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European Network of Health Care Chaplaincy

Norwegian Conference for Health Care Chaplains - Tromsø
3 - 5 November 2003

Jens Boge
Hospital Chaplain, Tromsø University Hospital

The Norwegian health care chaplains had their annual conference in Tromsø in early November 2003. If you take a look at a map, you will realise how far north our country stretches and that it was an exciting effort to bring chaplains from the south all the way to Tromsø. From the most southern parts of Norway to Tromsø the distance will be almost as going from Oslo to Rome.

The Norwegian health care is experiencing lowering budgets, and harsh accommodations following it. The culture of business is implemented in a way unknown so far. The public is anxious, many health workers worry of the changes, and even of their employment.

The conference gathered about 50 participants. The main theme of the conference was our identity as health care chaplains.
In our work, we are facing the tragedies of human life, the experience of the unjust fate, the dreams and hopes not fulfilled. And the emptiness when God is silent, when there seems to be no God. Although we can observe the power of the religious symbolic language, we also meet the challenge of the silent and absent God. What is the church’s message to man today? Being a hospital chaplain means being in the border district of faith.

Prof Notto R.Thelle
Professor Notto R.Thelle, Oslo, who spent several years in Japan as a Lutheran missionary, reported of the challenge of meeting the Zen Buddhists, and their urge for the truth and the meaning of the words. He also brought examples of religious search and identity from modern, not explicitly religious, literature, both Scandinavian writers and the Welsh poet and pastor R.S.Thomas. In a time when the old truths are falling apart, there is a need of the hospitality of mind, to open the mind for one’s own and the other’s experiences.

Bishop Ola Steinholt
The bishop emeritus of Tromsø, Ola Steinholt, also dealt with the challenges of identity in the cross-religious, -cultural and -professional context. The theology must be contextual, because the gospel comes to us in local colour and deals with our own life.
The church is not a community of therapy, but of salvation. The chaplain must live in a dialogue with the Bible and contribute to an encounter between the Bible and the context. This includes living in the church communion under the grace of God

Prof Vinjar Fønnebø
Professor Vinjar Fønnebø leader of The institute for research of alternative and complementary medicine in Tromsø, pointed out the challenges from alternative medicine to the traditional scientific medicine. While the latter puts religion and faith out of its sight, the former sometimes seems to be too linked up to ideologies or faith. Not seldom the alternative methods seem to imply a kind of religious faith. Sometimes it may seem that the primary interest is a spiritual truth more than the treatment itself.

The challenge to the medical research is to find the effects of the treatment itself, apart from its ideological implications.
Still, all good helpers are welcomed to make life better for the patients. By time some of the alternative treatments also reach scientific approval.
In the period of testing out, there must be openness, and the medical practitioners must stay in close contact with their medical experience and with their colleges.
In most cases, the users of alternative medicine use it complementary to the scientific medicine.

Doctor Nina Hesselberg from the emergency medical unit and matron Bente Liss Roaldsen, cancer unit, dealt with their experience of the chaplain’s role in the hospital, particularly in emergency medicine.
The pastor offers space for other issues than the other medical personnel. She/he has a position established through years of practice and results, and her contribution is needed in order to fulfil the common task. On the other hand, the hospital chaplain must herself define her role and point out what is her special contribution. She must also give words to how she wants to cooperate with the medical team.
Every part in the cross-professional team should consider each other as resources. They need to talk together in an open, respectful clarification of roles and competence.

Dr Nina Hesselberg


Bente Liss Roaldsen

Arthur Arntzen

The famous Norwegian writer and artist, Arthur Arntzen, gave an inspiring and personal lecture of the influence of humour on physical and psychical health. Himself an excellent performer of abundant humour for many years, he pointed out how the sense of humour and the faith in God has helped people of northern Norway to survive the tough climate and modest economic conditions. He also warned about the malicious humour, on the cost of others. The good humour is generous can also include oneself.



Thus the lectures and the conversation touched many important issues. The participants enjoyed the accommodations, food and conference facilities of the Radisson SAS Hotel in Tromsø, the late autumn sunny and chilly days a few weeks before the sun takes its two months winter vacation. In the few leisure hours of the evening they could pay visit to the pubs of the city.

Local arrangers Håkon Augdal (left)and Jens Boge