I had a wonderful time in Sweden. Here are my thoughts, day-by-day:
Tuesday 8th March.
My heart sank momentarily when Matt and I got to the train platform at 0610 to see the train for Manchester Airport pulling away. The next one wasn't for another hour, which was too late. But there was this slightly odd bloke who started telling us all about the trains - that the train to Manchester Piccadilly (change there for the airport - indeed, this was the train we'd intended to catch) would be along soon; everything we needed to know - but it didn't look like he himself was going to get on a train (and he certainly wasn't a railway employee). Perhaps he was just one of those much-ridiculed train spotters, and I've got an over-active imagination; but I just wonder whether he was, in fact, an angel...
Fair enough, an airport is a 24-hour bubble, but I was shocked at how many men were drinking pints of lager before 0900...a lot of Manchester United fans were flying to Milan to watch their team play AC Milan, and it was actually quite ugly and quite sad; I didn't feel threatened, but could easily have done...
It has been a glorious day all journey, with fantastic views from the plane windows. Denmark is so flat, a patchwork of snow-covered fields lined with wind turbines...The plane from Copenhagen to Gothenburg was small, and got battered by turbulance as we made our approach. My friend Leif met us at the airport, which really made my day, bringing a big smile to my face and my heart. It was great to catch up with him on the car ride to Ah.
Ah is a beautiful spot for a diocesan centre, which remains wonderfully tranquil despite being much-used. It was great to see some familiar faces, to be greeted like an old friend. and there was an incredible sunset over the bay. Mind you, these Swedes work themselves hard when it comes to meetings...I took the evening off to prepare for tomorrow.
Wednesday 9th March.
I can't express how good it feels to be here, like being with old friends, so welcoming and appreciative, so open to what I am bringing. and this place is so beautiful. It's also very significant in the history of the Swedish church. God has been doing a work here since the 1930's. In the 1980's church leaders like David watson and John Wimber spoke here - and now I'm standing on the same stage; it's a strange feeling!
The theme of the conference is, "Continue to build the church." In the morning I did a three-hour session (that includes Leif interpreting everything I said into Swedish, a short break in the middle, and group-time towards the end) on equiping the church for mission by helping people identify how God has made them (as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher), understanding how each one relates to the others, and releasing people to operate within these roles. Many people found it helped make a lot of sense of their own situation - especially the younger guys. In the afternoon I had a seminar, which I did as a question-and-answer consultation, to help people start to apply the principles I had spoken about to their particular contexts. It was well attended - they really wanted to engage.
Matt is having a fantastic time too, really engaging with the young adults - snowball throwing on the shore...
Thursday 10th March.
Again, I'm just enjoying being here so much. And what I am bringing is clearly being met with much appreciation. People keep thanking me, but I feel like I'm the priveleged one.
Another three-hour morning session followed by a seminar to help start to apply the principles. This time, on growing missional communities - the "middle-sized" everyone-involved expression of church life that has been lost in Europe as congregations have focused solely on the front-led celebration dimension of church life for centuries.
Hans and Leif have asked me to consider coming and doing a youth conference they would organise specially in Gothenburg, and also to work with some churches when I'm here - both of which I would love to do. So relationships really seem to be taking off. And I've enjoyed talking with some of the youth workers again today.
I've spoken with Jo, Susannah and Noah on the phone each day. Apparently Noah waved goodbye today when I said, "I'll see you soon. Goodbye!" How cute?! It will be great to see them all tomorrow night...
Friday 11th March.
The conference ended at lunch today, and it was good to stay until then even though I wasn't doing anything official today. After a quick lunch, we were driven to the airport (I know this is a bit childish, but I couldn't resist taking a photo of an IKEA store from the window of a Volvo - "when in Rome.." as Matt put it). The journey was fine, until we got to Heathrow when things started to descend into a farce of "how many times/in how many ways can we get lost?"...and then stopped being funny when our connecting flight to Manchester was delayed so that we took off from London at the time we were supposed to be landing. Which wouldn't have mattered so much if the kids hadn't come with Jo to the airport to pick us up. As it was, we got home - exhausted - at midnight (or, 0100 Swedish time).