Almost six years ago, Ragnvald Seierstad arrived in Thailand to take on his new position as chaplain for the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Pattaya. Now, the calendar is counting down to the end of his service as well as his retirement.
On 27 September 2019, the chaplain leaves Thailand only few hours after his last day at work on the 26 September. He will just make it back to Norway in time for celebrating his 67th birthday, from which age you can receive state pension in Norway.
“Everybody knows that retirement is inevitable. I am still fit and healthy, so I want to retire now before I am worn out,” says Ragnvald Seierstad.
But he has not quite figured out what will be on his future agenda.
“Now, I have to find out how to spend my time. It (retirement) is like one long vacation. But while I enjoy relaxing and eating ice cream, I cannot do that all the time,” says Ragnvalf Seierstad and laughs.
The chaplain is due to retire just three weeks after opening a brand-new seamen’s church in Pattaya.
But Ragnvald Seierstad is not sorry that the church only opens as he is leaving.
He helped design it through meetings with the architects. For instance, he is partly to thank for the amount of power outlets to be found in the church’s building which succeeds Thailand standards.
Ragnvald Seierstad is therefore only pleased that he was present for the opening, and that the Norwegians have been given a new church.
“The Norwegian community out here is large, and it is important that they have their own church. The previous church was on rented ground,” says Ragnvald Seierstad and adds that the new church is also much bigger.
Whereas the former church could only seat about 30 people, about 150 can comfortably fit in the new church.
“Sometimes, we had services outside because there were too many people. It is a bit of a challenge to give a service if a noisy car drives by for example,” he says.
“And imagine having to wear the gown, I wear, when it is 30 degrees and a high humidity.”
With the new, more spacious church, Ragnvald Seierstad expects that people no longer have to worry about yelling their wedding vows or the baby’s new name, as services can take place in peace and quiet in the airconditioned church.
Comparing church cultures
Ragnvald Seierstad was already an experienced chaplain for seamen churches, when he arrived in Pattaya in 2014.
Apart from being a regular pastor in Norway, he had been chaplain of the seamen churches in Miami and Copenhagen. Because of the latter location, he now has grandchildren in the Danish town of Helsingør, close to Sweden, whom he is looking forward to spending more time with.
Even though seaman chaplains have the same role in providing church services as well as social and diakonia regardless of latitude or longitude, Ragnvald Seierstad enjoyed his time in Pattaya the most.
“It has been the most interesting place. More people are in need of help and solicitude here (in Pattaya).”
Where the Norwegians Ragnvald Seierstad would meet in Miami were mostly people working in the shipping business, and people in Copenhagen people were very well integrated because of the similarities between Denmark and Norway, most Norwegians in Pattaya are pensioners or tourists.
“I have often been to the hospital to visit people. As many as 500 people are paid a visit at hospital every year,” he says adding that visiting fellow countrymen in prison is also part of his job, though this “luckily does not happen very often”.
Furthermore, it is not unusual, according to the chaplain, that people come to Thailand because they feel lonely in Norway and are looking to socialise.
“People come in search of a community and a better life,” says Ragnvald Seierstad.
“Some people do not think much of themself. They have a heavy luggage. They are lucky that the church is here. The church has no prejudice or condemnation.”
Fresh air and golf
Looking back, Ragnvald Seierstad is happy with his time in Pattaya, the experiences he made and people he met.
Therefore, it is also with a heavy heart, that the chaplain leaves his work of helping people and providing services in exotic Thailand for a post-work life in the much colder Norway.
“Thailand is a wonderful country. The food is good, the weather is good, it is luxuriant. People are nice and I made some good friends. It is also a good country for traveling and has a very different culture,” Ragnvald Seierstad says.
He is also sure of one other thing, that he is going to miss:
“Playing golf all year around. It is not possible to play in Norway when there is snow.”
But of course Ragnvald Seierstad is also looking forward to retiring and especially returning to the fresh Norwegian air.
“I miss sleeping with an open window. Even when it is minus 10 degrees outside, my window is open (in Norway).”
However, feeling at home in both countries, Ragnvald Seierstad has one plan for his retirement.
“I will very likely come back (to Thailand) on holiday.”
On 1 December 2019 Ragnvald Seierstad will be replaced by Annstein Lothe as chaplain of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Pattaya.