A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Fall 2011

View more articles in the Fall 2011 issue.

Seminary while across the pond

by Kari Aanestad, M.Div. Senior

When my husband received a Rhodes scholarship to study in Oxford, England in the fall of 2009, I knew his life was about to change, but I never could have guessed how mine would too. What started out as feeble attempts to be in the same country quickly transformed into ministry opportunities that will forever inform my professional and spiritual formation.

Minding the religious gap

It all started shortly after we received the scholarship news. I hand wrote a letter to the director of chaplaincy for a major network of hospitals throughout Oxford. I introduced myself, explained the requirements for clinical pastoral education (CPE) and asked if he might be willing to supervise me that spring. He wrote back with an invitation, and four months later I found myself wandering the halls of the one of the largest hospitals in the United Kingdom.

I spent more than five months under the supervision of seven full-time chaplains whose expertise ranged from medical ethics to palliative care. The time I spent in those hospital wards proved incredibly rich and challenging. Not only was it the most time I had ever spent in a hospital, but it was also my first time living in a culture whose predominant narrative was one of atheism rather than Christianity. I was continually pressed to deal with questions about life and death, as well as faith, alongside people for whom there are no certain answers. 

One patient in particular still stays with me. I had just let go of the hand of an elderly man in the advanced stages of a terminal illness when a voice from behind asked, "Are you a chaplain, love?"

In the bed across the room sat another elderly man with tubes springing from his body. "Yes sir," I said, "I am a student chaplain."

"Well, I am terribly sorry to inform you that I am a hopeless atheist," he said. I walked closer to him. "I wish I could believe with your certainty and many times in my life I have tried," he continued, "but I am afraid at this age, I am a lost cause."

I used the precious remaining milliseconds I had before reaching his bed to race through all possible responses to him. By the time I reached his feet, a kind smile had spread across his face. "Have I stumped you, love?" he asked.

"Well, I guess I have trouble with certainty, too," I said.

"Whatever do you mean?" he asked.

"I am hardly certain that anyone is ever a lost cause," I said. 

He reached up, grabbed my hand and winked. "Thank you," he said, and I left.

Diving into the city centre

After my unit of CPE concluded, I found myself reaching out for other ministry opportunities. Thanks to an invitation by a close friend, I got connected with Saint Columba's United Reformed Church in Oxford's city centre. A blend of Scottish Presbyterianism with a pinch of United Church of Christ, Saint Columba's held a unique spot in a city as concerned with tradition and heritage as with social justice.

With a ministry entirely defined by a sense of radical welcome, especially for the socially marginalized, I found myself immediately at home. As a "mini intern" I was given the opportunities to preach, teach and lead worship on a regular basis for six months among some of the biggest hearts and sharpest minds I have ever met.

When I finally left Oxford this past June, I felt inspired by all that I had seen and done. Whether it was the continually undefined boundaries of hospital chaplaincy or the bold invitations of a city church seeking to create a place for all people, Oxford helped me see the future of the church and my ministry—a future defined by openness to opportunity, a willingness to be present and a love for people everywhere.

Kari Aanestad is also one of three Luther Seminary students to write for the State of Formation blog. Read about Kari and the other Luther Seminary bloggers in the Spring 2011 issue of Global Vision