Nordic Ecumenical Women’s Committee held its meeting in Reykjavik and Holar in Iceland May 4 – 9, 2015. This meeting was a planning meeting for the big Ecumenical Women’s Conference to be held in Holar in August 2016. In the planning group there were representatives from Norway (Kirsten Almås, chairperson of the committee and Synnöve Hinnaland-Stendal, contactperson for Wicas in Nordic countries), Iceland (Sigrun Oskarsdóttir and Halla Jónsdottir), Sweden (Inge Lise Olsen and Petra Jonsson) and Finland (Sirpa-maija Vuorinen and Outi Piiroinen-Backman).
My first, and before this meeting, the only contact with NEKK had been the Nordic Ecumenical Women’s Conference, which was held in Helsinki, in the Orthodox Cultural Center Sofia, in August 2012. There were about 80 women from four Nordic countries gathered around the theme Everyday Live and Faith (Vardagsliv och tro). One of the strongest impressions, which still influenced my memories, was the mixture of languages: it was interesting to try and cope with all the Scandinavian languages instead of English, as is usual in Ecumenical gatherings! So this planning meeting created an anticipation of something different, for which I wanted to be open – and could not do much preparation.
Iceland is known as an island of fairytales; there is something mystical both in relation to its nature and to its people. Such a small piece of land, with such an amazing nature with mountains, volcanos, lava fields and geysers – how did this small nation manage to develop such a fine culture and not only survive, but enjoy life fully? What is the source of joy, of creativity, of faith? These questions were in my mind all along those days of our meeting. Now I have a hope that with our forthcoming conference in 2016 the participants could also get some answers to these questions.
Journey from Reykjavik to Holar is 321 kilometers and it takes about six hours to travel that distance by car. On the way you can see all the different landscapes of that country and thus the journey is a fine introduction to what is to come. Holar in Hjaltadalur has a long history. This history is especially the history of schools and education. Bishop Jón Ögmundsson’s cathedral school was founded in 1106.
After the reformation the school was converted to a Latin School, which operated until 1801. In 1882 the school was renamed Hólar Agricultural College and in 2007 it became Hólar University College. Thus this school is one of the oldest in Europe. At present this university-level institution has three departments. Department of Aquaculture and Fish Biology is situated in Saudárkrókur, 31 km from Holar. Department of Equine Studies (horse breeding and training, horsemanship, teaching and coaching riding) and Department of Tourism Studies are situated in Holar. There are about 250 students from Iceland, but also from all over Europe.
History of Holar is also that of the church history: Holar was owned by Illugi Bjarnason, who gave it to the church in 1106, when a bishop’s seat was established in northern Iceland. The present church is the fifth on its place, and built in 1763 is the oldest stone church in Iceland. The stone was taken from Mt. Hólabyrda, which surrounds the place. The altarpiece of alabaster made in Nottingham, England, around 1470, is unique piece of history treasured today by everybody, who visits the Cathedral. During Catholic times Holar accumulated great wealth and there were quite a lot of people living there. Holar was the last stronghold of the Catholic Church during the reformation. Many of the both Catholic and Lutheran bishops have left their marks in the history of the country.
Jón Arason brought the first printing press to Iceland around 1530. Gudbrandur Porláksson is famous for the first translation of the Bible into Icelandic, printed in 1584. Holar was re-established as a vicarage in 1952 and in 1986 it became the residence of the ordained bishop of the Holar benefice. The present bishop is Solveig Lára Gudmundsdóttir.
The place of our meeting – the place of the conference
The description of Holar above is the picture of the setting, where we met, and shall meet again in August 2016. The University College provides the board and lodging. Residential housing is provided both for individuals and groups. We found it very nice and very comfortable. It was good to work in such a solemn environment: where-ever we looked, the mountains were hugging us. Whoever we met was friendly: we were well taken care and we were provided with good and tasty food. On campus it is possible to trace the architectural history of Iceland from traditional turf houses (bishop’s office) to the present day. The main building dates from 1910 and 1927. The ecclesiastical site, community and farm-land are all operated by University College with the objective to maintain the dignity and sanctity of the site.
It feels good and safe to plan a conference in such a place as Holar. All the services needed are in compact package and run by people, who do it for their work. Holar is a popular destination for tourists, because there are lots of opportunities for outdoor activities in the area. The local planning group will be in close contact with people in Holar. Bishop Solveig Lara, whom we met a few times and who invited us for dinner at her house, is one of the key-persons and will be present also in the conference next year.
What is NEKK?
Nordisk ekumenisk kvinnokomitté (NEKK) is a network within the Nordic countries for ecumenical matters. It was established in 1990 to promote both in ecumenical and in geographical terms women´s role and status in church and in society, to strengthen women’s voice in decision making, to work to end violence against women, to fight against genre-discrimination and economical injustice.
What did we plan?
Next Ecumenical Women’s Conference of the Nordic Countries will take place in Holar in 10.-13. August 2016. The theme of this conference, as now, is Wisdom, Growth, Wandering (Visdom, Växt, Vandring). The arrival to Reykjavik and from there by bus to Holar will take place on Wednesday the 10th and the program will start in Holar in the morning of the 11th of August. Full days of Thursday and Friday and the morning of Saturday will be filled with work-shops, plenary presentations, group-discussions and prayers. Return to Reykjavik will take place late in the Saturday evening. This is important to note when planning journeys to and from: it is not possible to make quick journeys, since it is minimum of six hours between Reykjavik and Holar. Also the accommodation, if needed in Reykjavik, will be on participant’s own responsibility.
There will be the total of 50 places available for applications from all five countries. The price of the participation is not yet fixed, because the local planning group has just started its work. However, it is good to start to think about the participation: the applications will be asked by June the 5th, 2016, with the idea “first come, first serve”. Accommodation will be available in single and in double rooms and in rooms with six beds. The choice has consequences for the participation fee.
The planning goes on with the idea that everybody, who will participate, will get a warm welcome, experience a deep and meaningful ecumenical sharing and thus once again will be enriched by the Christian community of Nordic sisters.
by Outi Piiroinen-Backman