Sweden doesn’t usually make headlines for its spirituality. But on Saturday records were broken when 15,000 Christians formed the largest crowd ever to fill the Kungsträdgården (King’s Garden) in the centre of Stockholm, the nation’s capital, in a multi-cultural Jesus Manifestation.
Churches from across the Christian spectrum–Orthodox and Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist, through to Pentecostal and the ‘Faith’ Churches–demonstrated to the Swedish public that what united them was greater than what differentiated them.
The motto of the European Union for 2008, Unity in Diversity, was reflected in the colourful and diverse celebration, one of the event’s initiators, Tjebbo van de Eijkhof, explained to me. The Swedish church family included many immigrants and refugees from all continents, making it probably the most multi-cultural community in the country.
Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking Latinos, French- and English-speaking Africans, Philippinos and Koreans, Central and Eastern Europeans and some 800 Middle-Easterners were among the foreigners who joined old stock Swedes from all around the country at noon in seven different squares and parks around the city.
Celebrations in each venue focused on a different aspect of the Lordship of Jesus with implications for Swedish society: Jesus was Creator, King, God’s Son, Healer, Lord of History, and Lord of the family.
In the mid-afternoon, participants began streaming from these seven locations towards Kungsträdgården in the city centre, swelling to an unprecedented crowd of some 15,000.
The Swedish Christian daily, Dagen, described the procession as ‘a powerful sight converging from all directions into a huge ethnic sea’.
Declarations from each of the seven celebrations about the meaning of the Lordship of Jesus for Swedish society, for social ethics and morality, for reconciliation and racial harmony, were read aloud to the combined gathering, with prayers expressed in the multiple different languages of the cultural communities present.
A letter from the Queen of Sweden was also read which she affirmed the need for the foundational values the message of Jesus had bequeathed to Swedish society.
Observers were very positive about the day, reported Dagen, some suggesting it should be repeated next year. It was a day of blessing, and of focus on Jesus, the paper wrote, and a demonstration that a united church can achieve great things.
Van de Eijkhof explained that the purpose of the day was to make a bold, positive statement about Christians’ common faith, and the foundational values for society based on that faith. The Jesus manifestation was not about confrontation or negative statements, but to express Christian solidarity and to help shape public opinion.
John van Dinther, pastor of New Life Church, described the noon celebration on the infamous Sergelstorg where most of Stockholm’s drugs dealings take place: ‘Musicians, gospel singers, a worship team and people telling their stories of how Jesus had become real in their lives… created a familiar atmosphere where many, Christian and non-Christian, stayed for long periods of time, sometimes maybe almost against their inclination… ‘
‘I told the audience (up to 2500 people) that the name Jesusmanifestationen was well-chosen because Jesus is able to manifest Himself and is still doing that as He is walking the streets of our beloved city Stockholm…
Van Dinther wrote that he rejoiced in this event, not because he found find it necessarily the most effective and appropriate way to let the people in Sweden know that the Christian Church existed; but because believers of all backgrounds were uniting around Jesus Christ.
Although this was the biggest urban manifestation van de Eijkhof has organised, he is no stranger to urban strategy. The Dutchman who has lived for over two decades in Sweden, invested seven years in the city of Eskiltune developing networks among business leaders, local government officials, church leaders and social workers. The improved social climate of cooperation resulted in a dramatic drop in crime, attracting the attention even of the Stockholm police.
In van de Eijkhof’s thinking, the Jesus Manfestation was but an important first step towards greater partnership among the churches of the city, to demonstrate God’s love and the lordship of Jesus in the urban context.
Till next week,