Three old ladies formed the total congregation for Carl-Erik Sahlberg’s first service when he returned from missionary service in Tanzania in 1989 to pastor an inner city church in Stockholm. Today that church is the third most visited in Sweden, after the cathedrals of Uppsala and Stockholm.
For offering a sanctuary of hope in the heart of one of the world's most secular cities, the staff and volunteers of the 16th century Santa Clara Church were presented with a Hope Award yesterday (Sunday June 5).
The centrally-located church is regularly filled for worship services as well as daily organ concerts. Some 300 visit daily on cold winter days, swelling to a thousand during the summer. Adjacent to the drug area of Stockholm, the church is open every night to offer food and shelter for the homeless. During the past few very cold winters, the church opened its doors to shelter the homeless, when the metro stations closed theirs.
Former prostitutes and drug-addicts are among those who have come to faith through the church's ministry. Many former-Muslim Iranians attend the church where gospel preaching and ministry of the Holy Spirit is a major focus. The church's proximity to the underground attracts a variety of visitors including those waiting for trains, or simply wanting to sit, relax, calm down, light a candle and pray.
Others come specifically to see the church, ornately decorated in gothic and baroque style, standing on the spot where a convent and an earlier church were first built in 1280 in honour of St Clare, the close friend of St Francis. Ministries of compassion started by these two medieval Italian saints multiplied within decades in centres across Europe, including the fledgling trading port of Copenhagen.
Today the church faithfully continues her namesake’s ministry in this megacity. A deaconess is on hand to receive those in trouble with drugs, prostitution, finances, needing asylum, or other personal problems. Dr Sahlberg describes the church's mission as the 'Nazareth manifesto', based on the words Jesus quoted in his first sermon as recorded in Luke 4:18-19: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…"
Several international congregations–including English, Danish, Ethiopian and Swahili-speakers–hold regular services here also. Remarkably, for secular Sweden, companies like the Swedish Post, a supermarket chain, a local bank and even government offices have held services or concerts in the church.
The Hope Award is presented annually by the Hope for Europe movement to a person, group or project in Europe embodying the message of biblical hope. The purpose of the award is to give appropriate honour, to increase awareness of such initiatives especially across national borders and to inspire further 'actions of hope'. (See www.hfe.org/Awards.aspx). Santa Clara Church was one of five recipients announced on May 10 at the recent HOPE•II Congress held in Budapest.
Warren Carter, convenor of the Hope for Europe prayer network, had nominated the church for the award after attending a prayer conference in the church last year. Tragically Warren died after a ski accident in February
As Dr Sahlberg was unable to be present in Budapest, I took the pewter and marble award to Stockholm to present after the Sunday morning service, assisted by Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag, a Sweden-based urban missioner with ties to the Santa Clara Church. Staff and volunteers joined Dr Salhberg (above centre, in blue short-sleeve shirt) and his deaconess Inge (in green blouse, holding award) for a prayer of blessing.
Other awards were presented to the leaders of Teen Challenge ministry among street people in Kyiv, Ukraine; Patricia Green, a Berlin-based activist helping victims of human trafficking; ex-muslim evangelist, Shirinai Dossova of Moscow; and the evangelistic website, Top Crétien, in Paris.
Till next week,
Till next week,