Polar Priest: Church in the world’s northernmost city – a photographic essay | Norway

Lituated in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, Longyearbyen is the northernmost colony in the world. Winter temperatures here range from -13 to -20C and locals are prepared for two and a half months of total darkness in winter, the constant danger of polar bears and avalanches.

  • The road to the Siv Limstrand hut in the Adventdalen Valley, a 29 km long valley east of Longyearbyen, during a brief moment of daylight

In this extreme environment, a priest dedicated himself to helping the local population face the enormous changes they are facing.

Siv Limstrand
  • Limstrand inside his cabin during the dark season. During this period, which lasts from mid-November to the end of January, the sun is always at least 6 degrees below the horizon and total darkness reigns.

Siv Limstrand at church
Limstrand in the office

For a century, the existence of this city, including its construction, has been centered on the exploitation of coal. Its small church, built in 1921, has always played an important role in the community as a meeting place and place for religious services and cultural gatherings. However, coal production in Svalbard will cease altogether in 2023 (Gruve 7 is the last mine of the Norwegian state-owned company that still produces coal) in favor of more sustainable energy, completely reshaping the city’s economic and social landscape. . As Longyearbyen makes the transition, its people have Priest Siv Limstrand as their spiritual guide, and the church has become an even more essential part of this community.

Limstrand with the coal miners
More minors

As a central place to socialize in the city of just over 2,000, Svalbard Church is open 24/7, both literally and spiritually. An inclusive space for the whole community, regardless of nationality or faith, it can, according to Limstrand, be a bridge builder in a divided community. As she accompanies the townspeople through this time of transition, Limstrand believes it is important for everyone to know that the church is still open. In addition to typical religious services, the church offers an open community space: the kitchen is used to offer coffee, tea, and other foods, and the space is also used for musical productions. It also hosts board game evenings and postnatal groups.

Siv Limstrand baptizes a baby
More baptismal action
A young woman in the church
Two boys sitting

Siv S Limstrand, pastor in Svalbard since 2019, previously worked at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva. She was a student priest at NTNU and HiST in Trondheim for several years, working with people living with HIV / AIDS in central Norway. She also worked as a street priest for the Trondheim City Mission and was responsible for the Church of Our Lady, the evangelistic church in Trondheim.

Limstrand among the crosses in the dark
  • Limstrand in a ceremony in Longyearbyen Cemetery to commemorate the deaths of seven Norwegian miners from the Spanish flu in 1918. Today, people who die in Longyearbyen are airlifted to mainland Norway for burial, as the natural uplift of the permafrost gradually brings the coffins (and bodies) to the surface

Her work has always been forward thinking, with an emphasis on compassion, which is all the more important as she helps the people of Longyearbyen face a multitude of modern challenges. In addition to economic changes, Longyearbyen faces challenges related to climate change due to its extreme northern latitude. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as any other part of the planet, with ice melting rapidly on land and at sea.

Early morning preparations
Student on the phone
Church kitchen
  • A student sitting on the church floor talks on the phone before helping other students organize a board game night. To the right, the kitchen is used to provide coffee, tea and other food. A child helps the priest’s assistant in the kitchen

Circle of parents and children on the floor near the piano
Students playing a board game
Glimmer of light on the horizon

Jerry B. Hatch