STOCKHOLM – Olle Liljefors was standing in an improvised D.J. Friday night, spinning tracks by the Swedish musician Avicii, who died suddenly in April. It was not yet 8 pm, but the cavernous place was already full and Liljefors seemed slightly nervous.
Moving away from the bridges, he changed his black leather motorcycle jacket with white clothes and a gold-colored stole. Then, with a few minutes before the beginning of the mass, the Lutheran pastor mixed a last song and smacked his head in time for the electronic rhythms that filled the great dome of the church of Hedvig Eleonora, an amazing ocher octagon in Stockholm wedged between chic restaurants and fast-paced street shopping.
The service that followed was understood in part as a memorial to Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, who died in Muscat, Oman, in an apparent suicide. But by replacing the normal hymns with the music of Avicii, the religious ceremony was also part of an ongoing effort by Liljefors and other members of the clergy to attract younger members into the diminishing ranks of the Lutheran Church of Sweden.
On the altar there were photographs of the musician, raised in Stockholm in the parish that serves the church of Hedvig Eleonora. Bergling's father gave a short speech that made many of the benches cry. Liljefors delivered the sermon, which he drew from the lyrics of Avicii's songs. "When we sit at home" waiting for love ", or when we are happy and want to dance, or when we feel lost, like" wake up when it's all over ", music can bring love, hope, comfort and joy, "He said.
The music, however, was the main attraction. Ulf Norberg delivered his normal place to the bench of the impressive Hedvig Eleonora organ – the largest in the Nordic region – to the young organist Sebastian Johansson, and instead played the piano and conducted the choir. Although he would return to play Handel on Sunday, for the moment he was enjoying the art of Avicii. "His songs have classic elements – many long notes and broad lines," said Norberg. "Some of the rhythms are difficult for the choir."
In recent years, churches throughout Sweden, including Hedvig Eleonora, have held "masses of Abba", in which the choir binds "Waterloo" and other group successes. ("Money, Money, Money" is a favorite accompaniment during collection rounds.)
In Jonkoping, a city in southern Sweden, the Ljungarum church also organized music services for Sting, U2 and even the Jewish singer, Leonard Cohen. "We want to celebrate a service that can open and touch people," said Cecilia Sjoberg, pastor of Ljungarum, where Sunday Masses inspired by Avicii were also held.
One of the most secular nations in the world, Sweden has some of the lowest rates of religious practice in Europe – only 1.1% of the population frequents religious services every week (compared to about 10.9% in Italy and 3.5% in Great Britain). Although 60 percent of Swedes still pay voluntary church fees, only 18 percent of 30-year-olds say they identify themselves as Christian, according to 2016 European social survey.
Since losing its status as an official state church in 2000, the Church of Sweden has struggled to define its role. "Until then, he ran hospitals, schools, everything," said David Thurfjell, a specialist in the history of religion at Sodertorn University, outside Stockholm.
"One time to be Sweden, "he added." Since then, he has had to find a way to be a church when it is no longer the system. "
Liljefors said he understood the problem. "They are people aged 20 to 49, whose lives are happy and busy and who perhaps feel like they don't need Jesus – they lack them," he said. "But there is still a spiritual desire in Sweden. If we can find the right touch, maybe they will come." He added that usually around 150 people attended the mass at the Hedwig Eleonora on Sunday and that the most of them were older adults.
The church's Avicii service had a special weight because it was also a memorial to Bergling. An hour before the start of the first Mass (a second one had been added due to popular demand), the line extended by several blocks. Once the doors were opened, the sanctuary, which can hold 1,000, quickly filled up; a guard called to handle the crowd estimated that another 500 had been rejected due to lack of space.
At the end of the Mass, Norberg invited the congregation to represent the last song of the evening. While the infected bluegrass chords of "Wake Me Up" pulsed from the organ, the faithful sang with enthusiasm. Some – including Liljefors – have even danced a little.
Christopher State, 25, said he had not been to church since his confirmation a decade earlier, but had been moved by the experience. "The feeling of bringing everyone together, the emotions – gave me the goose skin," he said. Harpa Hjartardottir, 27, had come with friends whom she described as "truly secular", and was equally effusive. "It was fantastic," he said. "Avicii has become like a holy thing. And he brought people like us to church. "
Although both Elin Lindroos, 23, and Martin Ornberg, 25, declared they were not religious, they left open the possibility that they would return. "If they had more events like this, maybe I would have come," said Lindroos.
This is exactly why Liljefors is planning another pop music mass for April. "That will be more my music," the 35-year-old pastor said. "Metallica".
If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.