Ingrid Persson was one of the first three women to be ordained as priests within the Swedish church in 1960.
Ingrid Persson grew up in Västergötland. She was the daughter of Hildegard Andersson and John Persson, a land-owner. She gained her school-leaving certificate in Gothenburg in 1930, where she also sat her theology and philosophy exam in 1931. This was a preparatory exam to allow for further theological studies and included Greek. She then studied at Uppsala university where she was awarded her Bachelor of Theology in 1936. She initially worked as a teacher and then as a scout secretary for the Kristliga förening av unga kvinnor (KFUK) (young women’s Christian association) in Stockholm. From 1939 onwards she served as the youth secretary for Härnösand diocese. This post was closely associated with Bishop Torsten Bohlin of Härnösand. Ingrid Persson was responsible for youth work throughout Härnösand diocese, which then comprised 129 congregations. Her work often involved leading services (apart from Holy Communion) as well as preaching. By the Sunday before advent in 1939 she had already preached at Härnösand cathedral during a youth service there. In her memoires she noted something one of the congregational members wrote to the congregational priest following her sermon in Hackås, long before women could become priests: “Dear Pastor! I think women should be able to serve as priests. Women preach with greater love.” Following a seven-year stint as youth secretary Ingrid Persson then worked as a teacher at the Ersta diakonissanstalt (social welfare institute) in Stockholm and then as a study supervisor at Samariterhemmet in Uppsala. She became an ordained deacon in 1949.
Torsten Bohlin encouraged Ingrid Persson in her work for Härnösand diocese. He himself was in favour of women being ordained as priests and his view was shared by other theologians, such as the bishops Ruben Josefson, Olle Nystedt, and Martin Lindström. Ingrid Persson contributed to a commemorative volume on Torsten Bohlin published in 1950 in which she relayed his comment to her when he saw her dressed as a deaconess in the spring of 1950: “Nearly a priest!”. Ingrid Persson’s own reflection on this was: “Scrutinised again. And passed muster, for the time being. Nearly a priest!”.
On the eve of Easter, in the year after the Swedish Church’s decision in 1958 to admit women to the priesthood, Ingrid Persson was staying with Archbishop Gunnar Hultgren at the archbishop’s residence in Uppsala. Just as she was about to leave the archbishop informed her that there was something he wanted to discuss with her. “I want to ask you if you could consider putting yourself forward as the first female priest of our church. We have taken the decision but we must now act upon it.” Following the archbishop’s proposal and Ingrid Persson’s reflection on it, she was put through practical training for the priesthood and then, in 1959, she was put on a placement as a priest in Lund. She could not do this in Uppsala because the leader of the training course there was opposed to female priests. Ingrid Persson has recounted in her memoires that she encountered both support and opposition in her journey. A student priest in Uppsala told her that he could not serve as a priest in Härnösand congregation if she was also going to serve there: “Well, then I might be forced to stand beside you at Holy Communion. If you were to hand out the Eucharist then those receiving it would not receive Christ as you are a woman.” Ingrid Persson repeated this conversation to Archbishop Gunnar Hultgren and he was horrified: “This is a soon-to-be ordained priest’s view of the Eucharist!” She also faced opposition from others. Right before her ordination she received a letter from the priest she would replace. The letter practically condemned her to be damned by God should she go through with her ordination.
At the Bishops’ synod of 21 January 1960 it was agreed that three women would be ordained as priests that year: Ingrid Persson, Elisabeth Djurle Olander and Margit Sahlin. Shortly afterwards Ingrid Persson was interviewed by Västernorrlands Allehanda newspaper, in which she stated her hope “that people don’t expect women ordained as priests to perform particularly remarkable services but to just be considered normal priests”. In another interview she refers back to Bishop Torsten Bohlin: “I know that Bishop Torsten Bohlin […] wanted me to be ordained. He was one of the first people to recognise that women’s contributions were too important to be ignored. Now it feels like I am fulfilling his wishes.”
Following her ordination as a priest at Härnösand cathedral on 10 April 1960 Ingrid Persson served as a priest for congregations in both Härnösand and Lund dioceses. Women who became ordained after her, and for whom she served as supervisor and sometimes mentor, have testified to how important she was to them. She encouraged them in a variety of ways. Barbro Westerlund, who was a trainee with Ingrid Persson during the 1960s, said in an interview many years later: “Her enthusiasm, warmth, and great devotion for the priesthood made her a significant role model […]. Already after a week at Njurunda congregation it felt clear: This is what I should do. It felt like a home-coming.” Throughout her life Ingrid Persson would say: “I pray for my girls”, by which she meant the young trainee-priests she had taken under her wing as probationaries and as assistants.
In 1978 Ingrid Persson married Sven Söderlund, a priest and parson. They never had children. Ingrid Persson died in Härnösand in 2000.