14 June 2013

Volunteers in Global Service—The First Volunteer by Mary E. Hunt

The first Volunteer in Global Service fulfilled the group’s mission with generosity, skill, and style. The Rev. Dr. Ann-Cathrin Jarl of Uppsala, Sweden served as a Volunteer in Global Service at the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, for three differ stints during 2012-2013. Her responsibilities included helping with programs and projects at WATER, mentoring interns, and being involved in an ecumenical collaboration on climate change issues between the Episcopal Church USA and the Church of Sweden.

Dr. Jarl’s interests are focused on human rights and economic well being. She brought a wealth of theological and pastoral experience from her years as chaplain to the Archbishop of Sweden, as a director of a church retreat facility, and as a campus as well as parish pastor. Formerly, she was both a Frontier Intern and a Bi-National Servant so being the pioneer Volunteer in Global Service was natural for her.

WATER is a small non-profit educational organization that brings feminist religious commitments to the service of social change. The goal of VGS is to match experienced, skilled people with projects around the world that could use their talents. It is a way for people who are retired or of retirement age to continue to provide service in the international solidarity community. Peace, justice, and non-violence are hallmarks of VGS work. The fit between the two organizations was natural and seamless. A generous WATER family provided hospitality for Ann-Cathrin during her stays in Silver Spring, and the office community was a comfortable place for her to work. All of this was accomplished in a modest, simple living style to which VGS is committed.

Ann-Cathrin wrote, “I came to WATER in suburban Washington, DC right after I retired from the position as chaplain to the Archbishop of Sweden. My objective at WATER was to do some research on how feminist economics is developing as well as how LGBTIQ people fare in the world. Part of my goal was to exchange wisdom with interns at WATER. Our churches are not always welcoming of all persons. Interns on the other hand are a total joy!” She was able to share the fruits of her own ministry with seminary interns and to discuss current theological topics with a soon-to-be graduate student. WATER was able to provide her with some technical assistance in her work on feminist economics.

The major focus of Rev. Jarl’s work was help in the preparation of a unique bi-lateral conference entitled “Sustaining Hope in the Face of Climate Change: Faith Communities Gather,” (May 1-2, 2013 at St. John’s Lafayette Square, Washington, DC). In a report on her VGS experience Dr. Jarl stated: “Another fruitful endeavor was the summit of the two primates Anders Wejryd, Archbishop Church of Sweden and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church USA. For this event I worked at WATER twice before the actual event that took place in the beginning of May 2013.”

Ann-Cathrin’s task for the gathering was the spadework necessary to turn a good idea into a good conference. It is subtle work that requires insight, patience, and finesse. Her hand was evident in the high quality of what transpired during two days of lectures and conversation. Scientists, activists, leaders, and staff of the two communions along with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) colleagues were able to make good use of their time.

Ann-Cathrin knew the players on both sides of the ocean; she knew the issues and problems. She was able to speak both languages, as it were, when it came to Lutheran and Anglican theo-political approaches, not to mention Swedish and English! She handled certain logistics, interfaced with staff on the visits to Congress, the White House, and local agencies that were part of the official program. She met with the Swedish Embassy personnel to arrange what turned into a memorable, celebrative dinner at the beautiful House of Sweden on the Potomac River in Washington, DC, a festivity that cemented much of the good work.

This is the kind of unsung, behind-the-scenes work that makes such projects go. Only very uniquely qualified people like Ann-Cathrin can carry it out with grace, not needing to be front and center but always keenly and skillfully involved. It makes all the difference in the world in terms of outcomes when such bridging occurs for people of different backgrounds and cultures. This is what VGS offers.

Swedish Archbishop Anders Wejryd observed: “When Ann-Cathrin served as my chaplain she led the project of convening an inter-religious climate meeting, which was a combination of a small summit of profiled experts and a large popular gathering of concerned individuals. After her retirement she was also very instrumental in bringing about a small climate-conference together with the Episcopal Church, combined with lobbying on Capitol Hill and the White House administration.” He referred to Ann-Cathrin’s “very special talent” at “matching professional people, researchers at the forefront and volunteers,” a talent she applied so adeptly to this very successful meeting in Washington.

In a joint statement affirming their hope, signed by the two Lutheran churches and the Anglican one, religious people agreed to join in “leading a conversion of epic scale, a metanoia, or communal spiritual movement away from sin and despair toward the renewal and healing of all creation.” Climate change is a reality that shapes our common context. “As international churches with congregations in many nations, we can and will use our global networks to promote a political framework to limit climate change, while in a unified voice we speak to the world about the urgency of committed climate work.” ( 

Volunteers in Global Service is off to a wonderful start with this completed project. Ann-Cathrin modeled VGS values and style: faith-based commitment to justice, personal commitment to social change, community-centered collaboration with people of good will all over the world. The outcomes are measured both in large-scale efforts to involve people of faith in responsible citizenship on a changing planet and in the seeds planted with interns, young people who are anxious to carry on this work in ways pertinent to their generation.

Ann-Cathrin said it best for VGS: “I recommend everyone with energy enough to seek new adventures and useful work with all the experiences we have from a long life in service. And at the end of the day there is so much to be thankful for.”

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