New Bishop of Iceland Says Church Failed LGBTQ+ People

Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir bishop of iceland

Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir, who was recently elected the new bishop of Iceland, said that the Church of Iceland’s attitude towards homosexuality was at a time based on denial.

“The church failed”, she told Morgunblaðið in an interview this weekend. “Therefore it owes a debt to the LGBTQ+ community. The church should have opened its arms to diversity. A majority of priests were on the community’s side, for the record, even if the church itself didn’t come around formally until it was too late.”

Family experience

One of Guðrún’s two daughters is trans. “It was very surprising to us when she told us, the autumn after her confirmation. We don’t choose what we face as parents and our job is first and foremost to love, help, and support our children,” Guðrún said.

“I’ve always had an open mind for how human beings can be of all stripes, but this caused me to feel even more strongly about how important it is that we accept all people the way they are and respect diversity,” she added. “I think the new generation is teaching us a lot when it comes to this.”

Membership decline

Guðrún was elected as bishop on 7 May in an election among 2286 registered voters of the church electorate, which includes priests, deacons, and lay members. She was ordained in 2011 and has served a number of parishes, most recently the Grafarvogur neighbourhood of Reykjavík.

She takes over from current bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir on 1 September. The church, known officially as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, has around 220,000 members, just over 60% of the population. Membership is down from since the turn of the century, when the church’s membership was 90% of the population.

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.

 

Membership in National Church of Iceland Gradually Declining

New data published by Registers Iceland shows that registered membership in the National Church of Iceland continues to decline, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the pagan Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association have both been quietly gaining members.

As of September 1, there were 229,714 people registered as members of Iceland’s National (Lutheran) Church. This is a decline of three members since December 1. And while this is not a dramatic decrease in membership, it does appear to be part of a consistent pattern. From December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the church lost 75 members from its registry.

The Catholic Church has the second-highest membership, or 14,709 members. Fríkirkjan, the independent Lutheran Church of Iceland, which operates apart from the national church, comes in third with 10,040 members. The Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association had the greatest jump in membership—279 new members. (Statistics Iceland shows a total of 5,118 members of Ásatrú and 4,084 members of the Ethical Humanist Association as of January 1, 2021, but the current National Registers round-up offered no more specific, recent data regarding total membership in either organization.)

As of September 1, there were 28,926 people (7.7% of the population) registered as not being part of any religious organization. There were additionally 58,514 people listed as ‘Other and Not Specified,’ or 15.7% of the nation.

 

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.