Kristianstad is a small town located in Skåne. Not much happens here. Yet, the town has recently become the focus of a media frenzy because of what's been happening inside the town's Holy Trinity Church.
Last week, I heard that local church-goers are being disturbed by other visitors who masturbate, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, piss and shit on the church floor. Apparently, at some point, someone even tried to snatch a baby from the mother during a christening.
So I booked a train ticket to Kristianstad to check out the situation for myself.
Because Kristianstad is so small, I assumed that all of its citizens would know exactly what was going on. As I got off the train at the central station, I fantasised about the town's current status. Maybe the town was in a state of emergency? Perhaps people would be running around in panic.
Nope. Life in Kristianstad seemed to be going on as always - quietly and slowly.
It didn't take long before I overheard a group of people chitchatting. I know it sounds unbelievable, but they were discussing what's been going on inside the church – just as I had predicted. They gestured in the direction of the Holy Trinity Church, which was only a few metres away from the central station and I silently thanked them for the directions.
According to the local newspaper, the church recently hired a team of security guards in an attempt to prevent people from using the church as a loo. But as I approached the now-infamous church, the guards were nowhere to be seen. The church wasn't locked so I decided to go inside. At first, I was stunned by how beautiful it was. Then, and I am not sure if it was a placebo effect, but I swear the scent of stale feces hit my nostrils.
Inside, I met with Bengt Alvland. He's the church trustee and local vicar. He's been quoted in many news reports related to the Holy Trinity's odd problems. Alvland seemed to me a troubled man. Two weeks ago, the church became the focus of a media storm, which Alvland didn't like at all. "The church is supposed to be a place for the public, where everyone's welcome. But it's a problem when people feel unsafe because of how other people behave. The reason we have put guards in place here, is so that people can feel safe – this is a place of peace and quiet," he told me.
Then I learned that all the blasphemous acts have been taking place in the Church for the last year. It's just that Swedish media only discovered it recently. After months of visitors messing inside the holy building, church staff turned to the local police with a formal application to get security guards, according to Alvland. It was in the application where details about the shitting, pissing and masturbating had been documented.
Although media coverage resulted in the police accepting the security guard application, it also meant that even more newspapers began to drool over the Church. This, Alvland considered to be the opposite of happy and peaceful. "Sensationalist," he said.
Alvland told me he didn't like that articles about the church had left out too much for the reader to decide. He said that people had made assumptions about the identity of the offenders and that these assumptions were largely unfair. "Many people suggested that this was an immigration problem," Alvland said. "And that's not at all what it's about. The offenders are Swedish, middle-aged heroin users."
The arrival of these guests seemed to coincide with the opening of a new local methadone centre, according to Alvland. This means that drug users from other cities in Skåne county now travel to Kristianstad to get involved in the town's methadone program. At first, it was the train station that served as hangout spot for methadone tourists. But as soon as security guards were put in place at the station, they turned to the church to keep warm. The police have concluded that this is a matter of drug users entering the church, often in a state when they are high as kites.
As Alvland showed me around the church and told me stories about finding needles and bottles lying around the church every day, a tall, middle-aged man in a green military jacket entered the church. Alvland leaned forward and whispered, "that's one of the guys we're suspecting to be behind the mess."
The man swayed past us and looked carefully at every row of the church's benches as if he was looking for something. He didn't seem to find whatever he was looking for, so a little while later he sat down on a bench with an empty look on his face.
Louse Nyman, one of Alvland's colleagues, told me that the work to make the church a safer place was moving forward but slowly. "The problem is not going to disappear because we hired security guards. These men will find elsewhere to go. But they will still be troubled. This only a matter of moving around the problem – not solving it," she said.
As I left the church, on my way to the train station, I bumped into a couple of locals in their fourties who didn't want to have their picture taken: "There are plenty of good things in Kristianstad. It's a good vibe here, and it's close to everything. But when these kinds of news become national or even international, Kristianstad gets a label that isn't particularly fair," said the woman.
The man chimed in: "It's not like there are drug users from Kristianstad who go to the church to defecate. We know everybody here because it's a small town – local drug users wouldn't dare do that."
On the train back to Malmö, I got to thinking about Nyman's words. Security guards may have made Sunday mass a little more comfortable for the faithful, but nobody in Kristianstad seemed to be properly thinking about the addicts. Authorities should have considered all this before setting up a methadone program – they should have made sure the users had a place to go after being given the meds. I understand everyone means well but then again the road to hell is paved with good intentions – or in the case of Kristianstad with poo, piss and cum.