At the Reformation, the Church of Sweden maintained the historic episcopate. The Church Ordinance of 1571 states that since episcopacy in the early church ”was very useful and without doubt proceeded from God the Holy Spirit (who gives all good gifts), so it was generally approved and accepted over the whole of Christendom, and has since so remained, and must remain in the future, so long as the world lasts...”
The Church of Sweden ordains bishops for life, though they must retire at the latest at age 67. The bishop is the chief pastor of the diocese, a visible sign of unity in it and in the national and universal church. It is the bishop's duty to supervise the teaching of the church and the administration of the sacraments, and to make parish visitations.
The Church of Sweden has about 5000 priests. About 3000 are ministers in parishes; about 1500 are retired. The rest serve as missionaries, in parishes abroad, in schools, in central church bodies, and in other organizations and institutions.
Priests are employed by parishes or dioceses, according to the norms of Swedish labor law. Parish councils and diocesan chapters evaluate candidates for a certain position on the basis of professional qualifications, interviews, and the same screening process that exists elsewhere in the Swedish labor market.
No one is allowed to act as a minister of word and sacrament without first being ordained priest. It is the priest's duty to preach the word of God, administer the sacraments, and conduct wedding and funeral services. He or she also serves in various ways as a pastoral counselor.
The presbyterate (priesthood) is regarded as a gift from God to the church and is accepted as such by the parish. It is a life-long ministry. A priest may lose the right to exercise his or her ministry in the Church or Sweden, but would not be reordained were he or she to have the right restored.
The first woman was ordained priest in the Church of Sweden in 1960.
During the latter half of the 19th century, several deaconess institutions were founded in Sweden, on the German model. The deaconesses were bound by vows to a motherhouse, and to a life of celibacy and poverty. Around 1900, men were also admitted to the diaconate in the Church of Sweden.
In the 1960s, the character of the diaconate changed. Requirements for celibacy and ties to a motherhouse were dropped. Nowadays, ”deacon” is used of both men and women. (Women may use the title ”deaconess” instead.)
The vows made at ordination involve seeking and helping anyone in bodily or spiritual need, defending the rights of all, standing beside the oppressed, and exhorting God's people to all good works so that the love of God is made visible in the world.
The existence of such formalised social work has in the past tended to mean that voluntary work has not been such an obvious part of being a member of a Christian congregation; but today this element is increasing and in many parishes volunteers carry out much of this work, often co-ordinated and led by a deacon.
According to the orders for ordination adopted by the General Synod in 1986, bishops, priests, and deacons all:
promise, with God's help, to carry out their commission within the ordered ministry of the church.
affirm the apostolic faith.
have hands laid upon them.
receive authorization to exercise their ministry in accordance with the order of the Church of Sweden.
Parts of the specific commission for each form of ministry are as follows:
”A bishop has oversight of the diocese and its parishes, and sees to it that the Word of God is purely and clearly proclaimed, the sacraments rightly administered, and merciful kindness shown according to God's will. ... With vigilance and wisdom, the bishop serves unity in Christ ....”
”A priest preaches God's word and administers the sacraments, leads the prayer and worship of the parish, and teaches and gives pastoral care so as to be a shepherd for the flock of God...”
”A deacon (deaconess) visits, helps, and supports those in bodily or spiritual need; gives Christian nurture and teaching in the faith; is a sign of merciful kindness in the parish and society at large, and in all things serves Christ in the neighbour. ...”
Other Ministries and Employees
The Church of Sweden has about 25,000 employees. Many maintain cemeteries (for which the Church of Sweden is responsible in most of the country).
About 2500 people are employed in parishes as full- or part-time church musicians and choir leaders. (About 100,000 people take part in choirs in the Church of Sweden.) Among responsibilities of church musicians are music used in worship, and church concerts.
Another 2000 or so people are employed by parishes or dioceses as church workers. Most are parish assistants or parish educators (församlingsassistenter or församlingspedagoger). For the most part, the former work with children and youth, and the latter organize and lead seminars and study programs.
In each diocese, the bishop may license a few people to lead non-eucharistic worship (venia concionandi).
Most employees of the Church of Sweden belong to a trade union, such as the Swedish Municipal Workers' Union (Svenska Kommunal-arbetareförbundet), the Swedish National Union of Local Government Officers (Svenska Kommunaltjänstemannaförbundet), and the Association of Church of Sweden Employees (Kyrkans Akademikerförbund).
In negotiations with the employer, the unions oversee issues related to hours, salaries, work environment, etc. Working hours of all Church of Sweden employees, including clergy, are regulated by law.
Communities and Orders
Since 1951, religious communities and orders have been allowed in the Church of Sweden. In modern times, the first Church of Sweden nun took her vows in 1954. The community formed then, the Order of the Holy Spirit, is still active. The largest community for women in the Church of Sweden is the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary.
Östanbäck Monastry is the oldest community for men in the Church of Sweden. Benedictine, it was founded in the 1960s.
Church of Sweden priests and other theologians receive their education at the Universities of Uppsala and Lund. The two faculties of theology also give theological courses in other cities in cooperation with university colleges there. After graduation, prospective priests receive further training at the Pastoral Institutes of the Church of Sweden, also in Uppsala and Lund.
Alternative pastoral training is provided at the Johannelund Theological Institute in Uppsala, allied with the Swedish Evangelical Mission (Evangeliska Fosterlands-Stiftelsen).
Deacons and other diaconal workers are trained in Stockholm (Ersta and Stora Sköndal), Härnösand (Vårsta) and Göteborg (Bräcke).
For continuing education of clergy and other church workers, the diocesan centers (stiftsgårdar) and the folk high schools (folkhögskolor) play an important role. Nationally, the Sigtuna Foundation (Sigtunastiftelsen) play a similar role.