Finland: music, mission and youth ministry

1 Mar 2024

In this Voices from the Communion, LWF Council member Jussi Luoma speaks about his work as mission coordinator and youth leader in a large Tampere parish, alongside his role as a member of a leading Finnish folk choir

Jussi Luoma of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland pictured as one of many representatives of Lutheran World Federation member churches from across Europe gathering at Mansfield College in the English city of Oxford, United Kingdom, for a regional Europe Pre-Assembly to the LWF 13th Assembly, held in Krakow, Poland in September 2023. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Jussi Luoma of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland pictured as one of many representatives of Lutheran World Federation member churches from across Europe gathering at Mansfield College in the English city of Oxford, United Kingdom, for a regional Europe Pre-Assembly to the LWF 13th Assembly, held in Krakow, Poland in September 2023. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Voices from the Communion: Rev. Jussi Luoma shares a passion for spreading the message of global Christianity

(LWI) - A singer, drummer and guitarist, alongside his main job as a pastor, mission coordinator and youth leader – 27-year-old Rev. Jussi Luoma packs a lot into his days working with one of the largest parishes in the city of Tampere in south-western Finland.

After first dreaming of following his father into the medical profession, at high school he discovered a passion for learning about world religions and global Christianity in particular, leading to his ordination into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in May 2022.

Recently elected to serve as a Council member for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Luoma shares his vision of engaging young people in his church to see themselves as part of a wider Lutheran and Christian family of faith.

Firstly, can you tell us something about your family background?

I grew up in a smaller town outside of Tampere, the youngest of four siblings. My father was a doctor, who passed away in 2017, and my mother still runs a private kindergarten where I spent my earliest years with lots of friends and other children around me.

No one in my family was a pastor or church employee, but both my parents were church goers and did voluntary work on the parish council and in the Sunday School. I spent my childhood going to church and attending youth camps, which was important for me as it was a very safe environment to grow up in.

Did that influence your decision to become a pastor?

Well, originally, I had a dream of following in my father’s footsteps and becoming a doctor. I did well at school and wanted to live up to expectations, but at high school I realized I was just not that interested in those subjects. On the other hand, I really enjoyed religious education and was especially interested in learning about world religions and global Christianity.

I had already found a place for myself doing youth work with the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM), an important partner of the LWF. I knew that working in the church and with a missionary society could mean different job opportunities worldwide, not just being a parish pastor, and this was very motivating for me.

You work as mission coordinator for your parish –what does that entail?

I think that mission is not just one area of work, but I believe the whole essence of the church is missionary. Some people in our ‘folk church’ as it’s known, see their faith as part of our Finnish culture and tradition, but I think we have an obligation in our country to think globally, to be responsible for battling against economic and social injustices, especially for those in the most vulnerable situations.

I am part of a team of 12 pastors serving a parish with 40.000 members, although not all of them are active in the church of course. My work includes regular Sunday services, funerals, baptisms, weddings, confirmation classes and other youth work, but I’m also responsible for mission coordination and international connections, especially in trying to keep the message of global mission work visible to people of all ages.

You have also been involved in some interfaith activities with LWF, haven’t you?

Yes, I was invited to take part in an interfaith ‘photo-voice’ project in Oman in November 2022, partly organized by LWF for Lutheran and Muslim youth activists. The idea was to participate in interfaith dialogue through photos that we had taken and it was really an eye-opening experience for me.

It may be a bit of cliché to talk about focusing on the things that unite, rather than divide us, but during those ten days, this became a reality for us. We found we shared so much about our understanding of God and what it means to live as a person of faith. It was really enlightening for me as I came to see that we are speaking about the same God, from different perspectives.

Oman is an interesting context with quite a high emphasis on religious freedom, meaning the faiths are free to evangelize, but only within their own religious spaces, in the churches or mosques. Rather than talking about evangelizing in a traditional sense, I prefer to speak about holistic mission, which happens through advocacy, humanitarian work and support of the local church. If that work brings others to Christianity, I think that is an extra, rather than a goal in itself.

What are the biggest challenges in your work?

I try to share the message of global Christianity, of being part of a larger family than just our local parish, but many people don’t see themselves that way. They see global issues through social media and many are well travelled, but they don’t understand what it means to have a relationship and a responsibility for brothers and sisters in other parts of the Christian world.

From my experience with LWF, I have a lot of stories to share, but the challenge is how to make these meaningful as they seem so far removed from the daily realities of people in my parish. How can I help them to see that these brothers and sisters in other countries also have the same dreams and hopes as them.

What will be your priorities as an LWF Council member for the coming years?

It’s great that I am working at the grass roots in my parish, but still receiving current information about the global scene through the Council. The challenge is how to share these messages and this work with a broader audience, in Finland and beyond. One priority is finding ways of grounding this work and engaging more youth from my church in LWF’s networks, which is a great gateway to the world of global Christianity.

You have spoken out about your concern for the mental health and wellbeing of young people in particular – what do you see as the church’s role?

In Finland, we have good education, healthcare and general wellbeing, but at the same time we are seeing high levels of mental health problems, anxiety and depression, with many people affected by the global crisis that hit you in the face through social media. As a church, we have so many contacts with young people and we can offer real support through pastoral care, conversations and providing a meaningful place for encounters with friends.

If there are more serious issues, we also have a responsibility to guide them to find professional help. But our message comes from the mercy and love of God, to let them know that we are not defined by our actions, but by who we are. It is an important message in our country, where many mental health problems are connected to a performance-oriented society which creates great pressure on young people to succeed

You are also a musician and sing in a Finnish folk choir, don’t you?

I am part of the Tampere Male Choir (which is changing its name to the Tampere Singers) and yes, I really enjoy that, as well as using my singing and playing in my parish work too. We do lots of concerts and many of them happen in churches, so it is natural for me to facilitate these connections. We do national Finnish songs, as well as hymns, Christmas carols, but increasingly more pop and contemporary music to engage with younger audiences.

I have always been interested in music, also thanks to my youth work with FELM. I started playing the drums and still do that, but then I learnt the guitar which I use to lead worship and confirmation camps. I like to teach young people songs from other parts of the world and it has been great to discover lots more music from around the globe through my work with LWF.

LWF/P. Hitchen