Finland is fantastic. This is my first visit this far north and I love it. The weather has been 'interesting' – the sun did emerge in Helsinki when we were leaving yesterday, but today it is back to the cloud and mist and wet – the sort we have become familiar with from all the Scandinavian crime series on the telly (The Killing, Borgen, etc.).
The main reason for being here was to speak at a seminar at the British Embassy yesterday – an annual event put on by the British-Finnish Society. We came to Tampere on Wednesday and during the following couple of days visited the Bishops of Tampere and Porvoo, met lots of clergy (who were wonderful and whose English was better than mine…) and learned loads about the country and its history.
For example (and call me ignorant), but I didn't know that Finland has two official languages – Finnish and Swedish. This, of course, opened up the history of the country – which isn't very long, but has involved a lot of violence and burning. This is a bit surprising given that the thing everyone tells you about the Finns is how quiet, thoughtful, honest and peaceful they are. (Maybe the problem has lain with belligerent neighbours.) I also learned that the Diocese of Porvoo is based on language rather than territory – all the Swedish-speaking Lutherans wherever in Finland they find themselves.
This, again, illustrates the gift of seeing through the eyes of a different culture with a different history and language. In West Yorkshire & the Dales (the new diocese that next Easter will replace the current Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefeld and Ripon & Leeds) there will be three cathedrals: Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield. For some people this represents an insuperably difficult problem: a diocese can only have one cathedral. Well, why? Tell that to the American dioceses that have no cathedral or to the Irish dioceses that have two or three. And does a diocese have to be territorial? Possibly, but not necessarily. We create 'tradition' as we go; we do not merely inherit it.
This ties in to the social media seminar at the British Embassy yesterday. Social media are changing the world: the way we think and relate and commune and live and communicate. This is a world we are shaping, but cannot control. We are at the beginning of a journey, not the end. It is a world being occupied by those who have an eclectic curiosity and a sense of adventure – which doesn't characterise everyone in the church…
Yesterday's seminar was really enjoyable and fascinating. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church is doing some really good stuff. The best thing is the humility social media engenders in the church here: no one is claiming to be getting everything right, but they are enjoying the journey and not afraid of getting it wrong… for the right reasons.
Anyway, today is a free day before I fly on tomorrow to Italy to do a paper for the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung at Cadenabbia at a symposium with Germans on issues to do with Europe, culture and religion. Hey ho.