Margit Sahlin was one of the three first women who, in 1960, were ordained as priests in the Swedish church.
Margit Sahlin was born in 1914 and was the twelfth child born in the Sahlin family. She grew up within an academic family. Her father Enar Sahlin was an educator and a literary man and her mother Ragnhild Sahlin (Nettelbladt) was a teacher. Her paternal grandfather Carl Yngve Sahlin had been vice-Chancellor of Uppsala university from 1876–1889.
Margit Sahlin’s name is associated with the accession of women to the priesthood within the Swedish church. The decision to accept women priests was taken at the general synod of the Swedish church in 1958. Her activities extended beyond the sphere of the priesthood, however. Long before the decision of 1958 was taken she had already been actively seeking an expanded professional role for women within the Swedish church. She was following in the footsteps of other women such as Ida Granqvist, Siri Dahlquist, and Ester Lutteman. In contrast to Elisabeth Djurle Olander and Ingrid Persson Margit Sahlin remained actively engaged in the public debate throughout her professional life and even during her retirement by providing opinion-forming information, releasing written work, and by undertaking theological discussions.
In 1938 Margit Sahlin wrote an article published in the cultural journal Vår Lösen in which she proposed that a particular post of female chaplains be established as a means of allowing women to work within the Swedish church. The reason for her proposal was that apart from joining sewing associations, performing charitable social welfare tasks, or taking up missionary posts in foreign countries as well as medical and social care roles, women had no formal position within the church. At the same time she increased her efforts to facilitate contact between what she called “the church and the world”. Margit Sahlin thus instigated the setting up of a diocesan council of women, which was formed in every diocese except Gothenburg. Further, she instigated the creation of a national organisation called Sveriges kyrkliga kvinnoråd (SKKR) (Swedish church women’s council), of which she became the first chair. The national organisation was intended to serve as a collaborative tool for the women’s councils whilst helping to develop opportunities for women across society and creating a forum for discussion and opinion building.
The women’s council set up a course on women’s service within the church. The first course, called Borgenkursen, began in 1948 and it served as the main inspiration for St Katharinastiftelsen (St Katharina foundation), established in 1950, which became Margit Sahlin’s life’s work and greatest cultural contribution. She had a wide range of international contacts and extensive network, which included Manfred Björkquist – the founder of Sigtunastiftelsen and later bishop – as well as the priest and author Olof Hartman. They had all been in touch with Eberhard Müller, founder of the first Evangelical Academy in West Germany. This academy created a forum for conversation on existential matters and was a source of inspiration to Margit Sahlin. She served as the director of St Katharinastiftelsen from 1950 until 1993, and subsequently was its chair until she died. The fundamental aspect in St Katharinastiftelsen, and for Margit Sahlin’s own convictions, was to confront contemporary issues whilst simultaneously being grounded in prayer, living life in the service of God, and celebrating communion.
Margit Sahlin became the first ordained woman in the Swedish church to be appointed parson when she was appointed parson of the Engelbrekt congregation in Stockholm in 1970. She held this post until she retired in 1979.
Margit Sahlin was also a prominent theologian who wrote several theologically advanced books, in particular Ordets tjänst i en förändrad värld, from 1959, Dags för omprövning – kring bibel, kyrka och kvinnliga präster, from 1980, and Den hemlighetsfulla bilderboken – Att läsa bibeln idag, from 1994.
Margit Sahlin never married. She died in 2003 and she is buried in the Sahlin family grave at Uppsala gamla cemetery.