She Had an Audience with the Pope

Archbishop Antje Jackelén met with Pope Francis last May, as the first woman ministry leader to have an individual meeting with any pope. She didn’t make an issue of the Roman Catholic stance against womens’ ordination, rather choosing to speak to him about climate change, equal wages for women in the workplace and in a more inclusive world for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals (GLBTQ).

She definitely believes women should be able to be ordained as leaders in the church and that it is a role meant to be lived out. Archbishop Jackelén is a quiet and persuasive leader who is making a difference in the world—because she has claimed her position as a woman pastor and archbishop as “self evident,” that is, as not needing to be proven, obvious. Even if others do not see it this way, she said, “There shouldn’t be any difference in how I behave—and I behave in a way that it is self evident.”  This is one of her mottos. 

Born and raised in Germany, Antje Jackelén finished school and went to study in Switzerland. The people around her encouraged her to study medicine, but she knew she wanted to study theology. After three more years studying in Germany, she went to Uppsala University (Sweden) for a year, then to Lund University (Sweden) for a Ph.D. While she taught at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), she has always called Sweden home.

Being elected on the first ballot as the first woman Archbishop in Sweden was an affirmation of her call to this position. “I’m proud of the Church of Sweden. Who would have thought the church would be ahead of the state?”

Jackelén had no other pastors in her family, but many women and men of faith. Her mother died last year, but was present at her installation as Archbishop. Her maternal grandmother, born in the 1890s, received a higher education, even attending a seminary to be trained as a teacher. “I carry her story with me.”

And while she never grew up thinking she would be a pastor or an archbishop, she remembers a memorable encounter at her church: “My first calling, I was very little. I was with my father in church and I remember seeing a person show slides from Tanzania. Something happened there,” she said, recalling the feeling she had as she crossed the churchyard as a child.

Archbishop Jackelén describes her call as “many, many, many” steps along the journey. It took years of education before being a pastor was on her mind.

Even with her education, getting her first position as a pastor was not without challenge. It was 1980, and she was excited about a job offer and her ordination. Suddenly, the offer was withdrawn. The reason given to her was that a church building project would be taking precedence over an associate pastor position. Years later, Antje learned the real reason why she was moved to a different church; the senior male pastor did not want to work with a woman.

“I’m glad I didn’t know the reason until seven years later, otherwise I may have started ministry with a bitter feeling,” she said.

Looking ahead: Along with other leaders from the Lutheran World Federation, Archbishop Antje Jackelén will likely play a role in a historic gathering to be held in October 2016 in Lund, Sweden. (Lund is where Antje Jackelén was a bishop prior to her archbishop election in 2013.) Pope Francis will attend the joint Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical event commemorating 500 years since the Reformation: "The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran 'Common Prayer' liturgical guide," and will highlight ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans over the past 50 years, the press release said.

What a delight to meet and interview one of the most influential women in the global church, while making pilgrimage to the Baptismal Site of Jesus in Jordan. She is making waves in her quiet, inimitable way.