Pastor Íris Kristjánsdóttir has been living and working in Prince Albert, SK for the past six years, immigrating from Iceland. She is the first permanent female pastor to serve the congregation at the Messiah Lutheran Church, which was founded in 1934.
Íris grew up in Keflavik, Iceland and graduated from the University of Iceland in Reykjavík with a Masters in Theology in 1996 at 25 years old. She was the pastor at the Hjallakirkja Church in Kopavogur, Iceland for 16 years prior to moving to Canada.
In 2010, Íris was on a 4-month sabbatical and living in Saskatoon. She was experiencing a desire for change – a longing to try something new, and Canada presented that opportunity. In March of 2012 she interviewed for her current position, accepted it and moved to Prince Albert permanently in July, starting work in August. I asked if the interview was similar to other typical job interviews, or was it more similar to “meeting the parents” for the first time? Her reply, “It was very much a job interview, but a very rewarding one.”
She was drawn to theology from a young age, her interest piqued by the Christian youth organizations that she belonged to. With a smile, she recalled some of her mentors, and how they encouraged her, taught her to ask questions and take nothing for granted. It was through this mentorship, her own desires to gain knowledge and have a holistic understanding of the history of Christianity, faith and the Bible that led her to her studies and eventually her career as a pastor in a parish. She noted, that her family has always been very supportive, but her decision to become a pastor was her own.
“Humans have an inner longing for something bigger than themselves, search for it.”
Íris shared with me that after she had completed her Master’s she was torn between continuing her education to become a teacher or to become a Pastor – and a job offer with Hjallakirkja parish, helped confirm in her own mind and soul, the calling from God that she felt within her heart. But with her quick laugh, she exclaimed, “But I am only 47, so I have lots of time to be a teacher!” I thought of the similarities between a teacher and a pastor, both helping people to find their way, stay true to themselves and their values by providing education and an understanding in their own spirituality.
The Messiah Lutheran Church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Canada (ELCIC) and the Saskatchewan Synod. A synod can be defined as “an assembly of the clergy and sometimes also the laity in a diocese or other division of a particular church.”
We briefly touched on sexism in the church – was it present, had it affected her? Her first steps into her professional career, she belonged to a synod of 18 clergy members – 16 male and 2 females. Even though Iceland is known to be very forward thinking and advanced in the feminist movement, she said there was still an awareness of stepping into the “boys club”. And in Canada, it is slightly more pronounced, but nothing that has ever had a strong presence or effect on her. But she was quick to state, “that was my experience and that other female members of the clergy may have had a different experience.” She estimated that in the Saskatchewan Synod of the ELCIC, it is about a 60/40 split between the male and female clergy members, and she guessed that the ELCIC has similar numbers. These estimates astonished me, but in a good way! The synod and ELCIC are conscious to have gender neutral committee’s, recognizing the value that diversity brings.
The ELCIC is committed to diversity – acceptance of all gender roles, sexuality and race. As an organization, they are welcoming and supportive to every walk of life. This is demonstrated throughout their practices and policies. We discussed at the length, how amazing it is to be part of an organization like that. When comparing Iceland and Canada, it is noted that Iceland is quite a bit more liberal in many elements. These include their views on feminism, innovation, acceptance of diversity and the ability to move forward. Canada is a bit more conservative, a little bit slower to come around to new ideas and acceptance. Íris noted that with respects to diversity, many Canadians still have areas that can be improved upon. She reflected on the negative undertones and conversations she has been and is still exposed to with respects to racism, sexism and the reluctance for change in Canadians.
How does Íris recharge her battery – on the seat of her motorcycle! She talks about her time spent on her motorbike and the exhilaration of the open road. She also enjoys the Canadian summer, private time and reading. Her recommendation for your next book is; Lion: A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley. Her excitement was evident as she discussed an upcoming visit with friends from Iceland – a week exploring the Rocky Mountains as well her home here. She travels back to Iceland yearly for visits with friends and family and thanks to modern technology Face Times her parents weekly. Words of advice from Pastor Íris … “Explore your spirituality and be open to what you learn!” The word spirituality was not used only in the context of Christianity, but that of the larger sense, “Humans have an inner longing for something bigger than themselves, search for it.”
And her last golden nugget, “Don’t be afraid to go to church.
Vicki Green lives on an acreage in the Prince Albert area with her family. When not writing for Vintage Gypsy magazine, she can be found outside enjoying nature, or curled up with a glass of wine and a good book.