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Sunday, 13 September 2015

Helsinki's Bishop Askola reports on trends in Church and society to the Nordic Baltic Deanery Synod

Bishop Irja Askola with Archdeacon-designate Colin Williams to her right
The Bishop of Helsinki, Irja Askola, visited the recent synod of the Nordic and Baltic deanery at its meeting in Helsinki last week. She was welcomed warmly as our local "Porvoo Bishop". She reflected with us on what has now been 5 years in the episcopal office. Bishop Irja was the first woman to be made a bishop in the Church of Finland, and is still the only woman bishop in that Church.

Bishop Irja spoke of trends in her Church. In the Helsinki area the Church is facing a decreasing membership. "Only every other baby born in Helsinki is now brought to baptism", she reported. Confirmation camps are still well attended but there appears to be a failure on the part of the Church to retain these young people within the active life of the Church. One of the challenges the Finnish Church is facing is moving from an emphasis on organisational life to developing more of a community life, engaging with people's questions more, and opening up to exploring new ideas.

Bishop Irja also spoke of trends in the country itself. There is a worrying growth in negative attitudes to refugees. There have been growing numbers of incidents of violence against them, particularly since the national elections last April when a centrist government lost to a more right-wing coalition. Also of concern is the new government's cuts in overseas development aid. As a result, Finn Church Aid, the development arm of the Finnish Church which receives government funding for its overseas work, is being forced to close down entirely its operations in five countries and reduce its support to many others, cutting out assistance to nearly 1/2 million people who received direct aid from the Church agency.

Incidentally, Bishop Irja knows our new Archdeacon of Germany and Northern Europe well as they both have worked for the Conference of European Churches.

Bishop Askola at her consecration 5 years ago

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