"The fact that there is a female bishop has made people curious and given the Church visibility in all kinds of media. It helps make spiritual questions a part of everyday life", says Irja Askola, Finland´s first female bishop.
Although Finland has the reputation of being a forerunner in the matters of equality, the Lutheran Church has not necessarily endorsed issues related to equality. Female priests were first allowed in the Church of Finland in 1986. In 1988, 94 women from across the country were ordained. The position of bishop was opened to women five years later. Although 40 % of all priests are currently women, women remain under-represented among the higher ranks of the priesthood.
Irja Askola is the first female Finnish bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. She was consecrated bishop in the autumn of 2010. Before her nomination, Irja Askola was primarily known among the general public as a poet, although she had a long career as an expert in ecumenical and theological matters. Her election was a sign of change in itself.
"Our job is not to express opinions about the political questions of the day, but rather to get decision-makers to notice the plight of the weakest members of society," says Askola.
The freedom of religion is guaranteed from 1923 under the Finnish Constitution. Major religious groups are Evangelical Lutheran 75.2%, Orthodox approximately 1%, Pentecostal approx. 1%, Muslim approx. 1% and approx. 22% do not belong to any religious community. For historical reasons, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church hold special status. They have the right to collect taxes from their members and fulfil certain societal functions for them, such as record-keeping and burial arrangements.
"Ecumenically, Finland is a model country. It’s important for the leaders of various religions to get the message out there about what we all have in common: We honour God’s creations in the world and everything that is holy," says Irja Askola.
Text is based on the article Finnish Church aims to be down-to-earth, ThisisFinland by Salla Korpela and the book Finnish Women Making Religion. Between Ancestors and Angels, Editors: Utriainen, T., Salmesvuori, P.