Hilde Raastad became the first openly lesbian/gay theologian ordained to ministry in the Norwegian Lutheran Church on June 11, 1995. It was a historical moment; one of many steps towards equality and full inclusion for lesbians and gays in the Norwegian church. And yes, 22 years later there are still some steps left and LGBT persons in Norway keep climbing them!
Hilde was born June 1, 1960 in Oslo, Norway and grew up in a family where faith was fundamental but church was considered less important. She spent more time with her family hiking and skiing on Sundays than inside church buildings. When she was 13 her 8-year-old sister died which taught her, in a brutal way, about life’s vulnerability and the importance of treasuring every day. Hilde was an active Girl Scout, taking on various leadership positions as she grew older. At age 14 she held her first sermon, and thus, finding one of her passions in life; preaching.
In 1983, after graduating from college, Hilde went to Switzerland to spend a winter at Our Chalet, an international Girl Guide/Scout Center, in the village of Adelboden. High in the Alps she taught downhill skiing, cleaned toilets, entertained Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from across the world and fell in love with Julie Hass, a fabulous skier with an American passport and a Wellesley degree. It was love at first sight, they spent their first night together in an igloo and have been together since.
Having her undergraduate degree focused on education and religious studies Hilde was accepted in to the Master of Arts program at Iliff School of Theology (www.iliff.edu) in Denver, Colorado. Her field was feminist/liberation theology in addition to studying social transformation with Dr. Vincent Harding, a veteran of the civil rights movement and a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was also actively involved in the gay and lesbian student network and through the experience of Iliff, she discovered that being a lesbian was a resource, not a handicap, in doing ministry, and the importance of integrating spirituality and sexuality to become a whole person. Living together with Julie, for the first time, was an added wonderful experience; skiing and hiking in the Rocky Mountains and carefully creating a togetherness that would endure the struggles that were waiting for them across the Atlantic.
Hilde graduated with distinction in 1990 and she and Julie then moved to Oslo because Norway was the only country in which they would have an opportunity to live together. Being sure that God was calling her into ministry Hilde continued her studies at the University of Oslo and graduated with a Cand.Theol degree in 1994. She then applied for ordination and was ordained the following year by Norway’s first female bishop, Rosemarie Køhn, the only bishop at that time that was willing to ordain lesbians and gays. She was an extraordinary supporter of lesbians and gays in the church, a pioneer who paid a high price for her commitment.
Hilde’s ordination made the national evening TV news on June 11, 1995 and was later featured in all the national media, as well as in local news. The lesbians and gays inside and outside the church celebrated as did many liberals, while the conservatives were horrified and angry and the disagreements and discussions regarding homosexuality in the church intensified. Hilde became a familiar media personality, together with other gay and lesbian activists who were fighting to end discrimination in the Norwegian state church. She was mostly working as a substitute minister since lesbians living in committed relationships were not allowed to get permanent positions in the church.
Civil partnerships became legal in Norway in 1994 and in 1997 Julie and Hilde celebrated their civil union together with friends and Julie’s family who came all the way from Colorado to be present. This too was covered in the national newspapers and it was an unreal experience for Julie and Hilde to read about themselves in Se&Hør, the Norwegian equivalent of People magazine. Two months earlier Siri Sunde, a good friend and colleague, had also celebrated a civil union with her partner. Church leaders and the conservative press claimed the two lesbian ministers had planned this in order to undermine and destroy the church. Both couples made it clear that their motivation for doing a civil union was love and that church politics played no part in their decisions. The discussions and the conflicts in the church over gay and lesbian issues intensified and Hilde was one of several lesbian/gay theologians and lay people who fronted this debate on behalf on the gay and lesbian community.
In 1999 Hilde was hired by Kirkens Bymisjon (a non-profit Christian diaconal institution) to establish a center for ministry especially for gay and lesbians and she then became the first lesbian/gay minister living in a civil union who was hired as a minister in Norway.
In addition to her ministry in the church Hilde continued to be an activist. She was part of the national leadership of the Norwegian Girl Scout organization (Norges KFUK-Speidere), developing their strategic plan, but was asked to leave the organization due to her love for Julie and their decision to live together in a committed relationship. It was a very hurtful experience for Hilde since the scouting movement had been her spiritual home for so many years; “It broke my soul a little."
During her theological studies, and afterwards, Hilde was active in Open Church Group in Oslo (www.apenkirkegruppe.org), as a voluntary minister and as a board member. She also became active in the ‘European Forum of LGBT Christian Group’ (www.euroforumlgbtchristians.eu) where she also served as co-president in the early 2000s. She was an activist, a preacher and contributed to theological discussions as well as giving lectures, writing articles and holding courses. She has contributed to the book “Let Our Voices Be Heard” (www.letourvoicesbeheard.com) and to several theological journals. She has been interviewed by most of the national and many local newspapers in Norway and has participated in debates on TV and in radio programs for many years.
In 2008 Julie and Hilde moved to Luxembourg where they lived for three years. During this time Hilde was active in the European Forum, she participated in Pride events in Central/Eastern Europe and became a member of MCC South London. She contributed financially to help establish the Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives (www.ecpi.ro) in Romania and attended (partly as a Forum delegate) several ILGA Europe and ILGA World conferences. During this time, she also studied at Sarum College in Salisbury, England, focusing her studies in queer spirituality.
Being a lesbian minister in the Norwegian church during these years took its toll and Hilde retired from active ministry in 2008. In 2010, she moved back to Norway, got increasingly burned out and in 2013 decided to take the final step and resign her ordination in protest against the continued discrimination of and denial of equal rights for LGBT people in the Norwegian church. This too was covered extensively in the Norwegian media. A church history professor at the University of Oslo claimed this was a historical act; never before had a minister resigned her ordination as an act of protest against injustice and unequal treatment of LGBTs by the church.
In 2014 Hilde became seriously ill and she is still recovering from her sickness. But she is still doing ministry in her own way. In 2015, she published the book “Rosa Skjerf og Nyfallen Snø” (The pink scarf and freshly fallen snow); a work of fiction based on her experiences as a lesbian minister. In 2016, she held her first sermon for 10 years, in the Oslo Cathedral during Pride week, and she continues to be involved in the European Forum; during the 2017 conference in Gdansk, Poland, she was part of the planning team for the women’s pre-conference as well as delivering a lecture: “Nevertheless she persisted; on activism, spirituality and how to keep going”. In 2016, a book was published documenting the history of Open Church group in Norway. One of the chapters covers Hilde’s journey as a minister and an activist and several of her writings are included in the book as well.
In September 2016, Hilde finally received a green card to be able to live in the United States, and she now divides her time between Boulder, Colorado and Oslo, Norway. Hilde plans to continue her work as an activist, a theologian and a creative writer. Being in the forefront of the LGBT struggle for justice has been a rough journey for Hilde; as Julie says, “It has been a hell of a ride!” The miracle is that together they have made it through it all and in 2017 can celebrate 34 years together, as well as a 20-year anniversary of their civil union. In her free time Hilde enjoys books, cafes, friends and nature!
(This biographical statement provided by Hilde Raastad.)
Biography Date: August 2017