The Church of Sweden’s ‘Duty Priest Service’ a 60-year-old lifesaver

Duty Priest

Posted 3 February 2016

The Church of Sweden’s Duty Priest Service turns 60 on 7th February and is an important service that is being celebrated.

The number of calls to the service has risen by 69% since 2008. What’s more, a new survey conducted by market research company TNS Sifo shows that no fewer than 82% of those asked think that the service is important, and nearly 60% would consider using the service if they needed urgent counselling.

The Revd Monica Eckerdal, national coordinator of the Duty Priest Service (Jourhavande präst in Swedish), sees that the service has an incredibly important function – especially for people who are thinking about taking or preparing to take their own life.

“We know that a conversation can make the different between death and life,” she says. “For 60 years the Duty Priest Service has offered a protect space in which people can talk about suicide. This helps to reduce the feelings of guilt and shame for people who are struggling with such thoughts, and when people dare to talk, new perspectives can be opened.”

Great awareness

As commissioned by the Church of Sweden, the market research company TNS Sifo asked 1,000 people (over 15 years old) three questions about the Duty Priest Service during the period 25th – 28tth January last.

The result shows that a clear majority had heard about the Duty Priest Service (73%) and that this awareness varies in different age groups.

In the group aged 15–29 a total of 33% had heard of the Duty Priest Service, whereas in the group aged 50–64 no fewer than 92% had heard of it.

Of all the respondents, 4 out of 5 (82%) thought that the Duty Priest Service was very or quite important. A higher proportion of women than men thought that the service was important (90% compared to 76%).

A majority (58%) would also consider contacting the Duty Priest Service themselves if they needed urgent counselling. Women also outnumbered men in so considering (66% of women compared to 50% of men), and a larger proportion of people in the older age groups (58–64%) would consider contacting the service than in the youngest age group (50%), which comprised 15–29 year-olds.

A small advertisement started the service

The Duty Priest Service is the Church of Sweden’s way of offering urgently needed pastoral care that supplements the pastoral care offered in the parishes.

The 60th anniversary will be commemorated on Sunday 7th February with a joint prayer of intercession in the Church of Sweden’s parishes.

The launch of the service is documented as having been on 7th February 1956, when a small advertisement was published in the newspaper Öresunds-Posten by a priest named Erik Bernspång: “Before you commit suicide, ring…”.

It started as local services, but today all of the Church of Sweden’s 13 dioceses cooperate in the nationally organised service. The priests who work in the Duty Priest Service, women and men of all ages, are based in parishes throughout Sweden.

Since 2008, when joint compilation of the statistics began, the number of answered calls has risen by 69%.

In 2015 a total of 81,157 phone calls were answered, which means more than 220 per day, plus 25 contacts per day via the online chat service that is open four evenings a week. In addition, on average two digital letters are received each day.

The Duty Priest Services

The phone line is reached by calling 112 and it is open every day between 21:00 and 06:00. Calls are free and will not be shown on telephone bills.

The waiting time is usually about five minutes. The person answering a call is a priest in the Church of Sweden and has an absolute duty of confidentiality. The calls are not recorded.

From abroad the Duty Priest Service can be reached by calling +46 18 474 50 32, and it is open every day between 21:00 and 06:00, Swedish time.

Calls from abroad are charged at the normal rate and will be shown on telephone bills.

The online chat service is open Monday–Thursday between 20:00 and 24:00. Participants can be anonymous, and only the individual and the priest chat with each other. Nothing is saved. The content of the chat is encrypted and disappears when the chat is shut down or the chat time has ended.

The mail box for digital letters is always open. Writers can be completely anonymous, and only the writer and the priest correspond with each other.

Replies to digital letters will be received within 24 hours after they have been sent. The reply will be saved for 15 days, and only the individual concerned can read it.

The content in the letters and replies is encrypted and disappears when they are removed by the individual concerned or when the time period for access to digital letters and replies has expired. Nothing is saved. [Church of Sweden News]