Thursday, 24 April 2014

Ulf Ekman, former Protestant Megachurch Pastor : ‘We need what the Lord has given to the Catholic Church to live fully as Christians’

Ulf and Birgitta Ekman are greeted by Pope Francis

An article in the 'Catholic Herald' by Luke Coppen quotes the former leader of a huge Protestant congregation in Sweden, Ulf Ekman:


“[My wife] Birgitta and I have in recent days sensed the Lord’s leading, urging us to join the Catholic Church. This may seem a very radical step. But we have great peace and great joy in this decision.


“Now,” he continued, “you may be thinking: ‘Boy, that’s the worst thing I’ve heard for a long time…’” 


" . . .  What happened to me personally around 1998… our local congregation grew a lot. It was a phenomenal growth, actually. The Bible school grew. We started missions work in 1989 into the Soviet Union. We see that there are now around 1,000 congregations that we have a relationship that came out of this missions work. I came to feel the need for a more dogmatic, theological background and more stability. I also saw the need for more understanding of ecclesial structure. So I was challenged to get to know the essence of the Church. We saw the progress and the advancement and we were involved in so many different projects. Everything was going very well. But there was this dissatisfaction about what is the Church really? I couldn’t get away from this question. It just kept coming back to me again and again and again.


. . . Something in this made me dissatisfied. It challenged me to look more at: OK, what is the ground of the Church, what is the rock bottom, where is authority coming from really? And that led me to the sacraments."


. . . so we started to emphasize [Holy Communion] more, teaching more about the Real Presence, the Lord actually being in Communion, in the bread and in the wine. Of course, that leads you on to other questions.


. . . What happened, as I said, around 1998 was really a quest for what the Church really is. For me it was an existential and an ecclesiological question: what are we really doing? What are we really part of? And where does this lead us? What will happen to the free church movement 100 or a 150 years from now? How come that the historic churches, especially the Catholic Church, seemed to keep on going? It was an understanding of the stability and historicity of the Church that intrigued me. As I started to study this, especially ecclesiology, there’s no way you can study that without coming into contact with the Catholic Church. So I discovered one thing after another.


. . .My basic question was: is this true or not? If this is true, then I have to act. If this is not true, then it will go away. But it was becoming more and more, not just a personal truth, but that there was truth here that I have to relate to. Then, of course, there was the question about my family. We have four sons and they are all grown, so they can handle this in a good way. But then there is the realisation that if this is true and the Lord is calling me, then I have to step down. We’ve lived by faith when it comes to our finances all our lives, so of course the Lord will take care of us. But here in Uppsala there were 3,300 people [in the congregation] and some of them would probably feel let down, and I wanted to handle this in a proper way as much as I can. 


. . . How did you feel just before you announced the news to the congregation?I was, of course, a bit nervous. But I had talked to a number of small groups of leaders within our congregation for about two weeks before the initial announcement. So I was a little bit accustomed to it. But of course going there and knowing that some of these people would be shocked, it’s a special feeling. I’m a pastor. I love the people and I’ve been with them for 30 years, so I don’t take it lightly at all. I’m not flippant about this. I think it’s a serious position. But I felt a calm come over me as I stood there. I could really sense that this was in God’s hands. If he was leading us he would also take care of our dear congregation. We really love them a lot and think they are wonderful.


. . . What are you most looking forward to about being a Catholic?The sacramental life. That is what I’ve been longing for. When I started to question the essence of the Church, it was authority, the sacraments and unity. Those are the three things that draw us to the Church. I’ve always had a strong sentiment for the sacraments, but when I started to discover what they really are and how they work I felt really on the outside looking in. I had a longing to participate in and to draw life from the sacraments in a way that I’ve not been able to do. Seeing that, I also saw what was lacking in our way of doing Communion. So I would say that the fullness that the Lord has put in the Catholic Church – that is what I discovered and long for.


. . . You said you’ve received a word from the Lord: “The task is fulfilled but the friendship remains.”


I said that to the church on that Sunday. I felt that – a relief that this time is now over. But I do feel that the reason for being drawn into the Catholic Church is that I need – we need – what the Lord has given to the Catholic Church to live fully as Christians. That is why we want to be part of the Catholic Church.




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