Oslo’s new bishop hails open church

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It seemed only fitting that the new Bishop of Oslo would be ordained on the Sunday before Christmas. Kari Veiteberg, who’s been called Norway’s version of Pope Francis, upholds the holiday tradition of extending good will all year round and now has reason to celebrate.

Archbishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien ordained Kari Veiteberg as the new Bishop of Oslo on Sunday. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Kirken/Sven Gjeruldsen

Veiteberg is Oslo’s 32nd Lutheran bishop since the Reformation but the first woman to wear the cross that’s been passed down from man to man in Oslo since 1541. She was elected after winning 11 of 15 votes at Kirkerådet (Norway’s national church council) in September and ordained by another woman, Archbishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, in Oslo’s Domkirke (Cathedral).

Current-events-oriented as she is, Veiteberg took up the “me-too” campaign in her first sermon as bishop: “The church must practice and attempt the nearly impossible, to address injustice and assaults of power, while at the same time offering love and compassion.”

King Harald V was on hand for the ceremony, as was the president of the Norwegian Parliament, Veiteberg’s three male predecessors, bishops from neighboring countries and a host of other dignitaries.

All the attention and pageantry was perhaps a bit out of character for the 56-year-old Veiteberg from Stord who’s best known as a “pastor for the poor.” She’s most recently served as an inner-city pastor tied to the charitable organization Bymisjonen, which ministers to drug addicts, the homeless and other downtrodden residents of the Norwegian capital. When the social welfare state fails, or isn’t sought out, to meet their needs, Veiteberg has been there to help beggars, migrants and Roma.

Asked to name the person she most admires, though, she points to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “He has both playfulness and sorrow inside himself,” Veiteberg told news bureau NTB last week.

The new Bishop of Oslo Kari Veiteberg (right) posed outside the city’s cathedral with Archbishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien and King Harald V. PHOTO: Kirken/Det kongelige hoff/Sven Gjeruldsen

Her main goal as bishop of Oslo is to open the Norwegian Church in Oslo to everyone, all the time. She wants to literally unlock the doors of those churches that are closed. “The church must be able to be used for things other than services on Sundays,” Veiteberg said. She worries she may need to merge some of Oslo’s church districts, and close churches, but hopes to quickly reopen them for other use.

Veiteberg, who has a PhD in theology, was on the faculty at the University of Oslo when she heeded the proverbial call to become a pastor herself. She was initially ordained at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim in 1992 and has worked ever since for an open church for homosexuals and unmarried pastors with partners.

“I want to make the church a place that doesn’t make differences among people,” Veiteberg told newspaper Aftenposten shortly after she was elected. “People are people, we’re a part of the world. I want to be a bishop for people who live their own lives.” She stressed how she reacts strongly against what she views as injustice or abuse of power. She’s not afraid of mixing her religious beliefs with politics.

“I always knew that work as a pastor was something for me,” Veiteberg told NTB. She said she views herself as cheerful, confident, frank, open, smart and wise: “I think those are good things for a bishop to be.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund