‘There’s really a demand for services in Swedish’

By: Evelina Kulp

Each year The Church of Sweden on Manhattan has about 15.000 visitors and almost 100 wedding ceremonies. The church serves as a centre for the thousands of Swedes living in New York.

People walking down busy Midtown Manhattan and its countless skyscrapers might spot a Swedish flag in the middle of the rumbling concrete jungle. It’s the Church of Sweden that has been located on 48th street since 1988, holding services in Swedish every Sunday for the Swedish population in New York.

‘It’s really hard to estimate how many Swedes live in the city since people move in and out a lot, but we usually say that it’s between 15 and 20 000’, says Lena Fleischmann who is the administrator at the church that really is the heart of the Swedish community in New York. According to a survey made by the association Swedes Worldwide in 2015, the US is the country that has the biggest Swedish population outside of Sweden. 150.000 Swedes live here, and most of them in New York. 

Fleischmann’s been living in New York for 41 years, first coming here as an au pair. She grew up on the Swedish countryside in the 1950s. She was first fascinated by the US when her grandmother’s sister came back from a longer stay in America. ‘When she came back she built this huge American villa and brought with her some pink furniture. Can you imagine? Pink furniture! I was three years old then and since then I always said that I wanted to move to the US’, Fleischmann says.

Besides Fleischmann, the church has a vicar and a curate. On an average Sunday, about 30 people show up to service. ‘The first Sunday of the month one of our priests travels to Washington DC to hold a service in Swedish and the second Sunday of the month to Philadelphia. So there’s really a demand for services in Swedish’, Fleischmann says.

Besides the services, the church has a café, different activity groups, and a church choir. Every year about 80 couples get married in the church. ‘It used to be a lot more, maybe 100-125 each year, but for the last couple of years the number has decreased’, Fleischmann says. Throughout the year they also celebrate the Swedish holidays and traditions. The largest events are around Christmas time, with the Lucia celebration and the Christmas Market as the biggest and most important fundraisers for the church. ‘Around 7 to 10.000 people visit our Christmas Market, so it’s really important to us.’

Living in New York City for 41 years and working at the church for 35, Fleischmann has gotten to know a large part of the Swedish community in New York. Even after living here for so long, and having an American husband, she still sometimes feels that it’s easier to get close with other Swedes. ‘I think as for every group of ethnicity, I think Swedes like to hang out with other Swedes because it feels safe. Maybe we have a similar way of being and communicating’.