I am a Christian with an Eastern twist. I have studied and taught theology and religious studies. I am an ordained pastor of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland.
Early years as a Christian
I have believed in God for as long as I remember. I always had a child’s simple faith and wanted to commit myself to God at an early age.
When Billy Graham came to Helsinki in 1987 I felt very strongly and wanted to give my life to Jesus. I was 13. After a couple of years I did my confirmation training with Logos Ministries of Finland and remained active in Christian youth work.
As a young adult I spent more time in social services and there you really could not express your faith openly. At one time I also became too involved with one charismatic movement, which left some scars and made me re-evaluate the use and abuse of religious power.
In 1999, at the age of 25, I got the chance to upgrade my study path to academic ones. First I wanted to go study engineering but at the time the math and physics were just too much.
I asked myself what I would most likely want to spend my life around. And I knew I’d probably always be interested in God. The curriculum at the Faculty of Theology was really fascinating: philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, literature studies, anthropology and many others. So for theology I went.
In spring 1999 I received access to three universities. The first was King’s College, London. Studying theology there would have been great. The second one was theology at the University of Helsinki, and the third was Computer Science in Jyväskylä. Helsinki was the one I had worked for the most, plus London would have been a lot more expensive, so I chose Helsinki.
Faith shaken and stirred
It is known that the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki has a reputation of shaking the faith of many students. Science and personal belief are two different things, they say, and it was indeed a time of critical thinking for me too.
Travelling across South Asia during my studies had a huge impact on my worldview. Looking at India closely I could not understand how a billion Hindus could be existentially wrong. Their pantheon of Gods, their rituals and myths, everything struck me really hard. So hard that I wanted to return a little later to study Nepalese religions, as there was so much to understand.
Buddhism had been important to me before, but it became even more important during the ethnographic field work. I did 10 days of silent Vipassana meditation in Kathmandu and got to befriend wonderful Buddhists that I have revisited many times since.
Graduating from the Faculty of Theology in 2005 I was convinced not to become a pastor. I thought media or research were more likely for me. I even applied once more to study Law, but that didn’t work. Then I found work at higher education and destiny took me down that road a long time.
I was appointed Lecturer in Church sector studies. This meant teaching a lot of ethics, worldviews, diaconia and so on. I could take on a more spiritual stance and guide overnight retreats for students, orchestrate worship services and design diaconal activities. Or I would need to teach Biblical Exegetics, Reformation Theology, Church History, Comparative Religion or Missionary Work.
I won’t say I am the best expert in the world in these fields, but I do have a wide and comprehensive understanding of the whole field of theology and its connections to other fields.
I am particularly fond of some shared memories with English-speaking diaconal social services students. For a few years, I was mainly responsible for their theological studies, and we got to build very close bonds, a community within a community.
There were students from all continents but Antarctica, that’s how ecumenical it was.
One group gave me a nickname of Saint Sami. That’s an honor I will cherish until the end!
In 2007 I was ordained priest of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Being a pastor has not always been so visible in my life, and there have been times I have thought it is not who I ultimately am. But it is part of my identity like all other designations.
Doing God’s work at the altar has been a tremendous joy for me. It’s something you cannot express, being a mediator between this world and the other. The Holy Communion, the Word, prayers, sharing those moments with students and colleagues, this is Holy as such.
But somehow I have grown so very tired of the feuds and flaws inside the church that for many years I have stayed on the outskirts of church life. I would very much want to promote ecumenism and religious dialogue, maybe a new beginning is waiting around the corner.