Colorful Jofrid Landa makes a splash in New York
At home at the Seamen’s Church in Manhattan
Colorful Jofrid Landa is pastor at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York. The girl from Finnøy outside Stavanger, Norway, has chosen a life based on faith and service to others. With a burning desire to convey hope and spread joy wherever she is, she brings together Norwegians in the global metropolis and Norwegian students throughout North America.
Vibrant, cheerful, and with a spark for life, with an infectious laugh and big curly red hair that she leaves untamed, Jofrid Landa cannot avoid being noticed, be it in meetings as pastor at the Seamen’s Church in New York, as chaplain for Norwegian students in North America – or among New Yorkers and Norwegians. She is also not a woman who has taken the straight path. The search for security, a husband, children, and a house has never been her life goal. Instead, she has been faithful to her heart and her Christian faith—something that has led her on an unexpected but exciting path, not least professionally.
“Originally, I come from the small island of Finnøy outside Stavanger, where I grew up with four siblings on a farm with cows and sheep. My family was Christian, and during my upbringing, I belonged to a so-called bedehus (prayer house) community. Faith has followed me since then, and the good and safe upbringing has also shaped me. Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a desire to travel – and I never plan with a long-term perspective. This last point has probably been decisive for the choices I have made,” she says.
“It was never in my wildest imagination that I would become a pastor, but somehow, the path just formed along the way,” she adds when we meet her at the Seaman’s Church in one of the world’s busiest metropolises.
Wanderlust and the path to diaconia
The path from Finnøy, with a few thousand inhabitants, to New York’s 9 million has been filled with coincidences, but it also shows that Jofrid has not exactly been afraid to take a chance. Like her siblings, she could have chosen a safe and predictable life with a husband and children on the small island where she grew up, but Jofrid did not choose the standard path. Wanderlust and curiosity were almost innate, and at just 15 years old, she moved from Finnøy to attend high school. After finishing school, she turned her gaze toward the wider world.
“I wanted to learn more French, and I spent a year in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. There, I worked for a year as an au pair for a family with three children aged 5, 9, and 11 in Geneva. It was in Switzerland I first came into contact with the Norwegian Seamen’s Church. Although Geneva is not a port city, they had a seaman’s church there, and I often went there in my free time to meet other Norwegian au pairs. The environment was welcoming; there was much social interaction, waffles, and brunost (brown cheese). When my time as an au pair was over, I returned to Norway to learn more French. I have always been a Francophile and studied commercial French in Halden at Østfold University College. I spent one of my semesters in France, but during the two years of the program, I grew weary. I wanted to do something in service to others and learned that the Seamen’s Church needed staff. I sent in a general application and was offered a job in Antwerp,” she tells us.
The environment she encountered there was different than she had anticipated. Most of those who visited the Seamen’s Church were long-distance truck drivers who stopped for a breather, coffee, and a friendly chat. The church became their second home on their journey through Europe. Outreach work among Norwegian seafarers on ships docked in Antwerp was also part of her work responsibilities. Seafarers on cargo ships and tankers were invited to the church, but they rarely had time to go ashore. Instead, Jofrid was sent out to establish contact.
“I was only in my mid-20s, and it probably drew some attention when I boarded the first ship in a skirt, sandals, backpack, and helmet on my head. I was better prepared the next time. Sometimes I wasn’t very confident as I drove around the huge container depots in a tiny car. There were few women among the crew on the ships, but I was always well received. It was especially popular that I brought local Norwegian newspapers. The crew on the boats had often sailed for a long time, and they appreciated visits, both socially and for access to news from the home country. During the four years I worked in Antwerp, it became increasingly clear to me that I liked working with people, and that diaconia could be a way to go. After four years in the Seamen’s Church, I chose to return home to Norway and get a master’s degree in diaconia. I was approaching 28 years old,” Jofrid tells us.
Falling in love with New York
Diaconia is the church’s care service, where the gospel in action is expressed through neighborly love, inclusive community, protection of God’s creation, and the fight for justice. Diaconal work shifts with time and place, in encounters with people facing adversity, crises, and poverty. For a time, Jofrid worked at a diaconal organization in Oslo. It was around this time that she saw a contest in a fashion magazine to award Norway’s coolest hairstyle! A friend was adamant that Jofrid, with her splendid red curls, participate and took a picture of her, which Jofrid submitted. The voting took place online and on social media, and Jofrid made it to the final round. She ended up winning, and the prize was a long weekend in New York for two.
“I took my friend with me, and we set off, excited and expectant, on a cold February day in 2013. From the first moment, I fell in love with the fantastic city, the atmosphere, and the people. I knew someone who worked at the Seamen’s Church, and we went for a visit. There we were met with heartwarming hospitality and, of course, freshly made waffles with brunost – but never in my wildest imagination did I foresee that one day I would come to work there as a pastor,” she tells us.
Crossing a threshold
Back home after the trip to New York, Jofrid felt her wanderlust further stirred. She was offered a job at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Copenhagen, a three-month assignment that led to a permanent position. During her time in the Danish capital, she was ordained as a deacon. The ordination took place on May 18 in the constitutional jubilee year 2014, the day after a formidable May 17 celebration with 8,000–9,000 attendees. Eventually, one of the pastors in the Seaman’s Church challenged her to get a degree in chaplaincy.
“During my time in Copenhagen, I did work to care for the sick and others in need in the church. I visited many elderly Norwegians who lived in the city, and I was also challenged to lead church services. But there was a lot of resistance in me to the idea of clerical training. Nevertheless, a seed was planted. I had a lot of knowledge about the Seamen’s Church and a lot of experience from voluntary parish work, but I felt clergy was a high threshold to cross. In addition, I grew up with conservative attitudes at home. There had never been a woman pastor on Finnøy. It was a kind of a job reserved for men.
“Still, the thought of becoming a pastor triggered something in me, a calling from God, I would say, and I began to look into what was required. I already had a master’s degree in diaconia. I applied and was approved by a committee in the Church of Norway and thus could apply for admission to the Faculty of Theology to study practical theology.”
The studies in practical theology led Jofrid to being ordained as a pastor in 2021 (to work as a Seamen’s Church pastor in New York). It took place in Oslo Cathedral, under Bishop Kari Veiteberg in the Diocese of Oslo. The city had recently been closed down for the pandemic, and at the time, only 20 people were allowed to be present at events. Just days before the ordination, the requirement was fortunately raised to 200!
“It was a great moment to see everyone who showed up in the church after the long closure, including my family and many friends. It warmed my heart and was a powerful experience,” says Jofrid.
New York next
The Norwegian Seamen’s Church falls under the Dicoese of Bjørgvin in Bergen, and almost by a twist of fate, the position as pastor at the Seamen’s Church in New York was vacant. And Jofrid got the position. On Sept. 7, 2021, she moved to New York, the city she had fallen in love with 10 years earlier. The COVID-19 pandemic was still ongoing, and the first months were characterized by strict restrictions. Before society reopened, face masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizing was a part of life in New York. In addition to the position as pastor at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York, since early last year, she has also held the position of chaplain for Norwegian students in North America. She is constantly traveling and meets Norwegian students in the United States and Canada. Additionally, she leads services and officiates at confirmations and weddings.
In addition to daily tasks at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, she participates in organizing social and cultural offerings. Norwegians in New York—whether permanent residents, students, or people who are there for shorter periods of time—regard the Seaman’s Church as a friendly gathering place. Among the many offerings are celebrations during holidays and activities for young and old – rice porridge or risengrynsgrøt on Saturdays and fresh waffles daily, except on Mondays, when the church is closed. The church even has its own store that sells Norwegian food items. Here you can find, among other things, makrell i tomat, fiskeboller, Solo, milk chocolate, and much more that a Norwegian far from home would wish for. And there is no doubt that Pastor Jofrid is popular. She spreads good cheer and takes the time to talk to people who stop by. She lives in an apartment on the fifth floor of the church, which is centrally located in Midtown Manhattan, between the East River and the southeastern corner of Central Park.
What does New York mean to you?
“It’s an incredibly cool city with many opportunities and high energy. In New York, there is almost no limit to what one can do. Every time I’m out traveling as chaplain to Norwegian students, it feels good to come home to New York.
“I have moved around a lot in my life and adapt and adjust wherever I am at any given time. Yet New York is something special. For one, the city is teeming with cultural offerings for every taste. I personally love jazz, and there are loads of jazz clubs with world-class musicians. If I have time, I also like to go to concerts with other talented artists. Not long ago, for example, I experienced the group Coldplay, together with 80,000 spectators at one of the big arenas. And for one of Norway’s biggest A-ha fans, it was also fantastic to experience them live at Radio City Music Hall. The diversity, the fact that the city is a melting pot of different cultures and all kinds of nationalities, gives it a certain pulse – and a great degree of freedom,” she says.
Do you get extra attention because you’re a pastor?
“Sometimes I get certain reactions when I tell people I’m a pastor. But mostly I get attention because of my hair! Generally, Americans are easy to talk to, and they are good at giving compliments. Besides, I know many different types of people who are pastors. I feel that we live in a time where we are not so colored by prejudices.”
You haven’t exactly chosen to follow the herd. What do you think about the way forward?
“I’m not a long-term planner, but in 2024 I will be chaplain for Norwegian students in North America in a 100% position. It’s a rewarding job that I look forward to. As student chaplain, one of the responsibilities is to be close by during crises and accidents and to provide care and support in everyday life. For a student chaplain, it is important to build relationships and be someone the Norwegian students can talk to. To be a contact person and a link, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the student organization ANSA [Association of Norwegian Students Abroad].
“Some Norwegian students in the United States may experience loneliness, high demands, stress, heartache, and concern for their family back home in Norway, and things happen at that age that can be psychologically challenging. For example, studies show that one in five students think about suicide or engage in self-harm. In the role of student chaplain, I can be a constructive, supportive, and caring conversation partner for everyone, regardless of worldview. If necessary, the student organization ANSA also has its own psychologists to whom I can refer. Otherwise, much of the work as student chaplain is about making contact, participating in various student events, and arranging welcoming social gatherings that provide a sense of security and build relationships.
“Being young and foreign in the United States can be challenging. At the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York, we also work on projects aimed at young people. Students can come here and get to know each other and feel a sense of unity and feel that someone cares. We arrange social gatherings, everything from Christmas dinners to taco evenings and rooftop barbecues. Events that help them find their place and make new friends.”
What has faith meant to you?
“That’s a big question. Faith has been there throughout my life, even though it has changed through my own life experiences. Faith gives me peace, and it provides safety in a world full of demands and expectations. Especially during crises, or when life is tough, it’s good to feel God’s presence. Keywords for me when it comes to faith are grace, feeling loved, and finding peace. For me, God is hope, the one who carries me, but also joy. Of course, I have had periods of doubt, but faith in God is never completely gone – and it is wonderful to read Bible stories that testify that Jesus’ disciples also doubted. To doubt is human. Life can be brutal and unfair, and I meet people who experience suffering and deep sorrow. As pastor, it is important not to judge, but to be supportive and convey God’s grace and love,” says Jofrid.
Do you never miss settling down and having a family?
“Actually, it’s not a longing I feel yet. I seek freedom and don’t think longterm. But I am open to what comes, and I think I could also meet a man with wanderlust. The most important thing for me is to be able to serve God and people where I am now, to convey hope, and spread joy,” says Jofrid Landa.
Translated by Ragnhild Hjeltnes
Originally published in Tara magazine. Translated and reprinted with author’s permission.
The Seamen’s Church in New York
The Seamen’s Church was founded on Aug. 31, 1864, in Bergen, Norway. Today there are 29 churches located around the world, plus several itinerant seamen’s chaplains, offering services for both students and offshore workers.
The Seaman’s Church in New York is one of the oldest, established in 1878. Since then, the church has been housed in four different buildings. Today, it is located at 317 East 52nd Street in Manhattan under the name King Olav V’s Church.
The church is a religious, cultural, and social gathering place for Norwegians and an important link between Norway and Norwegians in the United States. Since it opened its doors over 140 years ago, it has been an active meeting place for everything from Norwegian language classes to book launches, toddlers’ meetups, rice porridge meals, Christmas and 17th of May celebrations, church services, concerts, and weddings – in addition to providing support services.
In connection with the church, there is also a separate art gallery – the Trygve Lie Gallery–with exhibitions by Norwegian and American artists.
Every day, the Seamen’s Church serves waffles and coffee, and on Saturdays, there are rice porridge and juice. In the church store, there is a large selection of Norwegian food items for those who long for home.
The church also has several apartments that are rented out as tourist accommodations. Here you can stay safely and comfortably in the heart of Manhattan.
All photos by Esten Borgos
This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.