(The original Finnish version was published in the weekly supplement Extra of the newspaper Turun Sanomat on 17 April 2004.)
School priests are people who represent the denomination at some schools. Students can talk to them and ask questions about religious matters. Are these priests needed and how do the students react to them? Does the presence of a Christian priest offend religious minorities?
Siru Laine, upper secondary school student
School priests are definitely not needless. I have never talked to one, but I might do it sometime. I guess more students would talk to a priest at school if they could do it without getting seen by friends.
Students react to school priests in a quite neutral manner. Then again, I think talking to them really affects some people and the priests are being useful; the conversations aren’t a waste of time. I don’t believe the mission of school priests is to keep the students from leaving the church. It’s rather about the church’s willingness to stay close to people.
The existence of school priests may offend some religious minorities, but I really don’t see why. I wouldn’t mind if there were also school rabbis or school imams, if there is a demand for them.
Jouni Lehikoinen, school priest
There certainly is a demand for school priests, but you have to know where to look for it. Students don’t avoid the workers of the church, but many of them fear that their friends will see their meeting with a priest. These days youngsters find it easier to contact a priest by sending e-mail or SMS.
When some kind of a crisis occurs, young people come to talk more actively than usually. The last time this happened was right after the Konginkangas bus tragedy (23 people died in the accident in March 2004). The questions that the students ask are often strongly linked to their own lives. That is to say, they also want to discuss issues that have nothing to do with religion. Sometimes a priest is the only person who is willing to listen to them.
As far as I know, the general opinion on school priests is reasonably accepting and I haven’t heard of any religious minority feeling hurt. I do not convert people at school and I hope everyone makes his or her own decisions. It is definitely not our mission to compel youngsters to remain members of the denomination.