The founder of a 3,300-member megachurch in one of Sweden's largest cities announced yesterday [Sunday, March 9] his decision to leave his charismatic congregation and join the Roman Catholic Church.
Ulf Ekman, who introduced Sweden to the prosperity-emphasizing Word of Faith movement when he founded Word of Life Ministries and Word of Life Church, had stepped down from the pastorate at the Uppsala church last spring.
"I have come to realize that the movement I for the last 30 years have represented, despite successes and much good that has occurred on various mission fields, is part of the ongoing Protestant fragmentation of Christendom," Ekman wrote in an op-ed for Swedish newspaper Daegens Nyheter.
In joining the Catholic church, Ekman, founder of Scandinavia's largest Bible school, said he plans to pursue unity among Christian movements and denominations. Meanwhile, Word of Life Church announced that it would hold a special meeting for parishioners on Monday.
Charisma and Aletheia report more details of Ekman's conversion. His announcement can be watched here.
Ekman was ordained a minister in the Swedish Lutheran Church in 1979 before leaving the denomination to found Word of Faith Church in Uppsala in 1983, according to his website. More than 9,500 students have graduated from the ministry's affiliated Bible school.
In a note on his ministry website, Ekman explains that he and his wife, Birgitta Ekman, have undergone a slow transformation over the past decade as they have come to know practicing Roman Catholics, including many charismatic Catholics.
"It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them," Ekman said in the note. "We needed to know the Catholic faith better."
CT has written about other high-profile conversions to Catholicism, including a Q&A with Evangelical Theology Society president Francis Beckwith after he rejoined the Catholic Church in 2007.
CT has also covered Christianity in Sweden, including the Pentecostal World Conference in Stockholm and government evaluation that threatens the training of Swedish pastors. CT assessed the Word-Faith movement in the 1990s.
Below is the announcement of Ekman's switch:
During our last Sunday service, pastor Ulf Ekman shared the news that he and his wife Birgitta will ba accepted into the Catholic Church. A process of many years of prayer and reflection led to this decision.
During the last ten years, Ulf and Birgitta have had contact with catholics and catholic faith, mostly internationally but also in Sweden. This has made them reflect more on the catholic faith and on the spiritual life they have seen in their catholic brothers and sisters.
- For Birgitta and me, this has been a slow process were we have gone from discovering new things, to appreciating what we have discovered, to approach and even learn from our fellow Christians, Ulf Ekman says.
- We have seen a great love for Jesus and a sound theology, founded on the Bible and classic dogma. We have experienced the richness of sacramental life. We have seen the logic in having a solid structure for priesthood, that keeps the faith of the church and passes it on from one generation to the next. We have met an ethical and moral strength and consistency that dare to face up to the general opinion, and a kindness towards the poor and the weak. And, last but not least, we have come in contact with representatives for millions of charismatic Catholics and we have seen their living faith, Ulf Ekman explains.
- All this has been both attractive and challenging. It really challenged our protestant prejudices, and we realized that we in many cases did not have any basis for our criticism of them. We needed to know the Catholic faith better. This led us to the realize that it was actually Jesus Christ who led us to unite with the Catholic Church, Ulf Ekman says.
Ulf and Birgitta Ekman emphazises that this is about a personal journey.
- It has not been our agenda to lead Word of Life in this direction, or to collectively unite the church with the Catholic Church. That would be unreasonable.
In his speech to the church this Sunday, Ulf Ekman stressed that this step was not going from something, but more importantly going towards something else.
- We love the church that we have been a part of building and serving for the last thirty years, and we could never be anything but grateful for the time we have had together, but we have felt a clear calling from the Lord to take this new step. Now, when we do so, we are convinced that the Word of Life church is in good hands and will keep prospering and bear fruit in it's on vision.