Meet the Chaplain for Norwegian Students in America

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NEW YORK — As a student, Odd Inge Tangen found solace in his college chaplain during his seminary years, confiding in him his biggest secret. Today, Tangen is chaplain to Norwegian students in North America working for the Norwegian Seamen’s Church.

He has lived in New York for the past five years at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Midtown Manhattan. Through the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA), Tangen meets and guides Norwegian students living in New York and across the country. Many of them are not religious and he does not try to evangelize them. His goal is to be present to the students as his university chaplain was to him.

“I was around 13 or 14 when I realized I might be gay. I remember hoping and praying for the feelings to go away, but of course they didn’t,” he said. Tangen said, taking a sip of his coffee.

LGBTQ+ topics weren’t really discussed in the Norwegian Christian community when he was a student, Tangen said. He felt alone. Throughout his childhood, he and his family attended church and he was always active in the community. He wanted to remain a committed person of faith, while still feeling whole as a gay man. So he began to study theology.

During his second year at the Norwegian Congregation School of Theology, Religion and Society in Oslo, one of his professors gave the class an assignment that Tangen will never forget: to pursue two activities in outside of their comfort zone.

“The first challenge for me was to invite a neighbor for coffee, and the second was to contact the university chaplain,” Tangen said.

The university chaplain of his seminary became an important person for Tangen that day.

“He was actually the first person I told I was gay to. I remember feeling like every foundation beneath me was shaking while I was doing it.

Tangen called this conversation with the chaplain “life changing”, not primarily because of what she said, but the way she was there and showed her support in a difficult time – the listening and all of his thoughts, helping him sort out his feelings and ultimately finding joy and pride in being gay.

“It was then that I understood that not only did I want to pursue my studies in theology, but that I also felt drawn to pastoral care and chaplaincy,” Tangen said.

Being Norwegian in New York

The Norwegian Seamen’s Church made the position of chaplain for students available in Europe in the 1970s and in the United States in the 1980s. A total of five chaplains work for the Norwegian Seamen’s Church – three in Europe , one that covers Australia and New Zealand and Tangen itself in North America.

“Being able to live and work in New York is truly a blessing,” Tangen said. Although Tangen is a big fan of The Big Apple, it wasn’t the city itself that appealed to him, but the work. “I felt the meaning of being a student and sharing thoughts with a chaplain when I was a student myself, and to be able to have that as part of my job here in North America is truly wonderful.”

While based in New York, Tangen travels throughout the continent to visit and provide pastoral care to Norwegian students at events for Norwegian students organized by ANSA, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston, Miami, Tampa , Boulder, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Los Angeles and Hawaii. On top of that, he also travels to Canada – Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and even sometimes to Mexico.

During his travels he meets so many new and different people, describing this as his favorite part of the job. However, when one is engaged in all the journeys, loneliness sometimes sets in.

“I don’t think I was prepared enough for the feeling of being alone when I started in this job,” Tangen said. “In this position, you work alone a lot, and there are many times when you sit alone in a hotel room, in an unfamiliar place. Also, when I have meaningful encounters with students, I normally don’t have anyone to share the experience with, and it can be lonely at times,” Tangen said.

Planning your schedule is also a bit difficult, as students tend to be spontaneous. He describes this part of the job as a bit difficult, but also fun.

“There are always things that are uncertain, so I always have to be ready to be flexible,” Tangen said.

How does it connect and serve Norwegian students?

The Norwegian Seamen’s Church works closely with ANSA – Association of Norwegian Students Abroad, being part of the Support System for Norwegian Students Abroad. Many Norwegian students are members of ANSA and the organization organizes many events for students. Tangen tries to make an appearance at as many events as possible. At their events, he meets new people and builds relationships.

“Without ANSA, I don’t think many students would know about me or my work,” Tangen said.

He then spoke about his thoughts regarding the younger generation and their connection to the Church and the Christian community. “I think fewer and fewer have an active connection with the church. By working with ANSA, we are able to show students that the Seafarers’ Church is an open community and everyone is welcome, Christian or not,” Tangen said.

One of the things he wants people to know is that the Norwegian Seamen’s Church is open to everyone, not just people who share the same beliefs.

“When I connect with students, my job is to have an open agenda and meet them where they are — physically and emotionally,” Tangen said.

Americans more vocal about religion

Living in America and being Norwegian himself, Tangen recognized that there are some differences between Norwegian and American Christians and how they pursue their faith.

“There is enormous diversity when it comes to practicing religion both in America and in Norway. But I’ve noticed that Americans are talking more about their faith, and I see that as a beautiful thing,” Tangen said.

He considers Americans to be more open and public with their faith, while Norwegians are generally more private about their religious beliefs. He is grateful for his experience of life as a chaplain in New York, because of all the diversity he saw in religions, beliefs and cultures.

“I have noticed that it is not uncommon to ask others What religious community to which they belong, rather than if they belong, although that may change with the younger generation,” Tangen said. “While living here, I’ve noticed that my own beliefs often become clearer when I meet people who don’t share the same outlook on life as me. Both because they often show me new and meaningful perspectives on life, but also because it makes me think – what are my own beliefs? »

Natalie Hognestad is a journalism student at King’s College in New York on the McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute exchange program and a student at NLA University in Norway.

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