Religion plays an important role in the history of Greenland. For it was Danish missionaries under Hans Egede who started the colonisation of the island some 300 years ago. Today Greenland is a diocese in its own right within the Danish National Church and has been led by a female bishop since 1995. Last year, a new provost of the diocese was elected, but she was not officially inaugurated into office until last Sunday.
The new bishop, Paneeraq Siegstad Munk, was inaugurated into office by her predecessor Sophie Petersen in a solemn ceremony at the Hans Egede Church in Nuuk. In addition to numerous spectators, several bishops of the Danish folk church, Folkekirken, the bishops of the Faroe Islands and Iceland and Queen Margarethe II of Denmark were present. In her inaugural address the newly inaugurated and visibly moved bishop emphasised the importance of spiritual and religious life in Greenland, as the Greenlandic newspaper Sermitsiaq writes. From her predecessor she received in her speech the call to be a bishop for all, also in the more remote places of Greenland.
Last Sunday’s ceremony marked the end of a somewhat lengthy odyssey caused by the COVID pandemic. For Paneeraq Siegstad Munk had been elected already as the new bishop of Greenland and thus as the head of the Greenlandic Church in the autumn of 2020. After Queen Margarethe II had confirmed the election, Bishop Munk took office on December 1. Due to the pandemic and protective regulations, the official inauguration had been postponed from November 2020 to August 2021. Due to another wave in Greenland in July, the date was postponed once again. Now the inauguration coincided with Queen Margaret’s 5-day state visit to Greenland.
For the 43-year-old Munk, the ordination as bishop is the highlight of her church career so far. She has been involved with religion since 2001, when she completed her bachelor’s thesis in theology at the University of Greenland. After her ordination as a priest in 2004, she worked as a pastor in Ittoqqortoormiit and Aasiaat and presided over the Greenland Clergy Association. She won the election for bishop superiorly over three other candidates in October 2020. Thus follows another woman in Greenland’s highest church office, after predecessor Sophie Petersen presided over Greenland’s 33,000 faithful as bishop from 1995 to 2020.
The diocese in Greenland has only been an independent diocese with its own bishop since 1993. With the Self-Government Act of 2009, Greenland also took over the church, which has since gone its own way and in which the Greenlandic language is also becoming increasingly important. Nevertheless, the diocese is still considered part of the Danish folk church. As a branch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, women are also allowed to hold the highest positions as bishops. They are elected by the pastors and church councils and then confirmed in office by the queen or king. Paneeraq Siegstad Munk is only the third bishop and second female in Greenland. Before her, Sophie Petersen was the head of the Greenlandic Church for 25 years.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal