The inauguration of the new Swedish Church in Florida will be December 6 in the presence of Bishop Lennart Koskinen. In the meantime, we’d like to present to you the church pastor, Olof Olsson. Nordstjernan contacted him to welcome him to the U.S.
What made you decide to become a pastor?
I grew up on the west coast of Sweden, in Kinna, a small town outside Göteborg. My family was quite religious and conservative, but there were no pastors. I have always had my faith, but there were times when I didn’t think the church was the way it ought to be, so I became a pastor in order to change that! The Church has a good product, though.
You’ve worked abroad for the Swedish Church before, right?
Yes, I began my career as a pastor abroad on Gran Canaria, then we were in Bangkok and then, most recently in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for six years.
Was your family with you?
Yes, me and my wife, Marie, and our two daughters, Filippa and Kajsa, who are 10 and 11 years old. We adopted them when we lived in Bangkok, two little Thai girls.
Why did you decide to come to Florida?
It just seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It looked challenging and exciting to start something from scratch. There were a lot of people burning for this, and I wanted to be part of it.
What do you look forward to doing in this new position?
I look forward to creating a meeting place, not just a spiritual meeting place but a social and cultural meeting place, also a place for conversations and guidance. We will begin on a smaller scale, of course; we rent a little house where we live and have the organization. For services we use different churches around the area. We’re meant to cover bigger areas of Florida—it remains to be seen exactly how things will work out.
What have you learned from your years abroad?
Humility towards people. And it’s been great to be a part of people’s journeys through life. Something happens with the church abroad, it becomes more natural, it becomes an important social hub. Abroad we work with much smaller resources and much more voluntary help, and I think that is great.
A lot of Swedes chose to leave the Swedish Church. What, if anything, do you think ought to be done about that?
Well, we have to ask ourselves why they leave. If they leave because they don’t sympathize with the Church, then of course they should leave. But I think today there’s a big gap between a regular churchgoer and the Church. A lot of people don’t feel at home in church anymore. There are also big changes within the Church: Some leave because the changes are too big, and others leave because the changes aren’t big enough. Without foregoing our traditions, we also have to adapt to the times. All organizations go through similar processes.
Do you ever doubt God’s existence?
No, not God, no. But it’s part and parcel of the nature of faith to sometimes doubt, to doubt the work of God. Why do things happen the way they do? Why are there accidents? Why do children die? Of course one wonders. And I think it is important to talk about these things. Pastors aren’t exempt. We’re not religious athletes, we’re also human.
Do you have any favorite Bible passages?
Not really. I like the way Jesus walked new paths. How he showed up where he wasn’t expected. He was criticized for that, but he marked something by doing that, it had a meaning. And I think it’s important to walk new paths. It’s a little bit like what I do as a pastor abroad. It used to be that people came to church, but now we have to come to the people. Abroad I go out and meet people all the time. Abroad I can be the kind of pastor I want to be.
What do you hope to see in America with your family?
Well, we hope to travel around a lot, to experience a lot of culture and nature. We also hope to be able to vacation in the Caribbean.
Our earlier interview with Bishop Koskinen: http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/people/1772/
For more info on the new Swedish Church in Florida: www.swedishchurchinflorida.org