Church of Sweden

Church of Sweden
Classification Protestant
Orientation Lutheranism
Polity Episcopal
Primate Archbishop of Uppsala
Associations Lutheran World Federation,
World Council of Churches,
Conference of European Churches,
Porvoo Communion
Region Sweden
Founder King Gustav I of Sweden
Origin 1536/1593
Separated from Roman Catholic Church in Sweden
Separations Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Congregations 3,500 churches[1]
Members 6,225,091 members (63.2%) (2015),[2]

The Church of Sweden (Swedish: Svenska kyrkan) is the largest Christian church in Sweden.

It is the largest Lutheran denomination in Europe and the second-largest in the world after the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, as well as the third-largest Protestant body in Europe after the Church of England and the Evangelical Church in Germany. A member of the Porvoo Communion, the Church professes the Lutheran branch of Christianity. It is composed of thirteen dioceses, divided into parishes.[3] It is an open national church which, working with a democratic organisation and through the ministry of the church, covers the whole nation. The Primate of the Church of Sweden is the Archbishop of Uppsala — currently Antje Jackelén, Sweden's first female archbishop.

Unlike other Protestant churches, including most Lutheran churches, the Church of Sweden and its offshoot the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland continue to maintain the historical episcopate. It is liturgically and theologically "high church", having retained priests, vestments, and the Mass during the Swedish Reformation.

The Church of Sweden is known for its liberal position in theological issues, particularly the question of homosexuality. When Bishop Eva Brunne was consecrated as Bishop of Stockholm in 2009, she became the first openly lesbian bishop in the world.[4]

Despite a significant yearly loss of members (larger than 1% annually), its membership of 6,225,091 people accounts for 63.2% of the Swedish population.[2] Until 2000 it held the position of state church. The high membership numbers are because until 1996 all newborn children were made members, unless their parents had actively cancelled their membership.[5] Approximately 2% of the church's members regularly attend Sunday services. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2009, 17% of the Swedish population considered religion as an important part of their daily life.[6]


Uppsala, with its large cathedral, remains the seat of the Church of Sweden.

King Gustav I Vasa instigated the Church of Sweden in 1536 during his reign as King of Sweden. This act separated the church from the Roman Catholic Church and its canon law. In 1571, the Swedish Church Ordinance became the first Swedish church order following the Reformation.

The Church of Sweden became Lutheran at the Uppsala Synod in 1593 when it adopted the Augsburg Confession to which most Lutherans adhere. At this synod, it was decided that the church would retain the three original Christian creeds: the Apostles', the Athanasian, and the Nicene.

In 1686, the Riksdag of the Estates adopted the Book of Concord, although only certain parts, labelled Confessio fidei, were considered binding, and the other texts merely explanatory. Confessio dei included the three aforementioned Creeds, the Augsburg Confession and two Uppsala Synod decisions from 1572 and 1593.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, a variety of teachings were officially approved, mostly directed towards ecumenism:

In practice, however, the Lutheran creed texts play a minor role, and instead the parishes rely on Lutheran tradition in coexistence with influences from other Christian denominations and diverse ecclesial movements such as Low Church, High Church, Pietism ("Old Church") and Laestadianism, which locally might be strongly established, but which have little nationwide influence.

During the 20th century the Church of Sweden oriented itself strongly towards liberal Christianity and human rights. In 1957, the church assembly rejected a proposal for ordination of women, but then the Riksdag changed the law in spring 1958 and forced the church assembly to accept the new law in autumn 1958. Since 1960, women have been ordained as priests, and since 1994, men who oppose collaboration with women priests have not been allowed ordination. A proposal to perform same-sex weddings was approved on October 22, 2009 by 176 of 249 voting members of the Church of Sweden Synod.[7]


Middle Ages

Church of Sweden statistics[2][8]
year population church members percentage annual change
1972 8,146,000 7,754,784 95.2%
1975 8,208,000 7,770,881 94.7% +0.07%
1980 8,278,000 7,690,636 92.9% -0.21%
1985 8,358,000 7,629,763 91.5% -0.16%
1990 8,573,000 7,630,350 89.0% +0.00%
1995 8,837,000 7,601,194 86.0% -0.08%
2000 8,880,000 7,360,825 82.9% -0.64%
2005 9,048,000 6,967,498 77.0% -1.09%
2010 9,415,570 6,589,769 70.0% -1.10%
2011 9,482,855 6,519,889 68.8% -1.06%
2012 9,555,893 6,446,729 67.5% -1.12%
2013 9,644,864 6,357,508 65.9% -1.38%
2014 9,747,355 6,292,264 64.6% -1.03%
2015 9,850,452 6,225,091 63.2% -1.10%

While some Swedish areas had Christian minorities in the 9th century, Sweden was, because of its geographical location in northernmost Europe, not Christianized until around AD 1000, around the same time as the other Nordic countries, when the Swedish King Olof was baptized. This left only a modest gap between the Christianization of Scandinavia and the Great Schism, however there are some Scandinavian/Swedish saints who are venerated eagerly by many Orthodox Christians, such as St. Olaf. However, Norse paganism and other pre-Christian religious systems survived in the territory of what is now Sweden later than that; for instance the important religious center known as the Temple at Uppsala at Gamla Uppsala was evidently still in use in the late 11th century, while there was little effort to introduce the Sami of Lapland to Christianity until considerably after that.

The Christian church in Scandinavia was originally governed by the archdiocese of Bremen. In 1104 an archbishop for all Scandinavia was installed in Lund. Uppsala was made Sweden's archdiocese in 1164, and remains so today. The papal diplomat William of Modena attended a church meeting in Skänninge in March 1248, where the ties to the Catholic Church were strengthened.

The most cherished national Catholic saints were the 12th-century King Eric the Saint and the 14th-century visionary Bridget, but other regional heroes also had a local cult following, including Saint Botvid and Saint Eskil in Södermanland, Saint Helena of Skövde[9] and Saint Sigfrid in Småland. In their names, miracles were performed and churches were named.


Shortly after seizing power in 1523, Gustav Vasa addressed the Pope in Rome with a request for the confirmation of Johannes Magnus as Archbishop of Sweden, in the place of Gustav Trolle who had been formally deposed and exiled by the Riksdag of the Estates.

Gustav promised to be an obedient son of the Church, if the pope would confirm the elections of his bishops. But the pope requested Trolle to be re-instated. King Gustav protested by promoting the Swedish reformers, the brothers Olaus and Laurentius Petri, and Laurentius Andreae. The king supported the printing of reformation texts, with the Petri brothers as the major instructors on the texts. In 1526 all Catholic printing-presses were suppressed, and two-thirds of the Church's tithes were appropriated for the payment of the national debt. A final breach was made with the traditions of the old religion at the Riksdag called by the king at Västerås in 1544.[10]

Other changes of the reformation included the abolition of some Catholic rituals. However, the changes were not as drastic as in Germany; in many Swedish churches there still today remain artifacts from Catholic times, such as crosses, crucifixes and icons. And many holy days, based on saints days, were not removed from the calendar until the late 18th century due to strong resistance from the population.

After the death of Gustav Vasa, Sweden was ruled by a king with Catholicizing tendencies, John III, and another openly Catholic one, John's son Sigismund, who was also ruler of Catholic Poland but eventually deposed from the Swedish throne by his uncle. The latter, who acceded to the throne as Charles IX used the Lutheran church as an instrument in his power struggle against his nephew, but is known to have had Calvinist leanings.

The New Testament was translated to Swedish in 1526 and the entire Bible in 1541. Revised translations were published in 1618 and 1703. New official translations were adopted in 1917 and 2000. Many hymns were written by Swedish church reformers and several by Martin Luther were translated. A semi-official hymnal appeared in the 1640s. Official hymnals of the Church of Sweden (Swedish: Den svenska psalmboken) were adopted in 1695, 1819, 1937 and 1986. The last of these is ecumenical and combines traditional hymns with songs from other Christian denominations, including Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Catholic, Mission Covenant, Methodist, Pentecostalist, and the Salvation Army. In 2013, the Church of Sweden elected Antje Jackelén as Sweden's first female archbishop.[11]

Emigration aspects

In the 1800s-1900s the Church of Sweden supported the Swedish government by opposing both emigration and preachers' efforts recommending sobriety (alcoholic beverages are sold in Sweden by a government monopoly). This escalated to a point where its ministers even were persecuted by the church for preaching sobriety, and the reactions of many congregation members to that contributed to an inspiration to leave the country (which however was against the law until 1840).[12]

Lutheran orthodoxy

Main article: Lutheran orthodoxy

Coat of arms

Coat of arms of the Church of Sweden
Coat of arms of the Lutheran Archdiocese of Uppsala

The 19th century coat of arms is based on that of the Archdiocese of Uppsala. It is blazoned Or on a cross Gules an open crown of the field and thus features a gold/yellow field with a red cross on which there is a gold/yellow crown.[13] The crown is called the victory crown of Christ, based on the royal crowns used in medieval times and corresponds in form to the crowns in the Swedish coat of arms and to that resting on the head of Saint Eric in the coat of arms of Stockholm.


Church politics

The Church adopted, at the time that it was still a state church, an administrative structure largely modelled after the state. Direct elections are held to the General Synod (Swedish: Kyrkomötet, The Church Assembly), and the diocesan and parish (Swedish: Församling) assemblies (and in some cases, confederation of parishes (Swedish: kyrklig samfällighet, 'church association') assemblies and directly elected parish councils). The electoral system is the same as used in the Swedish parliamentary or municipal elections (see Elections in Sweden). To vote in the Church general elections, one must be member of the Church of Sweden, at minimum 16 years of age, and nationally registered as living in Sweden.

The groups that take part in the elections are called nominating groups (Swedish: nomineringsgrupper). In some cases the nationwide political parties take part in the elections, such as the Social Democrats, the Moderates and the Centre Party. After the formal separation of Church of Sweden from the State of Sweden, the growing tendency in the elections is towards independent parties forming for candidature, either based on a political conviction, for example Folkpartister i Svenska kyrkan founded by Liberal People's Party members, or a pure church party such as the political independents' Partipolitiskt obundna i Svenska kyrkan (POSK) and Frimodig kyrka.

Organization and administrative divisions

The Church of Sweden is divided into thirteen dioceses (Swedish: stift), each with a bishop and cathedral chapter (Swedish: domkapitel). A bishop is elected by priests, deacons and some laity in the diocese and is the chairman of the cathedral chapter. Priest and deacon members of a cathedral chapter are elected by priests and deacons in the diocese and its lay members by stiftsfullmäktige, a body elected by church members.[14]

A diocese is divided into "contracts" kontrakt (deaneries), each with a kontraktsprost (provost), as the leader. Deaneries with a diocesan cathedral are called domprosteri. Titular provosts can also sometimes be appointed, in Swedish called prost or titulärprost. The dean and head minister of a cathedral is called domprost, "cathedral dean" or "cathedral provost", and is a member of the cathedral chapter as its vice chairman.[14]

At the parish level a parish is called församling.[14] A more archaic term for a parish in Swedish is socken, which was used both in the registry and in the church administration. After the municipal reforms in 1862 the latter usage officially was replaced with församling, a term somewhat meaning "congregation", originally and still used for the Lutheran territorial and nonterritorial congregations in cities and also for other religious congregations. One or several parishes are included in something called pastorat[14] with a head minister or vicar called kyrkoherde[14] (literally "church shepherd") and sometimes other assistant priests called komminister (minister). At a cathedral an assistant minister is called domkyrkosyssloman.

The Church of Sweden maintains the historic three-fold ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and has approximately 5,000 ordained clergy in total.[15]

Beginning in 2015, the Church of Sweden has a formal full communion relationship with the Episcopal Church.

Dioceses, with seats, cathedrals and bishops

Map of Swedish dioceses
Diocese Seat Cathedral Bishops Current bishop
Archdiocese of Uppsala Uppsala Uppsala Cathedral List of Archbishops of Uppsala Antje Jackelén (Archbishop of Uppsala)
Ragnar Persenius (bishop)
Diocese of Linköping Linköping Linköping Cathedral List of bishops of Linköping Martin Modéus
Diocese of Skara Skara Skara Cathedral List of bishops of Skara Åke Bonnier
Diocese of Strängnäs Strängnäs Strängnäs Cathedral List of bishops of Strängnäs Johan Dalman
Diocese of Västerås Västerås Västerås Cathedral List of bishops of Västerås Mikael Mogren
Diocese of Växjö Växjö Växjö Cathedral List of bishops of Växjö Fredrik Modéus
Diocese of Kalmar Kalmar Kalmar Cathedral List of bishops of Kalmar Existed as superintendentia 1603–1678 and as diocese 1678–1915; merged with the Diocese of Växjö
Diocese of Lund Lund Lund Cathedral List of bishops of Lund Johan Tyrberg
Diocese of Gothenburg Gothenburg Gothenburg Cathedral List of bishops of Gothenburg Per Eckerdal
Diocese of Mariestad Mariestad Mariestad Cathedral List of superintendents of Mariestad Existed as superintendentia 1580–1646; replaced by Karlstad
Diocese of Karlstad Karlstad Karlstad Cathedral List of bishops of Karlstad Esbjörn Hagberg
Diocese of Härnösand Härnösand Härnösand Cathedral List of bishops of Härnösand Eva Nordung Byström
Diocese of Luleå Luleå Luleå Cathedral List of bishops of Luleå Hans Stiglund
Diocese of Visby Visby Visby Cathedral List of bishops of Visby Sven-Bernhard Fast
Diocese of Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm Cathedral List of bishops of Stockholm Eva Brunne

The dioceses of Uppsala, Strängnäs, Västerås, Skara, Linköping, Växjö and the now Finnish diocese of Turku, are the original seven Swedish dioceses, dating from the Middle Ages. The rest have come into existence after that time and the Swedish reformation in the 16th century. The Diocese of Lund was founded in 1060, became an archdiocese in 1104 and lay in Denmark. The Province of Lund consisted of Denmark, Sweden and Finland throughout the Middle Ages (originally also Norway and Iceland), although Uppsala had their own subordinate ecclesiastical province and archbishop from 1164.

See also

Other Nordic national Lutheran churches


  1. "Welcome to the Church of Sweden". Church of Sweden. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 "Svenska kyrkan i siffror". Svenska kyrkan (in Swedish).
  3. "SFS 1998:1591", Riksdagen
  4. Wockner, Rex. "Lesbian bishop consecrated in Sweden". QX. QX Förlag AB. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  5. Wendy Sloane (1995-10-04). "Sweden Snaps Strong Ties Between Church and State". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  6. "Liturgy and Worship" Archived April 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., Church of Sweden
  7. "Church of Sweden says yes to gay marriage". The Local: Sweden's News in English. 2009-10-22. Archived from the original on 2012-01-11. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  8. Church of Sweden: Svenska kyrkans medlemsutveckling år 1972–2012 Svenska kyrkan
  9. Saint Helen of Skofde Patron Saints Index
  10. Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, article Sweden
  11. "Sweden elects its first female archbishop, the German-born bishop of Lund – Fox News". Fox News Channel. 15 October 2013.
  12. Vår svenska stam på utländsk mark; Svenska öden och insatser i främmande land; I västerled, Amerikas förenta stater och Kanada, Ed. Axel Boëthius, Stockholm 1952, Volume I, pp. 92, 137, 273 & 276; for the whole section
  13. Gold is represented as yellow in non-metallic representations of coats of arms.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 Kyrkoordningen (in Swedish) (internal church regulations).
  15. Structure and numbers of clergy listed on the official website in English.


Coordinates: 59°51′35″N 17°37′50″E / 59.85972°N 17.63056°E / 59.85972; 17.63056

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