Church of Sweden to Terminate Permanent Place in Bangkok

Church of Sweden on Thursday 14 May hosted an evening for the Nordic community in Thailand to explain its decision to terminate renting its current villa on Sukhumvit Soi 33 in Bangkok. Close to twenty persons had braved a heavy downpour to attend the meeting. 
Lovisa Moller, the new minister of the Church bid everybody welcome and prayed for Gods guidance before giving the word to Krister Tholin, regional head of the Church of Sweden abroad.
Krister Tholin started by assuring everybody that the issue of the meeting was not that the Church of Sweden wanted to close down its activities in Bangkok. The issue was how the Church could further develop its activities and presence in Thailand using its available resources in the best possible way.
Then he came straight to the point:
“I understand that for many of you this is a very special spot, but from my point of view it takes resources. I cannot have a highly educated priest take care of a house and a garden so that a limited number of people can celebrate special occasions here!”
“I can use Lovisa in a much better way,” he added.
The discussion about terminating the rent on the villa had been going on for over a year, he continued. For the past two years, former minister Lennart Hamark had been flying to various places often twice a week to perform a total of 80 blessings of newlywed Swedish couples per year.
“Most of all this money went into maintaining this place here in Bangkok only! For the Church of Sweden, Thailand is much larger than Bangkok!” he emphasized.
Asked by Erika  Björklund from SWEA Bangkok whether the closure was simply because a lack of money, Krister Tholin said:
“Yes. But it is also our new thinking around the world to do all the things we do in premises not of our own.”
“The Church of Sweden will give notice to terminate the contract in September or October and we will move out by the end of the year. But with or without this place we will continue to provide our services.”
“I would be very happy to see a committee take over and run this place. If so, I am sure we would want to continue using this place as long as it would be on an hour-by-hour basis,” he added.
Lovisa Moller then took the word again.
“When I applied for this job I was not applying to run this place. I came here because of you. To be with people, the children, the elderly,” she said in support of Krister Tholin’s briefing.
“If you look at the calendar on our website it says “Church closed” every other day. The Church should never be closed! But I need to close it to go to Hua Hin to meet Swedes there. Or to go to Rayong to meet Swedes there. Soon there will be a big group of aging Swedish people who will need me to visit them. And in Khao San we find many often very young Nordic travelers who are very vulnerable. We want to be there for them too. Resources are not only money it also staff,” she said adding:
“Previous priests have been here as a couple who could share the job, but I am sorry, I will not be here as a couple. I am here alone!”
Krister Tholin then asked Gregers Moller what options he saw for the community to take over the villa.
“As I see it, the Scandinavian Society Siam cannot take over the villa because the decision to rent a Clubhouse can only be taken at an Annual General Meeting, and this did not happen at the AGM last week. An Extraordinary General Meeting that may take place in a month or two is an opportunity for this, but in my opinion it is not likely to be proposed. I would look to SWEA or other Nordic associations for a solution,” he said.
Cecilia  Olofsson, also a member of the Board of the Church, asked if the Church could guarantee to take 25 percent of the cost to run the place and then others could guarantee to cover the rest. This was, however, not an option, Loisa Moller said.
“We don’t use this place enough. I cannot guarantee even 25 percent,” she said.
Other proposals for more volunteers to take an initiative in keeping the place open were similarly dismissed.
Kristian Bo then, as it became increasingly clear that any involvement of the Church that meant taking even a co-responsibility was not on the table, noted that a commercial solution seemed to be the only way out.
“The only option to keep this place open seems to be to allow someone to do business here,” Kritian Bo concluded.
“You could talk to the people behind the Admiral Pub and Restaurant who might be interested in changing it into a Scandinavian style restaurant like the one they had on Sukhumvit Soi 18,” Kristian Bo suggested.
Krister Tholin then asked Kristian Bo or Gregers Moller to talk them if they knew them well, and Gregers Moller accepted this task.
The meeting was informed that the rent was 61.000 baht a month but in total the operating costs had been 1,7 million baht. When asked if they could give a rough breakdown of this amount, it became clear that the representatives of the Church had decided not to allow the meeting to get into a discussion of what the additional hundred thousand per month had been spent on.
A comparison with the Norwegian Church in Pattaya, where about 100 people gathered every Saturday, was rejected as the community in Pattaya was different.
“Our idea is to find other homes for our activities,” Lovisa explained.
“The monthly pea soup dinner could be held in my own home,” she suggested.
At this pont Jyrki Markkanen, the Finnish pastor in Thailand, took the word to offer his observation.
“Actually I envy you this place,” he said to the representatives of the Church of Sweden. He himself was roaming just like the Swedish priest would be after the closure of the villa.
“To be a pastor is a like a roller coaster. When a person calls for help, then we go. Without a specific place as my church, my office has been my backpack. My sacristy is my car. It is going to be tough,” he warned Lovisa Moller.
Jyrki Markkanen then said that if a Nordic committee would take over the place he would be happy to rent the place for sermons once a week as he was currently doing. His budget would be 15.000 baht per month.
Terjei Lodden noted that maybe Foreningen Norden could be interested in supporting the place.
“We really need a network to tie together all the Scandinavians from all the local places in the provinces where they are now organizing themselves,” he remarked.
“If we had this network we could do so much more.”
After more comments and options were explored, Lovisa Moller eventually rounded up the discussion by concluded that there was still time to find a solution.
“We don’t need to reach a decision tonight. But when we get to September or October we need to give notice on renting the place. It would be nice if someone at that time would come forward.”

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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