This article originally appeared on Theo Kayser’s blog, A Troubadour for the Catholic Worker Movement, where you can find more great stories, photos, and videos about his visits to Catholic Worker communities.
The Kommuniteten Senapskornet, or Mustard Seed Community for us English speaking folks, has the distinction of being located the farthest north of any Catholic Worker. As I prepared to head to Luleå, Sweden from the Amsterdam CW one of the long timers of Jennette Noel House pointed out that the trip north would actually be about the same distance as from Amsterdam as Greece! This extreme location and the timing of my trip being just a couple weeks before the summer solstice meant the sun was up for almost 22 hours a day!
After a bus, two trains, and nearly 36 hours from the Netherlands, I was greeted by Josh and his electric cargo bike at the train station. He graciously treated me to lunch at the local Indian restaurant (the best place in town for a vegetarian meal he informed me) before heading over to the local Lutheran church to pick up another bike.
It turns out the Lulea CW is located just outside of town, conveniently connected by a series of lovely bike paths. The Mustard Seed community doesn’t have a car, so they do all their errands by bike. Shopping, picking up kids from school, heading to town for protests or to run the open community meal they host at the church.
The relationship of the Lulea folks and that Lutheran church is the closest of any I’ve seen between a CW community and an institutional congregation (sorry “Catholic” Worker purists). Not only does the church host their meals, but the community also actually rents a building at the church owned summer camp at Sundet (a word meaning ‘channel’ so named because it is where the Luleå river becomes narrow and swift and bends).
Their church sets the Mustard Seed’s rent at a generous rate and even allows them to use more or less space as the community’s hospitality needs increase or decrease. Senapskornet also benefits from not just the beauty of the river lined landscape but also the church’s immense gardening area, which Josh helps coordinate renting out to city folks in need of some space as his part time job, and use of the camp’s chapel where morning prayer is held.
The church relationship even extends to the sharing of volunteers. Each year three or so (usually young) folks are placed at the Mustard Seed to live in community and share partly in the work of the CW and partly for the church. While I was there the Mustard Seed folks were virtually interviewing an applicant for next year’s volunteer term and the current crop of volunteers were sharing their experiences.
In addition to those volunteers and the CWers who live there, the Mustard Seed also hosts folks from other countries who are working to receive asylum. When I was visiting one of their guests had been granted asylum from the Swedish government, so a big party was thrown. There were grilled veggie burgers, homemade wild blueberry juice, kubb (a Swedish lawn game involving throwing wooden sticks at wooden pegs in an attempt to knock them over), sand volleyball, and of course fika.
Fika is the Swedish custom of having hot drinks (the name is said to be a play on the word for coffee) and dessert and it is ubiquitous. Whenever a new visitor came or at the conclusion of larger meals (including the community meal at the church) we had fika. It could be simple with just a pack of cookies or intricate as at Noah’s party where homemade ice cream and home baked cakes abounded.
As previously mentioned, the Mustard Seed folks and a crew of regular volunteers also host a meal in town at the church. The format looks a lot like that of the Cherith Brook CW in Kansas City, the community that founders Elizabeth and Josh got their start in (and where I lived in 2014 as well as started my current slate of CW travels).
Folks start arriving at 5 where they are greeted by a cup of tea or coffee and food is served at 5:15. Meals are usually vegetarian but might feature a bit of meat if the cook is a volunteer who decided to include it in the meal. When I was there, we had a delicious Congolese meal of rice topped with a meat sauce and/or casava leaf stew. The meal is concluded with fika and for folks who choose to stick around a 15-minute prayer time. As with many CW projects, a number of folks come for a little community and human contact as much as for the food itself.
It just so happened that I was in town at the same time as NATO who was doing fighter jet training out of the Luleå airfield. They called it the “Arctic Challenge” and every morning at 9 on the dot the sound of jet engines would begin to fill the air with planes from many different countries practicing flying in formation and preparing for war.
This gave the Mustard Seed folks an opportunity to do some extra peace work. My first full day there the CWs had planned a “tipspromenade” or “trivia walk” (a known custom in Sweden) where folks go around to different locations trying to answer questions and hopefully learn in the process. Dubbing their actions the “Arctic Peace Challenge”, banners were hung, and Josh and I sang peace songs (a number of passersby enjoyed his banjo playing) and some good conversations were had with folks about what makes for lasting peace as Sweden applies to join NATO.
They also hosted a peace walk from the Lulea airfield through the forest with other Christian peace folks from the area. Our presence drew an inordinate amount of attention from the Swedish military police, considering we were just a handful of folks carrying signs and frequently making stops for praying. Elisabeth even wore her traditional Swedish garb since it was a holiday.
All photos by Theo Kayser. The original article appeared here: Kommuniteten Senapskornet (Mustard Seed Community) – Luleå, Sweden