The Swedish Union Session was held at Ekebyholmsskolan on July 2-6. Even though much of the time was spent discussing and voting matters of union governance and laying plans for the coming period, the lingering feeling is of a spiritual high point and challenge.
During the first Thursday morning session, Göran Hansen was elected Union President for the Swedish Union of Churches Conference.
“I feel a lot of gratitude for the trust”, said Göran Hansen in his brief acceptance speech. “I will work wholeheartedly to develop our churches and support their growth.”
Göran Hansen also said that he understands that some felt hesitance about his candidature for Union President but hope that everyone will get to know him better in the months and years that lie ahead.
Göran Hansen returned to Sweden 2012 after many years of serving as ADRA country director abroad, among other things. For the last ten months he has been assistant pastor in the Stockholm Adventist Church, responsible for its Center of Influence evangelism project. In his youth he studied theology at Newbold College and the seminary at Ekebyholmsskolan. However, most of his life he has been working as a development worker, a teacher and in administrative positions inside and outside the Church. Göran Hansen was ordained and welcomed among the pastors during the Sabbath afternoon Mission program.
Göran Hansen succeeds Pastor Robert “Bobby” Sjölander who has asked for other assignment. Bobby Sjölander was elected the leader of the Evangelism Department later that same day.
Daniel Hailemariam, who since 2010 has served as Executive Secretary, received renewed confidence.
Ronny Hermansson was also reelected as Union Treasurer.
Willy Aronsen, was elected acting Youth Leader until a long-term leader can be found. Deputy Youth leader Karolina Poland was reelected.
The Swedish Union Session began with a series of evening worships on Tuesday night, July 2. Pastor Derek Morris, editor of the Ministry Magazine, was invited to speak during morning and evening worships about life as a radical disciple of Jesus Christ. The theme of the Union Session was “In the Master’s Footsteps” and summarizes the strategic goals of the Union for the coming period: “Walk in Worship”, “Walk in Service”, and “Walk in Fellowship.”
In the Swedish Union most proceedings are prepared months before the Session takes place, in permanent proposals, nominations, and regulations committees. Among the proposals winning favor with the delegates was a new strategy and vision document, more education to lay preachers, , more churches encouraged to become Churches of Refuge, the Union paper Missionären to be sent to all Church members without cost, the work environment of pastors to be analyzed and attended to, that a three-party dialogue must be used when pastors are asked to move to another church, an interest group will take main responsibility for the growing interest in health ministry in local churches, and the children’s, family and youth ministry must be prioritized and expanded with a full time post.
One proposal that anticipated many opinions was that on “Men and Women Ministers in the Swedish Union.” Already in December 2012, the Union Board issued a position statement regarding the attitude of equality which is at work in the Union when it comes to its pastors, male and female. It stated that the Union regards women and men as equals in ministry as far as General Conference and Division policy permits (today, female pastors only lack the possibility to become Union President). Moreover, the statement mandated the Union leadership to promote its view in the decision-making bodies of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Board also decided the statement to be sent to the Union Session as a motion.
When the statement was issued it raised some questions. One delegate sent a counter motion to the Union Session, asking the Union not to issue statements or take a stand regarding this issue until it is resolved by the General Conference in 2015.
After a lengthy and lively debate the counter motion won the majority’s favor.
The newly elected Union Board gathered to its first meeting as soon as the Union Session ended and decided to clarify the nature of both its statement and the decision by the Union Session.
In essence the Union Board points out that the December statement is not ”a final standpoint on the issue of women’s ordination”, but rather an expression of support for the ongoing study of ordination theology and a message to the Division and the General Conference explaining the current stance of the Union.
The Board also wants to point out that the Session’s decision is in no way a stance against ordination of women pastors, but a request to await the current process.
The Board will continue to confirm that male and female pastors have the same benefits and responsibilities and that the Union Session’s decision in no way changes the status of female pastors in the Swedish Union. ”We will continue to support our women pastors and to encourage more women to serve the Lord and our churches as pastors”, the clarifying statement reads.
After three days of deliberations the Session ended with a Sabbath filled with opportunities to be spiritually renewed, beginning with a much appreciated “Shabbat Shalom” Vespers and Communion Service on Friday night. On the sunny Sabbath morning 500-600 members from all over Sweden gathered for Bible Study in small groups all over the Ekebyholmsskolan Campus, a worship service filled with song and music, a Mission program in the afternoon with a sermon by the reelected Secretary, Daniel Hailemariam, and a musical program in the evening that included a sermon by the newly elected President, Göran Hansen.