Helga Haugland Byfuglien officially took over after King Harald V as head of the newly independent Norwegian Church when church and state were separated eight years ago. Now Byfuglien is about to turn 70, and says she’s ready to step down as the equivalent of Norway’s first archbishop.
“There’s nothing dramatic about this,” Byfuglien told state broadcaster NRK after announcing that she’ll resign as preses of the Norwegian Church at the national bishops’ meeting in late February.
“I’m neither sick, exhausted nor facing too much work,” she said adding that “at some point it’s just over. And I have chosen to step down as preses.”
The top title has made her the leader of the annual meeting of Norwegian bishops and thus the most highly ranking leader of the church. She said she’s enjoyed the role, often presiding over such historical moments as the bicentennial of Norway’s constitution in 2014, events marking Kind Harald’s 25 years as monarch and events tied to the reform of the church that separated it from the state while retaining state funding like all other religious organizations in the country.
“There have also been great challenges, like on July 22, 2011 in connection with the terror attacks in Oslo and on Utøya,” Byfuglien said. “Then I had to lead memorial services live on national TV, and they were days I will never forget.”
She presided just this past weekend over the confirmation ceremony for Princess Ingrid Alexandra, second in line to become monarch herself one day. Byfuglien has been a popular and outspoken archbishop, also presiding over historic reforms within the church like when same-sex marriages were allowed in 2015. She’ll also be remembered for urging Norwegians to show compassion and support for refugees, not least when thousands arrived in Norway after fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other troubled areas. “This is a time for Norwegians to show who we are,” Byfuglien said at the time.
Byfuglien was ordained in 1981 and began serving as pastor in the Kolstad congregation in Trondheim. She rose to become bishop in the Borg district and then archbishop. She was the first woman to lead Norway’s bishops and has also served as secretary general of Norway’s equivalent of the YWCA and YMCA.
“I’m deeply greateful for meaningful, exciting and challenging service in our church,” Byfuglien stated. A new archbishop is expected to be elected next year.