dependent on volunteers, the cottages are open Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., during which there is special entertainment and food concessions. The cottages also participate in Balboa Park's special events, including Ethnic Food Fair and December Nights. Viking Vista is a quarterly newsletter published by the House of Sweden.
House of Sweden, Balboa Park