Parishioners in central Sweden got a shock earlier this week when the female pastor and newly licenced hunter conducting the town's annual "elk hunt sermon" appeared wearing some unusual headwear. This week, tens of thousands of elk hunters have decamped to the Swedish wilderness in hopes of snagging their own king of the forest as Sweden's elk hunting kicked off on Monday. Keeping with a long-standing tradition, parishioners filled the pews at the Tveta Church in Värmland County on the eve of the hunt to hear the annual "elk hunt sermon".
And it didn't take long for the 30 to 40 hunters and accompanying family members to realize that this year's sermon would hold something different.
Before guests even had a chance to get comfortable in the benches at the centuries-old wooden church, pastor Maria Carlsson emerged wearing a plush elk head complete with antlers.
"I've been thinking about it all autumn. I wanted to do something fun and a little different," she said.
"I really wanted it. I'm the only active pastor in the area who is also a licenced hunter, so it seemed fitting," Carlsson explained.
"I saw this elk mask in a costume shop and then it hit me, 'That's it! That's what I'm going to do.'," she recalled. "But it was sort of hard to see with the mask on my head, so I was a big concerned I might trip and fall," she said. The stunt proved a hit with those who had come to the church looking for some spiritual guidance ahead of the big hunt. "There was a fair amount of laughter in the pews," Martin Wester, one of the hunters on hand for the elk hunt sermon, said. "It was certainly a different approach to the blessing, but think it was very well received. It made people think a bit."
Following the sermon, Carlsson joined an 11-person elk hunting team that took the woods near her home in Långserud, 30 kilometres north of Tveta. And much to her delight, Carlsson managed to shoot an elk of her own on Thursday morning. The animal had been hit first by shots from a fellow hunter, but continued to charge in the pastor's direction. "I didn't think I'd get a chance, but it kept coming toward me. I didn't really think much. I just raised my gun and fired," she said. "I had prayed that I'd be able to shoot an elk on my first hunt, so in a way, my prayers were answered," she said. While the antlers of the 200-kilogramme elk went to her colleague, Carlsson was thrilled to be able to take home the elk's heart. "I'm hoping to be able to have it smoked," she added.