Coffee, therapy, marriage? – We went to ask what the campus chapel is all about

University Chaplain Risto Korhonen

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A tough day behind? Would it be an option to head to a church to take a breather? You can do that at the City centre and Hervanta campuses. The atmosphere at the campus chapel is rather spiritual on Wednesday morning, but the level of spirituality has not reached so high a point that it would prevent University Chaplain Risto Korhonen from exchanging a few words.  

That is the job of the campus chapels: to serve as a low-threshold calming space for students and staff, where it is also possible to be heard and seen. According to Chaplain Korhonen, campus chapels are one of the few zones of the university that are free from work and any requirements.  

“In the spirit of open doors, friendship and hospitality, we strive to provide these facilities even for those who are not members of the church or members of any religious group.” 

Parishes cooperate with educational institutions at all levels of education around Finland. The website of the Evangelical Lutheran Parish of Finland states that the mission of the church’s cooperation with educational institutions is to support educating values and comprehensive education in educational institutions. According to the church’s website, the purpose of cooperation with educational institutions is to promote the overall well-being of the educational institution community and its members and to support the realisation of human dignity, equality, justice, environmental responsibility and love of neighbour in educational institution communities, education and society.  

Long traditions 

The roots of the cooperation between the University and the Tampere Parish dates back to the 1960s, when building the cooperation first started. By the 1980s, the Atalpa building was built at the City centre campus area, where the first campus chapel was also opened. The current chapel, called Taivaankansi, in Pinni B turns 20 this year. Another campus chapel can be found at the Hervanta campus in the Festia building. However, its activities are a bit more on the smaller scale. There is no campus chapel on the premises of Tampere University of Applied Sciences, but there a student can head to the hanging out space Pappila, which is also connected to the workspace of the University Chaplains. 

Risto Korhonen’s office has an impressive bookshelf, a desk and two armchairs facing each other. One function of a University Chaplain is to provide appointments for discussions. In general, discussions are held on themes that concern students, such as livelihood, the world situation and climate change, but spiritual matters are also regularly on the table.  

“When trust begins to strengthen, quite often questions or themes related to one’s outlook on life or religion arise, for which I also feel that I am a suitable person within the perish to talk with. 

Although discussions take place in the church premises, within the framework of Christian values, Korhonen emphasises the work ethic of the University Chaplain. The issues discussed are always based on the student’s or staff’s own questions, and it is never the Chaplain’s intention to rise above the client in the conversation.  

”In the best-case scenario, we find the ends of the path in the discussions, and the knots begin to open,” Korhonen says. 

Science or religion? 

According to University Chaplain Korhonen, chapels and parish communities in higher educational institutions have a wave of equality issues, which may make the church feel like a distant institution to some students. Campus chapels, among other things, provide students and staff members space for dialogue, no matter what political viewpoints are involved. Campus chapels are also committed to equality and the principles for safer space.  

“Me and my colleagues in university cities are pioneers of the concept of equal marriage. The bishops of the Church of Finland have just issued a statement that states that one does not receive a reprimand from the bishop if they marry a same-sex couple. It is expected that I too will marry people sometime in the future, if requested to do so,” Korhonen says.  

Campus chapels offer their facilities to students in a fairly informal manner. For example, club activities can be arranged at the premises, and you can reserve the piano for your own practice at the central campus chapel as well. There have also been weddings and christenings. The next happy couple will be entering marriage at the Chapel Taivaankansi at the end of summer 2024.  

However, the Finns are quite a science-positive people. It is said that where science ends, faith begins, and currently science is able to explain a lot. On campus chapels, religion and science come head-to-head due to the location alone. However, in Korhonen’s view, the confrontation between the two has decreased significantly over the past twenty years.  

”For me, the dialogue between faith and science is important, and that is one of the reasons why I have been elected to the position of University Chaplain in the first place. I feel it is important that the dialogue is maintained, and that theological science moves forward. I hope there will be more common ground than sheer confrontation.” 

Korhonen adds that from both sides the gap has been decreased and at least the official stand of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is that religion and science are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they give people different lenses to look at reality and, at best, complement each other, Korhonen says.  

Facts: Chapels at the university 

– Chapel Taivaanranta, Pinni B at the City centre campus, top floor. Open on weekdays from 8.00 well into the afternoon. Risto Korhonen, the University Chaplain at Taivaanranta Chapel offers appointments for discussions. Facilities can be reserved for personal use, for example for club activities or music. Café Taivaankansi is open on Thursdays from 12:00 to 14:00. There you can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and have conversations.  

– Campus chapel at the Hervanta campus, Festia-building. Facilities can be reserved for personal use, for example for club activities. University Chaplain Mervi Ulmanen offers appointments for discussion.  

– Kauppi campus in Kuntokatu 4 is home to the students’ hanging out place Pappila, which is also connected to the workspaces of the University Chaplains. University Chaplain Jussi Houttu is responsible for the cooperation between students, staff and perish in Tampere University of Applied Sciences and the Police University College. 

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