Meet the university chaplains of University of Helsinki

Maalaus, joka esittää paljaita puita sumussa.
Bulletin 21.4.2021

Introducing the university welfare service providers, part 1/2 

As the exceptional situation continues, many students are at the limits of their coping ability. This is reflected in both the inquiry results and the feedback to the university staff. The long continued distance teaching is also understandably the cause of a lot of frustration.

Nonetheless, the university has a lot of support to offer during these difficult times. One such helping body is that of the university chaplains.

The University of Helsinki student chaplains Lisa Enckell, Leena Huovinen and Laura ”Late” Mäntylä share hope-inspiring thoughts. However, worry for the students’ well-being remains great. The sentiment does not escape Lisa, Leena and Late. 

All three university chaplains explain that especially the themes of exhaustion, passivity, and loneliness have popped up in their recent discussions with the students. Lisa explains how distance teaching has made many feel that while the others accomplish a lot, moving forward in their life and studies, they themselves feel as if they are unable to accomplish anything. Late tells us they has noticed that many students are much harsher on themselves than on others. Self-criticism is too easily brought front and centre due to the lone labour of distance learning. “When you hear the inner voice of accusation, speak against it loud and clear – aloud if that’s what it takes”, suggests Late.

The coronavirus times have also been the source of grief for many students. Leena ponders how starting out one’s studies is naturally a time charged with a lot of expectations. There are the fun events, the forging of new relationships, falling in love... And now that first year of studies has been spent sitting at home on many students’ part. There has been no shortage of letdows when these expectations for the start of one’s studies and student life in general have largely been run into the sand. 

Late says they has noticed that there is a lot of anxiety, depression and exhaustion among students. This is no surprise, as the disproportion between demands and energy reserves grows too big too easily. Late wonders if there are also other possible factors behind student anxiety, explaining that they has noticed that there may even be the unconscious fear of death stirred up by the coronavirus situation. People in their twenties should be able to live a life free of that fear – to live their carefree youth. But the past year has been anything but carefree.

How can the university chaplains help? 

All the university chaplains highlight that they provide students with their time and listening, being there for the students and the whole university community alike. “You can talk to us about anything you can think of; death and the fear of it, life, relationships – there are no taboo subjects”, says Lisa. She continues that it is also okay to talk about simple everyday things, even if just to blow off some steam, so to speak. Late points out that the university chaplains place themselves alongside, never above anyone. They are always on the side of whomever they are talking with. There is no need to fear being criticised, and there are no subjects too insignificant as not to warrant discussion.  

The collective message from the chaplains is that of hope. Leena encourages the students to seek help in the form of conversation even if it may feel hard, especially when one is running low on energy as is. Although the idea of talking to a chaplain may feel foreign, spiritual matters need not be central to the discussions. The conviction and core being of each individual is not only respected, but also appreciated. The chaplains are under professional secrecy, all the while working to follow the principles of a safer space.

Late feels that something as small as the experience of having one’s voice heard can foster hope and trust. They also adds that the matters of large groups easily take centre stage in the media, but as everyone is an individual, the feeling of unhappiness and loneliness can only grow if one feels that they are not being sufficiently represented in public dialogue. However, one does not have to endure it all alone.

It is possible to find peer support even in times like these. The university chaplains hold We can get through anything discussion groups both remotely and in person (following sufficient safety precautions). You can register to participate in the groups through the links found at the end of this article. Late encourages people who feel a need to communicate to participate in these groups. The situations are controlled and follow the principles of a safer space. This way the threshold for participation is kept as low as possible. If you find the idea of group conversation distressing, there are also anonymous channels of communication. The university chaplains have their own channel on Jodel through which you can contact them: @kirkkojakampus.

Finally, Leena would like to end on of how small steps can sometimes move mountains. “It brings comfort when you remember that good things, even small miracles, can happen”. She continues, “Even if you might feel like you’re running out of strength, it helps to remember that outcomes where things turn out just fine do exist for all of us”.

Screenshot of a Teams meeting, picturing three university chaplains.
 Late Mäntylä on the left, Leena Huovinen on the top right corner, and Lisa Enckell on the bottom right corner.

Further information 

Bulletin 21.4.2021

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