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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Bishop Irja Askola Consecrated as Bishop of Helsinki

On Sunday 12 September the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland consecrated Irja Askola to be Bishop of Helsinki. Irja is the first woman bishop in the Finnish Church. She is pictured above, (second from the left, in the green vestments), flanked by women bishops from Sweden, Germany and Denmark.

Bishop Irja succeeds Bishop Eero Huovinen, a good friend of the Diocese in Europe, who had been bishop of Helsinki for nearly 20 years. Good relations with the Diocese of Helsinki are very important as the Chaplaincy of St Nicholas receives generous support from the Finnish Church towards the work of our own priests.

The two hour service was televised live across the country. The Archbishop of Turku, Kari Mäkinen, presided at the liturgy. He was assisted by co-consecrating bishops from Finland (Matti Repo, and Mikko Heikka, Espoo), Norway (Olav Skjevesland), Denmark (Elisabeth Dons Christensen) and Namibia (Thomas Shivute). The Anglican Co-Consecrator was Bishop Edward Darling, the former Bishop of Limerick in the Church of Ireland.

Several Finnish national figures were present including President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi. Guests from other Churches included my good friend Metropolitan Ambrosius of Helsinki who represented the Orthodox Church. (Metropolitan Ambrosius and I worked together on Anglican-Orthodox dialogue for many years. He and I are pictured below). Fr Heikki Huttenen, an Orthodox priest and General Secretary of the Finnish Council of Churches, read the first lesson. Vicar General Fr Wieslaw Swiech, represented the Roman Catholic Church. The Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, and I were both guests from the Church of England.

In his introduction to the service, Archbishop Mäkinen spoke of the ministry of bishop as being simultaneously one of fellowship and of separation, of unity and of loneliness. He stressed the demands of episcopal ministry in the Capital Region where "a plethora of lifestyles, a multitude of different cultures, the separation of individuals one from another, loneliness and diversity of religious life are facts of everyday life". The sermon was preached by Irja herself who spoke of a spirituality which stresses three things: a yearning for a merciful and gracious God; a yearning for trust and communication between peoples; and a call to a lifestyle of moderation.

The Church of Finland and the Church of England are in communion through the Porvoo Agreement.

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