The collar: how rituals and traditions have resonance inside and outside of the church
Hanna Mansten is a minister in the congregation of Lackalänga-Stävie. She lives in Staffanstorp with her family of five. She likes when life offers her poweryoga, chocolate, books and music.
This interview took place on the 10th of April, 2018.
“So I handle funerals, and I have a ‘Kyrkohandbok’ with the churches rituals to follow, which is a huge help for me and for the people grieving. Because we know what we’re gonna do. We can choose the music or other finer details, but the ritual is completely carrying everything. And I think that’s partly why people still want a Christian funeral—because there is a clear ritual. You don’t have to choose between too many options, just choosing which coffin to take is often enough for people. In the ritual there are two parts. The first is handing over the person to God. The other part is when the family can say goodbye to their loved one. And, if there is a reason that they want to have a certain thing—say this person liked a certain song, we can sort-of personalise it. But you can always lean on the ritual and know that it will work.
Today, there’s a trend towards not having a ritual. It was just this year that, maybe a couple of times, the congregation only receives the ashes, and the family does not want a ritual or ceremony, they just want the ashes to be put in the ground. And I wonder what would happen to us if that’s where we’re going, with no rituals when we die. I think that’s really, really sad. I think that will have a big impact on us and how we view death. What happens to our grief when we don’t have a ritual? Some people choose what is called a ‘state funeral,’ where they just handle the practicalities of the matter, and then skip the funeral entirely. Also, now when the government is saying we should have no religious schools, we are moving towards a world where, a country where, all things religious are a bit dangerous. Where religion should be private, and separate from everything else. But, then we lose tools for handling life. And we need those.”
“Sometimes, the person who is dead was religious, and the family is not, or the other way around. And it takes sensitivity to know and handle that. I have two sets of parents. In one family, my stepdad is a vicar, and the other family is non-religious, so I’ve always just lived and moved in between two worlds, to say. So, I was given the vocabulary and capability to be involved in both religious and non religious discussions. So maybe, even if a family’s not religious, I can still hear what they long for and we can talk about love and relationships and grieving. I would sometimes use another set of words than the religious words.”
“Mostly, I’m too late to be a part of someone’s life while they’re dying. Some members of the congregation would come regularly on Sundays and I would visit them when they were sick—but normally, I’m just there when they’re dead. But where I grew up, outside Växjö in Småland, the family would often call my dad before someone dies. Because being a church there is a bit different than here. It’s more secular here.
But, in meeting with grieving people and families, I would say that the presence of not me, but the collar I have has an effect. I don’t think I can put it in words—but there is something hope-bringing about the collar. Even if the person is not religious. If you close a church, for example, and build something else in its place, people would be so angry about that. People would be like, ‘do not touch our churches!’ It’s a vicarious thing for spirituality, you could say—even if they never go in there.”
“Sometimes, when we have a funeral, and I’m standing in the front, and especially when it’s a young person, someone who got hit by a train or someone who drowned, it can be really heavy. To think that no one would want to change positions with me right now is a help for me, when it’s heavy. But I’m here and I’m doing it.’ With help from God. It’s—I guess it’s back to the ritual, and also the mission that’s given to me by my congregation, that makes it possible for me to do it. So yes, it’s me as a person doing these ceremonies, but when I’m going into the church and I’m putting on my robes and my collar, it’s also me in a bigger context. We do these sorts of things together, the whole congregation.”