End of term ceremonies held in churches – perspectives on a debated phenomenon
End of term ceremonies held in churches A highly debated subject in contemporary Sweden is the practice of end of term ceremonies being held in church buildings. The debate began in the 1990s but the practice as such can be traced back at least to the late eighteenth century. Critique of the ceremonies at a national level was probably initiated by a local prohibition in 1996 at Uddevala municipality – a decision intended to favour plurality (at first out of respect for secular Humanists, but later reinterpreted as out of respect for Muslims).
This study was aimed at not only exploring the practice of end of term ceremonies held in churches, but also to investigate negotiations and re-negotiations of the role of religion in the Swedish compulsory school (Swedish: Grundskola) apart from the school subject of Religious Education, from the 1990s to 2016.
A multitude of sources have been used for the study such as databases, minutes, policy documents, media debates, legislation (both political and ecclesiastical), guidelines and curricula. Previous research on the subject is almost non-existent, except for a number of studies regarding the shifting role of the Church of Sweden from state church to semi-independent church in the year 2000. The study is thereby intended not only as a contribution of facts concerning these ceremonies, but also as an interpretation of the facts presented.
The results show a complex and vast practice of school ceremonies held in churches beyond the acceptance or prohibition of a particular ceremony. Conflicting facts, laws and policies are made visible and implicit diverse understandings emerge regarding the role of religion in society in general and in schools in particular. Hence, the study should not be seen as taking a position on either side of the debate about prohibition of the practice, but as an exploration of different standpoints regarding the role of the Church of Sweden in contemporary Sweden’s compulsory schools. An emerging aspect is the key function of schools in enabling pupils to understand the role of religion in society and what it means to live in a global community. End of term ceremonies held in churches are viewed as a game board where debates are set in motion and where different ideals clash, are negotiated and re-negotiated. Key features in these discussions concern the use of confessional ecclesiastical space in obligatory non-confessional education; church buildings as places of education; clerical roles when leading end of term ceremonies; pupils’ compulsory presence; religious symbols in education; attendance at religious activities; and hymns as possible means of discrimination.
As far as the interpretation of the issues that have emerged in the study is concerned, three claims can be made. Firstly, end of term ceremonies held in churches have fluctuated in number during the examined period of time; secondly, there is competition between the Swedish state’s school agencies and the Church of Sweden regarding the importance of religion for children; and thirdly, the concept of religion is interpreted in secular terms by the Swedish state’s school agencies, in conflict with the Church of Sweden’s religious understanding of the concept.