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SWEDEN: Lesbian priest ordained as Lutheran bishop of Stockholm

[Episcopal News Service] The (Lutheran) Church of Sweden on Nov. 8 ordained a female priest as Christianity's first openly gay female bishop.

Eva Brunne, 55, was elected in late May to be bishop of the Diocese of Stockholm by a vote of 413-365 over Hans Ulfvebrand in the second round of voting. A first round of voting by clergy of the diocese and an equal number of elected lay people was held in April. There are 13 dioceses in the Church of Sweden.

Brunne was consecrated at Uppsala cathedral, just north of the Swedish capital, according to a posting on the diocese's website.

Along with Brunne, another female priest, Tuulikki Koivunen Bylund, was ordained to take over as bishop of Härnösand in northern Sweden, according to a news report in The Local, an English-language news website. The Local reported that the ceremony marked the first time in the history of the Swedish church that two women had been consecrated as bishops at the same time.

Brunne and her partner, Gunilla Linden, who is also ordained, have a three-year-old son. Their relationship received a church blessing, Ecumenical News International (ENI) reported at the time of her election. Brunne is the first Church of Sweden bishop to live in a registered homosexual partnership, the Uppsala-headquartered church said.

Sweden has allowed same-gender civil unions since 1995 and on May 1 of this year began recognizing same-gender marriages after passing a gender-neutral marriage law. In late October, the Church of Sweden voted to allow its ministers to perform such marriages.

Three-quarters of Swedes are members of the Lutheran church, which was the country's state church until 2000.

"It is very positive that our church is setting an example here and is choosing me as bishop based on my qualifications, when they also know that they can meet resistance elsewhere," Brunne told The Associated Press by phone.

The AP reported that while Brunne's consecration is a first, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a spokesman for the United Church of Christ, said that the UCC has several openly gay and lesbian "conference ministers." That designation is similar to that of bishop.

In 2003, the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The Episcopal Church is about to enter into a dialogue with the Church of Sweden that could lead to a full communion agreement similar to the one the church has had with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since January 2001. The July 8-17 meeting of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention called for that dialogue, via Resolution A076.

The Church of Sweden is a member of the Porvoo Communion, which groups the British and Irish Anglican churches and the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches that entered into a full communion agreement in 1992 to "share a common life in mission and service."

The churches involved are the Evangelical Lutheran churches of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and the Anglican churches of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Lusitanian Church in Portugal and the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain -- both extra-provincial dioceses under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury -- also signed onto the agreement. The Evangelical Lutheran churches of Denmark and Latvia have observer status.

The name Porvoo comes from the town in Finland where a joint celebration of Holy Communion was held after the formal signing of the agreement in Järvenpää.

Earlier this month, media reports said that five Anglican bishops, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, had declined invitations to attend Brunne's ordination. However, The Local rewrote an earlier article and reported that Swedish Archbishop Anders Wejryd, who ordained Brunne and Koivunen Bylund, disputed any claim of a boycott. Although Williams was invited, Wejryd said Williams, like other international guests, rarely attend such events.

Wejryd said at that time that the Church of England would be represented by the Rev. Karen Schmidt, bishop's chaplain for the Diocese of Portsmouth, which has a relationship with the Stockholm diocese, according to The Local.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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