Reverend Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir Elected Bishop of Iceland

Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir bishop of iceland

The Reverend Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir was elected as the next bishop of Iceland today, following an election which concluded this afternoon.

Election results

Reverend Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir received the most votes with 1060, or 52.19%, followed by Reverend Guðmundur Karl Brynjarsson, who received 954 votes, or 46.97%.

The church electorate consists of 2286 registered voters, including priests, deacons, and lay members. The National Church reports a voter turnout of 88.85%.

The next bishop of Iceland

Reverend Guðrún was born in Reykjavik on April 27, 1969, to Karl Magnús Kristjánsson and Helga Einarsdóttir.

After graduating from Fjölbrautarskólinn in Breiðholt in 1992, she earned a B.A. in theology from the University of Iceland in 1998, followed by a cand. theol. in 2000.

Some of her notable work during her ecclesiastical career has included children’s work at Árbæjarkirkja, work as a youth representative within the church, and vocational training in the Gothenburg Diocese in Sweden from 2001 to 2003.

Ordained in 2011, she has served in different parishes, notably Grafarvogur, since 2008.

Since her ordination she has also continued her studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and has also served in the council for the National Church of Iceland twice.

Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir

Reverend Guðrún will be replacing Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, the current bishop of Iceland, on September 1, 2024. Bishop Agnes’ tenure was not without some complication, as the circumstances around her last reappointment raised some legal questions within the church.

National Church of Iceland

Iceland continues to have a nationally-established church, known officially as The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. To support the established church, Iceland also retains a church tax, though Icelanders may choose where their tax goes.

While the National Church continues to be the dominant religious denomination in Iceland, membership has declined in recent years. In 1998, the Church of Iceland had 244,00 adherents. Today, it has declined to around 220,00. Given Iceland’s demographic explosion, this represents a decline from fully 90% of the population to just over 60% in that time.

 

Breaking the Peace

sögugrein frank

By the 15th century, in the chaotic and violent times of Joan of Arc, the Hundred Years’ War and the War of the Roses, Icelanders had become active participants in the rapidly expanding and highly profitable international trade between the English, German Hanse, Dutch, and Norwegian merchants. This trade would become fraught with tension that […]

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“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.”

Bill Would Reduce Governmental Involvement in National Church

A new parliamentary bill aims to reduce government involvement in the national church as well as change the terms for membership in the congregation, RÚV reports.

“According to current law, the President of Iceland appoints the Bishop of Iceland and the suffragan bishops, which makes them government officials.” Should the revised bill be passed, the bishops would no longer be appointed by the president, and therefore, would “no longer be government officials, but employees of the national church.” The president would also cease to be involved in appointing church complaints and appeal boards which, among other things, review and deal with disciplinary offenses within the church. The primary goal of these changes, reads the bill,  is to “reduce the government’s interference in the affairs of the national church, especially those that pertain to its internal affairs.”

Another significant change introduced by the bill is that membership in the national church would only be dependent on a person’s being baptized in the name of the holy trinity, rather than needing to both be baptized and registered as a member in Iceland’s national register.

The bill is currently available for review on the government’s feedback portal and will be open to public comment until October 14.

Pregnant Woman’s Deportation Debated

Directorate of Immigration Acting Director Þorsteinn Gunnarsson told RÚV the Directorate was following regulations when an asylum seeker just shy of 36 weeks pregnant was deported yesterday alongside her husband and two-year-old son. Chief Physician of the National Hospital’s Maternity Ward considers it a serious issue that the Directorate deported the woman despite a medical certificate advising against the decision. The Minister of Justice has requested information on the procedure in such cases from the Directorate.

An 26-year-old Albanian woman was deported from Iceland early yesterday morning along with her husband and their two-year-old son. The woman had visited hospital the night before, where she had received a medical certificate stating that “a long flight would be hard for her.”

Medical advice interpreted differently

Eva Jónasdóttir, Chief Physician of the National Hospital’s Maternity Ward, stated it is a grave situation when a pregnant woman is sent on a flight despite a medical certificate stating is not advisable. “Obviously, asylum seekers are a very vulnerable group and are often in a mentally difficult situation, and therefore their health is maybe not the best,” Eva stated.

Þorsteinn stated the response from the medical field was unexpected, as the certificate provided did not clearly state that the woman should not fly. “It is usually very explicitly stated whether the person is capable of flying or not. When we read this certificate this morning, we understood it to simply be pointing out that it would be difficult to take a long flight.”

Justice Minister to meet with Bishop

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has requested further information on the case from the Directorate of Immigration. Áslaug stated that while the issue is under her jurisdiction, she does not oversee individual cases, rather hears of them via media as the public does.

Áslaug Arna also stated she will meet with Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, who requested a meeting with the Minister to discuss the deportation. The Bishop called it a “cruel act to send a pregnant woman away into uncertainty and destitution.”

Bishop of Iceland Apologises to Gay and Lesbian Community

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has apologised to the gay and lesbian community of Iceland on behalf of the country’s National Church. The apology was made during an interview on talk show Kastljós yesterday evening.

Reporter Einar Þorsteinsson asked Agnes about the position the previous Bishop, Karl Sigurbjörnsson, took on same sex marriage. In 2016, under Karl’s leadership, the National Church strongly protested a bill introduced to protect the rights of homosexual people. The bill proposed granting pastors within the National Church the authority to wed same sex couples. In an interview taken at that time, Karl stated “I think we owe it to [the institution of] marriage to not toss it on the garbage heap without considering what we’re doing.”

Karl’s words were strongly criticised and the bill was eventually passed, allowing religious organisations to wed same sex couples. Einar asked Agnes whether homosexual people had the right to an apology from the church due to Karl’s words.

“I can definitely apologise to people for the church acting this way and hurting people and having caused them both pain and trouble and difficulty,” answered Agnes. “I’m keen to apologise for that.”

LGBTQIA+ activitsts acknowledged that Agnes’ apology was a step forward, though perhaps not far enough. “Well done on her part, the time had come,” wrote Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, chairperson of the National Queer Organisation, in a Facebook post. “But I also point out that a large portion of those who suffered from the church’s reaction were bisexual and pansexual people. We deserve to be included when our legal rights are discussed.”

Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Trans Ísland, called the apology a “great and timely step,” adding “I also think it’s important to point out that bisexual and pansexual people were also affected by the actions of the National Church referred to here, and this group has almost always been invisible in discussions of these issues as well as in many other rights issues.”

Minister’s Office Dissolved Two Weeks After Court’s Ruling

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Rev. Páll Ágúst Ólafsson, regional minister in West Iceland, received a letter from the Bishop of Iceland, Agnes M Sigurðardóttir, two weeks after the Reykjavík District Court ruled that his appointment by the Bishop had not been according to law, according to RÚV. In the letter, the Bishop notified Páll that his office had been dissolved but he was owed six months’ salary. Páll has subpoenaed both the Bishop and the Church of Iceland because of this decision and is insisting that it be annulled by the courts.

Páll was appointed parish minister at Staðarstaður five years ago. During his time there, he quarrelled with the Bishop, among other reasons because he considered the vicarage at Staðarstaður uninhabitable due to mould. He and his family moved away from the vicarage and the Bishop relieved him from his duty of residence, which proved unpopular with local parishioners.

In September last year, the Bishop tried to solve matters by appointing Páll regional minister in West Iceland. Páll wasn’t happy with the duration of his appointment and thought he should hold the position until 2022, not 2018 as had been decided. The case went before the court where Páll won. The Bishop had not followed the law when appointing Páll regional minister and should issue a new letter of appointment, valid until June 30, 2022. The Bishop decided to appeal the case to a higher court.

According to RÚV’s sources, Páll was notified two weeks after the court’s ruling that the office of regional minister in West Iceland had been dissolved but he was owed six months’ salary. Páll is currently insisting before the court that the Bishop’s decision is annulled and if it is not, that he be paid damages.