This article analyzes the reception of a reform program, establishing Cooperation Areas in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (ELCI). According to the program, the clergy and other staff were asked to or- ganize cooperation within each area. The main research questions are: What results can be seen in the early attempts and what are the possible explanations of these results? Looking for answers, I focus on the role of pastors and deans in establishing the Cooperation Areas.
This is a qualitative case study based on documents from the ELCI’s General Assembly and other public documents, as well as questionnaires to two selected groups, deans in the ELCI and pastors in one cooperation area. Additional research material came from ten qualitative interviews that had been conducted for a previous research. The documents are analyzed using basic analysis (Sarantokos, 2005) and the ques- tionnaires and interviews using thematic analyses (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The findings indicate that partic- ipation in the cooperation project was limited. Possible explanations are: first, the very structure of the co- operation project, which relied on voluntary participation without clear instructions on who should be in charge of completing it; second, cooperation, which was made difficult by the fact that the clergy are hired by the central church and receives salaries from a special church fund, whereas other staff is hired by the parish, often in part-time roles; third, the church structure, where each parish is independent financially and administratively and the pastor has a lot of independence in the office regarding the organization of his/her work. However, in an area where the Cooperation Area project was active to some extent, it had a positive effect on the working environment of the pastors.
The cooperation attempt can be seen in context of reform projects in Nordic churches. It is the first study on this project and adds to the limited amount of studies on the ELCI’s structure and reform projects. This study focuses on the role of the clergy. For further studies the involvement of parish councils in reform processes instigated by the Central Church Authorities needs to be explored.
The limitation of this research lies in the qualitative methodology and size of the study, analyzing the answers of a sample of clergy. The conclusions drawn from interviews and questionnaires are to be read in that light.