Norway’s state church received the closest it can come to an archbishop over the weekend when Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien was formally ordained as the country’s first permanent preses, or lead bishop. The ceremony, in Norway’s Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, was attended by King Harald V and broadcast live on national television.
Byfuglien was named last spring to the highest post within the state Lutheran church (Den Norske Kirken), which also adds the church’s 12th bishop’s seat. Norway’s monarch will no longer hold the role as head of the church, a result of reform measures aimed at loosening the ties between church and state in Norway.
In that sense, Sunday’s ceremony in Trondheim was historic. Until now, one of Norway’s other 11 bishops has taken on the leader’s role and the post has rotated among them. For the first time since the reformation, Norway now has a permanent leader, and in addition to the royal presence on Sunday, the ceremony inside the cathedral was attended by the president of the parliament (Stortinget), several government ministers and around 1,000 others.
Byfuglien, age 60, has said she wants to boost the profile of the church and give it a clearer role in society. Her base will be in Trondheim at Nidaros, Scandinavia’s only cathedral dating from before the Middle Ages, and built, starting in 1070, on the site where St Olav was believed to be buried. Byfuglien said Nidaros will be a “very strong anchor” as she takes on her new tasks.
She highlighted, in her sermon, the loneliness and excess that can characterize life in Norway for many. She warned against concentrating too much on money, appearances and cultivation of “the good life in the world’s best country.” Material things in life are not what yield the greatest joy, she claimed. “The deep joy comes to us at no charge,” she said.
She nonetheless said she felt the new preses post has been granted important resources that will allow her to represent the church’s views and let the church play a “more relevant” role in Norway.
Byfuglien most recently has been bishop in Borg, living in Fredrikstad. That post is now likely to pass on to Atle Sommerfeldt, who has headed the humanitarian organization Kirkens Nødhjelp (Norwegian Church Aid) for years, and won majority support of Norway’s bishops to take over as bishop in Borg.
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