Why do they come to church?

Today is Pentecost, the day in which Christians celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In many countries - Germany, for example - even the Monday after Pentecost is a holiday. Sweden got rid of the holiday a few years back, but for the church it does not matter, we can still celebrate.

I drove down to Hörby kyrka for the service this morning - a bright, sunny morning, the trees lovely shades of green and the lilacs so many shades of purple! And with a touch of wind, a perfect day for Pentecost.

Arriving at the church I was rather surprised at the crowd of, shall we say casually dressed young people standing outside. My mother would have never let me out of the house looking like that, and they were actually on their way to church!

The church was surprisingly full (turned out to be a meeting after church with the pastor and the confirmation candidates and their parents). The youth were, of course, giggling and whispering and changing places all the time. But of course, they don't know any better. Their parents were telling each other funny stories and having a good laugh. Getting prepared for the service? No. They were waiting for the show to start. I'm surprised they didn't have popcorn and coke.

One young man sat alone - his skin was a different color than the rest. I don't know if he was adopted or an asylum seeker, but he looked so longingly at the crowd on the other side of the church during the entire service. He wanted desperately to be a part of them, but they just did not notice his presence, and he was too shy to say anything.

There is a new preacher in Hörby, a young man. Maybe he will have a chance to reach these young people, there is hope. He came out to explain how the service would run, explained how the communion would be taken, and then the music for the first hymn resounded from the organ.

The organist began singing the words - and there seemed to be only two people joining in: The pastor and myself. I wondered whether the organist maybe sings a verse first to get people into singing. Nope, they didn't even move their mouths and pretend to sing. Not even the parents sang, although they did, more or less, shut up during the songs.

The liturgy began. The Swedish Lutheran liturgy has very strong Catholic influences and includes many traditional responses (Agnus dei, Sanctus, etc.) all translated into Swedish. Again - the pastor spoke the pastor's part, and the organist and I joined him where the order of service said "Congregation".

The pastor gave a good sermon, quite personal and very open to the young people, speaking freely for a good portion and talking directly from the top of the stairs leading up to the altar.

Then the communion started. He again explained what was going to happen, and started the liturgy, again with no response from the rest of the congregation. As people went up to receive the bread and wine, the youth went first, as they were sitting up front - and carried their hosties dipped in wine back to the pews with them. I wouldn't be surprised if the custodian finds them stuck under the pews with chewing gum...

I returned to my seat after I was served, and observed the line. People laughing, chatting, waving at each other, guys poking at each other. The parents resumed talking with each other and pointing at people while the rest of the congregation was served. At the end of the line a few senior citizens walked down, seriously, prayerfully, amid the noise.

The final hymn had a few more people singing along, it was, after all, a very well-known hymn. Then the youth dashed up to the pastor to get his signature in their confirmation booklets, and they then all went over to the chapel for the meeting. I wouldn't have given any of them a signature, except the dark-skinned boy. But he didn't have a booklet.

I spoke with the organist, she said yes, this is normal, and she doesn't understand it either. They have to come, she said, if they want to be confirmed. But why do they want to be confirmed? Why do the parents want their children confirmed? You can have a party without going through the motions of attending church!

I think the former GDR had this one right. If you wanted to have a party to celebrate the transition from childhood to adulthood, they had the Jugendweihe, which is still very popular, in Berlin at least. They even have lessons in Berlin, and then a nice big ceremony with a chance for a good party (and lots of presents) afterwards.

But why do the Swedes go through the motions? Maybe the odd Swede who might read this blog can explain to me why they bother with confirmation.

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