Highlights of World Diakonia

The 2017 Assembly of the Diakonia World Federation was held in Chicago, from June 28 to July 5 July, 2017.  Many CCS staff members, alumni, and friends were in attendance.  Lori Stewart offers reflections on the gathering…

On the first morning of the World Diakonia Federation gathering I was among an excited, colourful group of members, gathered on the sidewalk in anticipation of the start of a procession into the building where we would hold our meetings for the coming week.

Preparing for World Diakonia procession

Yolly, a deaconess from the Philippines, introduced herself and took a selfie with me—I felt like I was among friends.  That initial experience carried through the whole conference.  There were friends there that I hadn’t met yet, for sure, but each of the conversations I had started from a place of familiarity.   We held in common not only our calling to diakonia, but also a depth of purpose as people who follow Jesus out of the church and into the community.  Knowing that there are sisters and brothers all over the world who share the joys and struggles of this commitment, is heartening in the midst of my own!

The conference itself was multi-faceted,  as were the participants.  One of my favourite experiences was the family-style dinner on Sunday evening.  I was seated with Misty, William, Ann, and Karen at beautifully set tables.  The salad was in a big bowl which we passed around and served ourselves from.  Place cards invited us to share memories of other meals with our tablemates.  Memories included warm conversation at family tables and awkward experience at a formal dinners with strangers.  Somehow remembering these meals led to conversation about where we were from, what we liked to do for fun, and how diaconal vocation was expressed for each of us.  The tasty meal gave an opportunity to talk easily with new friends.

a meal with diaconal friends

I invited other participants from the United Church of Canada to share their reflections on the breadth of our life together in Chicago, from June 28 to July 5.

  • World DIAKONIA was such a wonderful, growing experience! I’m still reveling in my learnings.  Terrie Chedore
  • I loved being in our community within a global community – I don’t think the experience would have been as rich for me if there had only been one or two other DUCC members in attendance.  Being immersed in the diversity of the global diaconate was transformative – to be and feel in community with so many different expressions of diakonia. It challenges the temptation to equate unity with same-ness. Michelle Owens
Diakonia is international
  • I especially liked having conversations with people from other countries. It struck me that in countries like Kenya, the Church is literally saving lives. I was impressed with the commitment of women who belong to deaconess orders, and who live in community with one another. It was clear to me that the people gathered together in Chicago wanted to live in a completely alternative way from the kind of fearful living that is being encouraged by people like Donald Trump and his ilk.
    There were two evening worship services that really made an impact on me. One was the healing service. I was really moved when I saw so many people coming forward for healing. The other service I really liked was the jazz service, especially the gospel singing.
    The theme of the conference was “Shaken by the Wind”. I really was shaken by the winds of the Spirit. Even though the conference ended more than a month ago, I am still reflecting on things we discussed and experienced. I am very glad I attended that conference.  Kent Gibbons
Worship at the Diakonia World Assembly
  • A week before the World DIAKONIA Assembly in Chicago, Scott Vickery, (United Methodist Home Missioner, runner, father, special education teacher, and Mississippi story-teller) took ill and was not going to be able to attend the event. Scott was scheduled to provide significant leadership at the Assembly and I was invited to step into his  — physically and metaphorically — considerably large shoes.  I was honoured to work with my soul sisters, Lisa Polito (Executive Director, Lutheran Deaconess Association) and Noreen Stevens (Directing Deaconess, ELCA Deaconess Community), in providing facilitation and coordination responsibilities.  They called me Ins-Ted.
    Working with these wonderful women, and the World DIAKONIA President Sandy Boyce, presented me with such a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth. I felt connected to such diverse and rich expressions of the diaconia.  We also laughed a lot.  As I step into the role of DUCC (Diakonia of The United Church of Canada) representative on the Central Committee of DOTAC (Diakonia of the Americas and the Caribbean) and one of the DOTAC representatives on the World Executive, I am humbled, and blessed, to be trusted with these responsibilities. And I appreciate the chance to grow and learn as I take on this work on your behalf.  Ted Dodd
  •  I loved the opportunity to photograph and document so many more diaconal symbols!  They really portray for me the diversity and richness of World Diakonia.  Sharilyn Upsdell
Diaconal banners
  • Reverend Dr. Deaconess Gwen Sayler leading bible study about the resistance to Babylonian imperialism, woven within the text of Creation, Genesis 1.  Seeing how our language sets a tone for human dignity. “We turn to God when our foundations are shaking; only to realize that it is God who is shaking them.” – engaging with folks from 4 different continents in one small circle, who are looking to do ministry & church differently.  Marcie Gibson
  • World Diakonia Assembly in Chicago was again an important time in my reaffirmation of the significant contribution the ministry of diakonia makes and it could increase its contribution in making the world a better place and strengthening the church. The keynote presentations and ensuing discussions about about the leadership diaconal ministers do and can do in promoting and strengthening the church’s leadership reaffirmed the clarity of thought and direction that is taking place globally.  Having so many DUCCs at the World Assembly will hopefully be a milestone in DUCC’s understanding and commitment of its role in this global community of leaders.  Eric King
symbols of diakonia
  • This was my second Diakonia World Assembly.  As before, I was amazed at the variety of expressions of the diaconate from across denominations and across the world, but this time I was less overwhelmed by how exotic some of them seemed, and more aware of their distinctiveness – thanks to my association with CCS where I  learned so much about the world community and the origins and development of that ministry.
    I had an excellent experience of my small group which gave such a cross section of the participants – someone from The Episcopalian Church of the USA, two Lutherans from the USA, a lovely man from Switzerland who served on the board of Diakonia World Federation, a diaconal sister from Madagascar, a Methodist deaconess from Jamaica, and a couple of others.  It was a microcosm of the larger gathering.
    I appreciated the variety of expressions of worship, in smaller gatherings in the morning, and in plenary gatherings in the evening, representing a wide range of faith traditions within Christianity, yet holding us together in unity. 
    Another highlight were some of the workshops, especially the one by Laura Hunter on “Deep Diakonia” – it will take some time to process the challenges and insights from that.  And the one on Images of Diakonia that Ted Dodd and I facilitated.  Will I ever forget the tender experience of a deaconess sister from Egypt bending down to wash my feet, and then reversing places so I could do the same for her.
    I guess what this says is that though the numbers were huge and overwhelming, the magic was in the intimate moments of one-to-one conversations and small groups.  Maylanne Maybee
  • World DIAKONIA means for me a re connection with friends I have made along the way and discovering new friends and sharing stories of diaconal ministry, supporting one another. laughing, crying and enjoying the diversity of diakonia. This was my sixth World Gathering and I thank people like Margaret Fulton who encouraged me to attend and Eric Tusz who invited me to do a workshop in Wolfville and Katherine Hockin who encouraged me to ask questions about process and inclusion. This time there were over 30 DUCC’s at World DIAKONIA, the largest number since I have been involved in World and it was a joy to witness the excitement of folks engaging with other participants and to see so many DUCC’s involved in leadership. The ecumenical flavour of the gathering is always interesting and sometimes challenging with a variety of theologies and worship styles, however we can always find a way to share the bread and wine/grape juice. I was very touched that the service of installation I wrote some years ago for World DIAKONIA is still being used. It is based on the UCC of Canada’s installation service for Moderator’s and Conference Presidents. This time I particularly enjoyed the three speakers especially the first speaker who named the elephant in the room, the current US president’s policies, and we had opportunity in the small groups to reflect on the implications of his words for our various ministries and the realities that he raised not only for the US but how they are connected to other parts of the world. The final worship service still closes with that wonderful song ‘We Are Marching’ as we dance and sing around the room leaving the conference knowing we are connected marching for justice, kindness and peace in this world.  Linda Ervin
We are marching in the light of God!
  • Meeting my roommate and so many others from countries all over the world and hearing what they do was the absolute highlight.  Reta my room mate was from Barbados and had started on her own Mercy Mission in Haiti which trains women to learn how to design and make clothing for a living.  More recently her conference in the United Methodist church has offered support for her to create similar projects.  I also found it most insightful and helpful to learn about all of the different ways denominations support Diaconal ministry structurally. Some are ordained to social ministries, nurses, teachers, social workers and “owned” by the church as part of it’s work in the world.  Others do their work as volunteer lay ministers.
    I hope that the United Church of Canada will rethink and reorganise  its structures to embrace and  promote diakonia i.e. its participation in God’s mission in the world.  Denise Davis-Taylor

Diakonia - Chicago 2017 logo

One Reply to “Highlights of World Diakonia”

  1. A truly inspiring experience. This was the first DUCC and World Diakonia Conference I have been able to attend. I was reminded of the importance of connection with other Diaconal people to ground myself in the richness of service. I found good challenge in conversations to see that as Diakonia in the United Church of Canada when we practice our ministry as primary ministers of congregations we must not forget our Diaconal teachings and attitudes in our work. It was a joy to be in the company of DUCC friends again and meeting some for the first time. Shaken, stirred and inspired.

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