Reaching Out – Not Closing Down

Lovisa Möller, 46, started her new job as priest of the Swedish church in Bangkok in April 2009 replacing former priest Lennart Hamark, who moved to Hong Kong with his wife Lis and daughter Miranda.
 Although it hasn’t been the easiest start for Lovisa she is sure that this is the right place for her and that everything will work out.
 Lovisa’s can’t really say when or why her interest in Asia started. Something about this region has just always appealed to her. While in university she did field studies in Malaysia and Burma and afterwards she went to Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Indonesia and Bali as a backpacker.
 During her 9 months as a backpacker she actually ended up staying with the Hamarks in Hong Kong. The Hamarks were missionaries in Hong Kong at this time and invited Lovisa and her friend to stay at their house for a couple of days.
 When she came back from her travels she finished her masters and met her husband Ola. The couple got married just 6 months into their relationship, when Lovisa was 26, and not long thereafter they had their son Anton and daughter Elida.
 Ola has worked for SIDA for many years – a job which required the family to move around. So from 1993-1996 the family lived in Harare, Zimbabwe. During this time Ola was stationed as an associate professional officer (APO) in a regional agricultural project. Lovisa spent her time at home taking care of Elida who was only 7 months and Anton who was two years old. She was also active in the Evangelic Lutheran Church of Zimbabwe and served as a voluntary Scandinavian pastor when needed.
 After Zimbabwe the family moved to Vietnam for two years because Ola got a position at the Embassy of Sweden in Hanoi. This was very exciting for Lovisa as she had always wanted to live in Asia.    

Wanted to become a psychologist 
As a young girl Lovisa always did her night prayers before going to bed and grew up with the notion that God loved her, as this was something she had been told by her grandparents all through her upbringing.
 But during confirmation something happened and she didn’t mature in her faith. Instead she started putting her faith into science. Nobody could walk on water, she thought. Finally she ended up dismissing the existence of God, surrendering completely to science. But she was still drawn to the more spiritual side of life and began studying religion at the university after graduating from high school. Still, becoming a priest was not at all something she was considering at this point. Instead she wanted to become a psychologist.
 As time went on her lack of faith became a steadily growing problem for her. She didn’t understand why she wasn’t capable of believing in God. Most of her fellow students believed in God, so why couldn’t she? During this time she found consolation in her friendship with a girl called Maria, who struggled with the same problems as herself.
 Then one day they were sitting separately in church listening to a sermon that a priest was giving for the students, when something happened.
 “When it was time for mass I suddenly realized that I was walking up to the altar for the first time since confirmation. It was really moving and when I turned around I saw Maria standing there with tears in her eyes as well. Then everything changed. I realized that God is not something you can figure out by science it’s about something totally different,” Lovisa says.                     
 Shortly thereafter, she decided to study theology and to become a priest – a decision that changed her life completely and which has now led her to the Church of Sweden in Bangkok with her husband Ola, her 17-year old daughter Elida and 18-year old son Anton. And she doesn’t regret for one second that she made the decision to go to Thailand. She feels very strongly that this is the place she is supposed to be.

Closing down the church building
Lovisa’s first months as the new Swedish priest was a challenging task. From the very beginning she was faced with sensitive issues concerning the economy of the church. Problems she had talked about with the previous priest Lennarth Hamark upon his resignation, since discussions about closing down the church had been going on for about five years at this time.
 In short the problem is that the Swedish churches abroad have to carry their own costs when it comes to buildings and activities. As it is now, money from donations and funding activities like Christmas bazaars and such only carries 40% of the costs which goes in to keeping the Church Center on Sukhumvit Soi 33 in Bangkok.
 Another problem is that the priest becomes tied up in management instead of reaching out to people.
 “People need more time from me and the church building needs more money, it doesn’t go together well.” she adds.
 Instead the church wants to develop its activities in Thailand as a whole and to be of service to more people than it is now.
 One of the things Lovisa is planning on doing after leaving the building on Soi 33 is going to Khao San Road at least once a week. On Khao San they find many often very young and vulnerable Nordic travellers and she would like them to know that the church is there for them.
Besides the fact that the church needs more money, the church is also short on volunteers and visitors.
 Closing down the Church Center as one of her first major tasks as priest hasn’t been a dream scenario at all. Like the Scandinavians who frequently visit the church Lovisa is very sad to have to close it down.
 “I love this place, the quietness, the trees the birds and it is wonderful to see how people relax when they come here,” she says.
 The Church of Sweden in Bangkok has ended its contract on the premises of Soi 33 by the end of January 2010. At this moment the prayers are that another Nordic organisation will take over the contract and keep the premises available to the Nordic community. If so, the church will be happy to rent the building for its weekly activities.
 Lovisa wants to remind everyone that the church isn’t closing down. The church will still have children hours, services and confirmation classes just at another location. She also emphasizes that the church of Sweden isn’t cutting down on anything, on the contrary.
 In the south of Thailand the Church of Sweden in Thailand has expanded its activities and now both a priest and an assistant are stationed in Phuket.

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