This is the final installment in our three-part series featuring the writing of Birgitta Giertz, translated by Bror Erickson. Birgitta provides an intimate look at the life and work of her father, Pastor Bo Giertz.
Dad became bishop of Gothenburg in 1949. The duties as bishop carried with them changes that also affected us children and our contact with dad. He worked continuously and to a great extent at home, in his office. But he was also often away on trips in the diocese, and even the world, through his work with the Lutheran World Federation and Church of Sweden missions. His workdays were longer. He set the goal to never go to bed before the day’s mail and documents in the “inbox” were handled and passed to the “outbox,” or to some other appropriate place. This made for many late evenings! After some time, my younger brother observed, “I regret that dad became bishop.” Which for a seven-year-old, summed up well Dad's diminished contact and presence: the natural consequences of his new role which affected our family.
Dad had an unbelievable capacity for work. He sat at his desk when we went to school in the morning and he could stay there until just before midnight. He was structured and well organized in everything he did. Everything had its place and he worked systematically through different tasks. He was able to do this because he also had an unusual ability to relax, to rest, and take advantage of small moments. If he had 15 minutes to spare between activities, he could sit down and rest or even fall asleep, for a few minutes, and then wake up full of energy again.
Despite the pressing work schedule that took all of dad’s time, the days when he was home we had evening devotions and tea-time together. Our dinner conversations were also a great joy. Dinner was the occasion when the whole family met and had the opportunity to discuss different world events. Such dinner conversations had been a joy ever since my earliest childhood and continued while we were in Gothenburg. Even if the topics of conversation naturally changed over time.
His time as bishop meant that dad became a public person in a different manner than he was before. This was partly a natural consequence of actual tasks. He never hesitated to assume leadership responsibilities that were a part of his role. But it was accentuated because he never hesitated to speak, and often gave quick and punchy answers to the questions asked of him. His clarity and fearlessness made him a favorite interview subject for the press in both great and small questions. “Does the bishop believe in the devil?” was a question over the phone that received the answer, “No, I don’t believe in him, but every Christian knows that he exists.”
His clarity and fearlessness made him a favorite interview subject for the press in both great and small questions. “Does the bishop believe in the devil?” was a question over the phone that received the answer, “No, I don’t believe in him, but every Christian knows that he exists.
He became a publicized and debated person, both admired and disliked. He also took much of the criticism directed at the various issues personally. The issue that gave rise to the strongest conflict and hard personal attack more than any other was the issue of women priests. It was dad’s perception that it was not consistent with God’s word, as recorded for us in the Bible, that women should hold the pastoral office. This was in no way a position against women, but a result of his belief that one has to hold fast to the Bible and God’s word in all matters regardless of what one otherwise might consider. But his attitude came to be perceived as denigrating to women and he was made out to be a shadowy character of the worse type. This was difficult both for him and his family. Dad never defended himself when it came to personal attacks, but they bothered him more than he ever let on.
Those that disagreed with Dad used to express his position as a “women priest opponent.” It is an unfortunate expression that gave a false picture of what it dealt with because it gave the impression that he had something against women who were pastors. He did not. In some of our conversations about this later in life, he noted that he met many women pastors who “worked much more like pastors according to God’s will” than many of his male colleagues, and he had great respect for their work. The problem was only, as he saw it, that “God does not want them to have this particular duty.”
Dad was for the most part glad for the duties he had as bishop. He was a diligent visitor and put great worth in the contacts with the diocese’s congregations and people. But there were other aspects of his work as diocesan chief that he would rather not have had. There were many tasks, not the least those of an administrative nature, that took time away from that which he would rather have been doing, teaching and proclaiming God’s word. The strife that occurred tore at him more than he wanted to show. He was weighed down, and more closed than previously. Towards the end of his bishopric, he looked forward to retirement. If someone asked him how much time he had left he could tell them exactly, for example, two years, three months, and 24 days.