“Legal Uncertainty” Concerning Bishop’s Reappointment

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Ragnhildur Ásgeirsdóttir, Executive Director of the Bishopric appointed her superior, Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, to serve as a bishop temporarily for 28 months, reports Morgunblaðið. However, the reappointment was made without knowledge of the synod, calling its legality into question.

Drífa Hjartardóttir, President of the Church Assembly, stated to Morgunblaðið that “it is strange for a subordinate to make an employment contract with their superior, as in this case. Neither the Church Assembly nor its executive committee were aware of the agreement.”

“I heard about the existence of this contract last week,” she stated further. “I had no idea about it before. I find it very strange that a subordinate can make an employment contract with their superior. We were never informed about this, neither the executive committee of the Church Assembly nor the Church Assembly itself. This came as a big surprise to me, and it’s very unusual.”

Agnes Sigurðardóttir was appointed as a bishop by the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson on July 1, 2012, for five years, and her appointment period was then extended for another five years on July 1, 2017.

The Church Assembly changed the rules regarding the bishop’s election last year. The term is now six years, but this extension did not automatically apply to the current appointment.

As it stood, Agnes’ appointment period should have ended on July 1, 2022. She is now set to hold office until October 31, 2024, though the possibility remains that her appointment may be legally challenged.

Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir To Step Down in 18 Months

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

In her New Year Sermon in the Reykjavík Cathedral, Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir announced that she will step down from her role in 18 months.

In her sermon, Agnes noted that she would be publishing her pastoral letter, a step towards completing her duties as Bishop. A pastoral letter is a book that each bishop releases during their tenure that expresses the bishop’s vision of the church and the community. In her sermon, Agnes stated: “In the next eighteen months, I will close this chapter of my life related to my service as Bishop. When I look back over my journey, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished. I knew that I would have my work cut out for me in the reforms I wanted to make and I’ve often had rough seas during my tenure.”

In her pastoral letter, Agnes stresses that the church should have an impact on human rights, equality, the environment, and other issues that concern people’s lives, stating in her sermon that: “The Church’s voice in the human rights cases of asylum seekers and refugees has become louder, above all demanding mercy and grace.”

In the next eighteen months, Agnes will complete her visitations to all churches and congregations in the country, ending in Bolungarvík on Sailor’s Day 2024, where Agnes served as minister from 1994-2012. “I want to complete my visitations and my service as Bishop by singing with my former choir in Hólskirkja in Bolungarvík, on the day that will mark 12 years since I left that fine congregation.”

Nordic Bishops Gather for Conference in Akureyri, Discuss ‘the Church in a Changing World’

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

The Nordic Bishops’ Conference took place in Akureyri, North Iceland this week, RÚV reports. Forty-five bishops were in attendance. Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, Bishop of Iceland, says that gatherings such as this one, where attendees can share their experiences and learn from one another, are important for the work of the church.

The conference is held every three years in one of the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden). Agnes was among the organizers of this year’s event.

“There’s always a theme that we lay out and have lectures about,” she explained. This year, the theme was the church in a changing world because “naturally, a lot has changed.”

The theme was intentionally broad, giving the bishops an opportunity to discuss, among other things, climate change, democracy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. Agnes says it’s important for the Nordic bishops to meet regularly “because we have many common issues and most of the ones we’re dealing with are the same everywhere, so we need to fortify ourselves and together, find ways of responding to all the changes that are taking place.”

Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Sweden, agrees. “It’s important to meet for personal reasons. Bishops need to gather and exchange experience,” she said. “Our churches have much in common so we’re familiar with each other’s work, but they are also different in ways that makes the conference inspiring and exciting. From the church’s point of view, the conference is important because we in the Nordic countries need to work together to strengthen our actions and grow together spiritually.”

Bishop Reprimands Reverend for Harsh Rebuke of Government

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has formally reprimanded reverend Davíð Þór Jónsson for his criticism of the government on Facebook. Despite the admonishment, the reverend has continued to express strong disapproval of the government’s plan to deport nearly 300 asylum seekers.

“A special place in hell”

On Tuesday, May 24, Reverend Davíð Þór Jónsson of Laugarneskirkja in Reykjavík published a post on Facebook in which he criticised the government’s plans to deport an inordinate number of asylum seekers. Davíð Þór stated that the government had decided to “piss all over” the UN’s Conventions on the Rights of the Child and, in reference to the Left-Green Movement, observed that there was “a special place in hell” for individuals who sold their soul for power and advancement.

The reverend’s words did not sit well with Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir. A press release published on the church’s website on Wednesday noted that the Bishop had formally reprimand Davíð Þór as she considered the reverend’s statements “harsh and in poor taste;” the church’s code of conduct requires that priests be “objective in their rhetoric.”

The press release further noted that the Bishop viewed the matter as being “resolved,” while iterating Agnes’ call for “humaneness and mercy” in matters concerning asylum seekers in Iceland.

“Pharisees, hypocrites”

Despite these admonishments, Reverend Davíð Þór continued his criticism of the government on Wednesday, this time referencing the Book of Matthew:

“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! … You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape the sentence of hell? Because of this, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and others you will flog in your synagogues and persecute in town after town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth …
Pharisee: these words judge themselves.”

The reverend’s concluding words may be interpreted as a jab at Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Chairman of the Left-Green Movement – and the reverend’s former partner; earlier this week, Katrín Jakobsdóttir was asked to respond to reverend Davíð Þór’s criticism and observed that “his statements judge themselves.”

MP expresses disbelief

The fate of the asylum seekers remains to be determined. In an interview with RÚV yesterday, MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir of the Pirate Party expressed disbelief that the government and ministers would follow through with its planned deportation of nearly 300 asylum seekers.

Referring to a recent report by the Red Cross, Arndís Anna observed that what awaited the asylum seekers, in the event that they were deported to Greece, was “hopelessness, lack of rights, destitution, insecurity, deprivation, homelessness, prejudice, and discrimination.”

No Church Services This Christmas

Religious services around Christmas will be in a different format than usual due to the pandemic, RÚV reports. Bishop of Iceland Agnes M Sigrðardóttir does not think it likely that people will be able to attend mass in person on Christmas Eve.

Iceland’s churches were empty yesterday, on the first Sunday of the Advent. Due to gathering bans and social distancing, no Sunday services were planned, a situation that will likely continue throughout the Advent.  “I can’t see any changes, considering the state of the country and the rest of the world, that will allow us to hold mass in the churches,” Agnes told RÚV.

While church attendance at Sunday services is generally low and the percentage of the nation who are members of the National Church is steadily decreasing, Christmas Eve church services are a popular affair, and churches are usually busy with events and concerts throughout December. Instead of asking congregations to gather in churches, the Church of Iceland has been looking for ways to offer their services in a way that complies with infection prevention rules. “Instead of the people coming to church, the church is trying to come to the people,” said Agnes.

Minister of the Reykjavík Independent Church Hjörtur Magni Jóhannsson is facing the same predicament. “We try to solve it by streaming the services. It’s different and not what we’re used to but Christmas is the festival of lights and we’re trying to see the light in all of this.”

Davíð Þór Jónsson, parish minister of Laugerneskirkja in Reykjavík is also seeking out ways to keep up religious services during the advent. “We’ve recorded short services that we broadcast online, and I’ve also created virtual confirmation classes.” In addition to online activities, some parishes are considering open-air services during the Advent, if weather conditions allow. “I assume we’ll try to do something outside the church on Christmas Eve, a choir performance or a short service,” says Davíð.

Even if no one attends the services except for the Organ player and a recording technician, church staff believe they’re reaching their congregants and even some new faces. “We started doing online services last spring, but this time around, we put more effort into it. We’re working with a recording technician who’s helping us with the sound in particular,” a minister in Akranes told Landinn. They’re happy with the reception, even hoping to continue the online services once the churches open again. “We’ve been very well received, but we do hear that people miss coming to their church.”

Online church services are not the only thing different about this year’s advent. Usually, the mayor lights the lights on the city’s official Christmas tree during a popular family event on the first Sunday of the Advent. Due to gathering bans, there were no crowds yesterday when Hákon Örn Steen Bjarnason, a young boy of Icelandic and Norwegian descent turned on the lights, with the help of Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson. Since 1951, the city’s Christmas tree has been a gift from the city of Oslo, although these days, the actual tree comes from Heiðmörk forest on the outskirts of Reykjavík.


Church to Open Daytime Shelter for the Homeless

Reykjavik from above

According to a press release published today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (the national church of Iceland) plans on opening a daytime shelter for the homeless in Reykjavík in 2020. Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir established a committee to investigate the possibility last year.

The committee subsequently submitted proposals to the Bishop along with a cost estimate, advising that the daytime shelter should initially be open only to homeless women. The shelter, which is expected to be open year-round from 11 am to 5 pm, will offer hot meals at noon and refreshments in the afternoon. The Church Council reviewed the proposal and approved of the project on December 11. The Council has earmarked funds for the shelter in the 2020 budget.

In a conversation with Iceland Review today, deacon and committee member Ragnheiður Sverrisdóttir confirmed that the project was in preparation, but shied away from speculating on when exactly the daytime shelter would open: “In my experience, if you announce that you’ll open in April, you’ll open in August.”

Along with Ragnheiður Sverrisdóttir, reverends Hjalti Jón Sverrisson and Vilborg Oddsdóttir, and a social worker from Icelandic Church Aid, also comprise the committee. Reverend Hreinn S. Hákonarson, a former prison chaplain, serves as an advisor to the committee.