Most popular city for Swedes to visit: New York City.
The leadership of the Swedish Church Abroad (SKUT - Svenska Kyrkans Utlandstjänst) spent several days in South Florida in March to consider a permanent Swedish Church representative, something local groups and organizations like SACC and SWEA have had on their wish lists for almost twenty years.
Can it really be that after all these years, the Church of Sweden finally listens to Florida?
"I think so," says Consul Per Olof Lööf, who helped put together a program that helped the leadership take a look at planned facilities and to interact with Swedes from many walks of life.
"We did our utmost to convince the leadership to put a Swedish priest in South Florida and thus help to create a Swedish congregation. I believe that we did pretty good and that the delegation left both encouraged and impressed with the commitment and the will of the Swedish Community; I think the journey has commenced," says Consul Lööf.
The strength of a Swedish congregation and its ability to function effectively stems from being part of the currently planned Scandinavian Center that will include a church, a community center, living quarters for staff, and a consular section. The property spans 3.3 acres. It is located 15 miles north of Miami in Sunrise, just south of the recently opened IKEA store.
The delegation met the Swedish business community at a lunch with SACC members in Miami and found out how much deeper the church is anchored among Swedes in America than among Swedes in the home country. There were meetings with SWEA and the Swedish School. At a dinner at the home of Per Olof and Åsa Lena Lööf, the leadership was able to interact with Nordic representatives. The head of SKUT, Klas Hansson, talked about Swedish Church work abroad whereas the Swedish Consul General from the Embassy in Washington, Pontus Järborg, spoke for half an hour to tell everybody how much it really would cost to support a Swedish priest in Florida. Nordstjernan’s Lars Ottoson brought the delegation back to the days when Swedes cultivated oranges in Florida — years before the first Swede had sown a single acre in Minnesota. He brought to life the deeply Lutheran roots of the several hundred thousand Swedes who helped build this state. The memory of them is still present in a little white Swedish church in Sanford.
The delegation closed the visit with a church service in Pompano Beach, led by Klas Hansson. It was a music filled service. Three infant Swedes were christened by Stefan Bergmark. After the service, 150 Swedes met with the delegation for a question and answer session in the parish hall.
Berit Lembke Mattson
Per Henrik Bodin