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The Running Pastor: pastor of a religious community and runner

By Sara Canali


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Pastor of a religious community and passionate runner. We’re not talking about two different and antipodal people, but two aspects that coexist in the same body. The Running Pastor tells an unusual story about running, seen as a way to work through your own personal conflicts, but also to lighten those of others.

Being a pastor in the sheep islands seems almost a destiny already written. Yet, there are different types of shepherds who dedicate their lives to looking for the direction to better lead their flock and, through this path, also find themselves, together with their own strength.

The protagonist of The Running Pastor, one of the ten new films presented by the Banff Center Mountain Film Festival World Tour, is Sverri Steinholm, a Lutheran pastor of a small community located in the remote Faroe islands. Fær in the Norse language means “sheep”, while Øer would be a plural form of ø, “island” and he is the spiritual guide of those who live in the village of one of the eighteen islands that form the archipelago located in a stretch of ocean between Iceland and Norway. Wild, harsh and beautiful places, where the number of sheep exceeds the one of the inhabitants and where nature is a protagonist of the people lives and deeply marks them.

Sverri tells about his childhood as a son of a shepherd, he used to run on the slopes to take back the newly born lambs and rebuilding the herd. His vocation, indeed his vocations, must have been born there. Because this evangelical pastor is also a passionate runner who can’t live without this discipline, for him running represents the sum of those moments that he carves out to be able to work through the problems of others, which he often takes charge of and that he is forced to keep secret.

Because “people need to talk to someone who stay silent”, he says during the movie. So he takes his running shoes and starts running, better if that day the weather is a bit adverse, better if the conditions are harsh, because it is in those moments that he feels the strength standing out and he can better focus on what he has always known.

“We are small human beings who move on a land that can do whatever it wants to us” and the alternating images of the island want to remind us of this, while taking us up and down the rugged exposed slopes of the Faroe Islands. While running Sverri Steinholm finds spiritual comfort and refuge from his personal conflicts and his priesthood burdens, but at the same time finds the peace that only nature can transmit.

And so he runs and faces climbs; his run is compulsive, he can’t help it, it’s like a nourishment for body, soul and mind, he says. It becomes a sort of race and every time he is assailed by doubts: “Why am I so stupid to do this?”. And like all runners he repeats: “I will never do it again”. Then of course this doesn’t happen: he ties his shoes again and does it again. And again. A need, a nourishment for body and soul, a domineering desire that comes back to knock at his door every time the head gets in the way, as an instinct to go up. When he looks at this need with rationality, he refers to running as an “hobby”, fun and, again, a way to stay in shape, but he knows that it is not only that. In the same way that Sverri Steinholm is not only himself, he is not only a man, but he becomes a guide, a pastor, a point of reference in the hospital, in prison, he becomes the confessor, the one to trust with secrets, sufferings, the innermost thoughts. An indissoluble duo that he wears exactly like the function clothes and his Merrell running shoes, two suits of the same person. The same person that listens and stores stories when is in front of his people and then he lets go through laughs, cries when it is in front of nature. A forty kilometers round trip, on an island in the middle of the deep north.

Having everything while not having much, in a simple life where the rhythm is marked by the steps of every run and where happiness does not come at a high price, it is within everyone’s reach if you can take what you get. And then, as every happiness requires, Sverri also sings while running. What? Psalms. “Now they come also in the Black Metal version”, he says. And intones a Hamferð song, “Harra Guð, títt dýra navn og æra”, which in English means “God the Lord, Your Precious Name and Honour”, the same one that he has in his thoughts as he runs on the crests of that plateau which is what remains of the erosion of storm and sea. Where the wind beats strongly and the fog is the constant companion of every day. Where the sky is almost always overcast and the sun is a luxury of a few hours a year. Where you feel the force of nature that can hit you at every moment and where you must accept to be part of this game to really understand who you are.

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