Most students have heard of the student priests, but unfortunately, in the experience of us at Lundtan, a lot of us are unsure of what exactly it is they do. We decided to contact them for an interview and got to talking about their activities, their relation to the university and the church as well as the general wellbeing of students. Let’s start by speaking broadly. I think a lot of students have heard of the student priests but have no idea what sort of group it actually is.
So – what does a student priest do?
– Well, a lot of people seem to think the student priests are students on their way to becoming priests, but this is not the case. We are fully educated priests working as a supporting resource for the university, much like the student health counseling, the support for students with disabilities, the academic support centre and the study guidance service. What we mostly do is meet students in need of someone to talk to one on one, so there’s a lot of that type of activity. We also hold courses for students – for the full-timers in particular we have crisis courses, evening courses and some “just-being-human”- courses. We also have a supporting function when crises happen at the university, sometimes aiding staff and students when difficult things happen. The student priests have existed in Lund since about the late 50:s, early 60:s, and that today we have student priests at all universities in Sweden (these groups are often called university churches), as well as at universities in other countries.
What types of questions do students most often approach you with?
– We never check for membership or religious affiliation – you can come to us regardless – so it’s very seldom religious questions. People come to us with their lives and what they’re currently dealing with – perhaps studying is tough, or relations are; perhaps you’ve lost someone or are worried about someone who is ill. Perhaps you’re worried about your own situation, about having a hard time finding your way in life or just feeling down. It could be anything from love problems to the deepest of sorrows. It’s not uncommon that people come to us while awaiting help from other sources – sometimes people get sent here from student health counselling because they feel that the problem has a more existential character. We can act as a support while awaiting help from psychiatrists, psychologists and such.
And what is your relation to the church?
– Us student priests – the three of us working here – have our basis in the cathedral. There’s also a reverend working in Västerkyrkan, on the other side of the station. Those are the four of us, and then we have a choir leader as well, so you could say the whole team is five people. We are priests, there’s no getting away from that, but we’re not permitted to preach or missionize at the university – that has no place there. What’s important to us is being a supportive resource. There’s been a few tragic events. Last year, for example, there was an incident where a student had fallen from a balcony at Helsingkrona. The police called us in to be there as a helping hand, so there’s a lot of that type of work being done. We also have a church service once a week that can be attended by whoever wants to, and we have some activities in Västerkyrkan. We’ve recently had a film festival alongside our student chaplaincy, that has tied to it a rabbi, an imam, a catholic brother and a buddhist guide.
I remember that incident at Helsingkrona, I was in the opposite house that evening. When you were called there, what kind of help did you assist with?
– Two of my colleagues were there – Lisa and Jan – and one of them looked after a few guys who had been in direct contact with the guy that fell. They had later found him, and were very distressed and anxious, of course, about what had happened. So one was with them, and I believe the other one was with students who had moved around the house and who were feeling afraid and anxious as well. They supported the quratel, organized the situation a bit and made sure there was a reassembly later the same day, where the directly involved students got to brief the others and where the police got to tell them what had happened.
Would you say the mental health of students has improved or worsened – what direction are we going in right now?
– Sadly, in my experience many are having feelings of depression, stress, and are worried about life and existence. And the climate anxiety that many are facing right now is making it worse.
Is the climate anxiety something you are noticing a lot of?
– I think it’s brewing in a lot of people; it’s yet another factor that increases feelings of uncertainty and makes us worry for the future. I think social media is making life complicated for many as well, as it drives us to compare ourselves with others and makes us accessible in a way that we haven’t been before. When I was a student in the early 90s, things were a lot more laid back. Today students are driven to take two or even three courses at the same time, have a job on the side, have a social life, be active in different clubs and such to improve your CV, and on top of that work out and stay in shape. Thankfully, I feel that this is being dealt with, in particular by the student unions.
Speaking on a more spiritual level: are we getting spiritually richer or poorer, in society and among students?
– From the perspective of the student priests, there has been periods where it’s been harder to establish a relation to the nations or the university. There’s been a lot of closed doors. From my experience, the doors have opened again in the last few years. There’s been an aversion towards religiosity in different forms that isn’t there in the same way anymore. Perhaps it has something to do with us having a need to talk about life and existential questions and – well, let’s say spirituality. I believe there’s a longing in many of us to talk about these questions of finding meaning.