ReDi Conference in Oslo
Earlier this month, CCS program staff member Marcie Gibson attended an international conference on Diaconia and Christian social practice held in Oslo, Norway. She described the event as “a different kind of GPE”. (The Global Perspectives Experience is a particular component of the CCS program, where students experience, learn from, and reflect on experiences in a context that is different from their home community for at least 10 days. Students who might be interested in combining a ReDi conference with other organized experiences for their GPE can speak to their CCS primary staff.) These are Marcie’s impressions:
ReDi is the International Society for the Research and Study of Diaconia and Christian Social Practice. The conference was held on one of the campuses of VID Specialized University, which has a variety of degree programs in social work, nursing and healthcare, theology, diakonia, and education. The educational centre is part of a larger campus which includes a long-term care hospital, assisted housing, gardens, a childcare centre, and soon will also include a high school, student housing, and additional assisted housing and community gathering space, all designed with ecological and community sustainability goals. It was a bit wild to be walking around seeing signs for Diakonhjemmet, meaning ‘the home of Diakonia.’ The experience felt both like coming home to a space where diakonia is recognized as a way of walking in the world, and walking into someone else’s home – unfamiliar, if yet inviting – where they had gathered 75 other interesting new friends from around the world. For four days, we walked and talked, listened and ate together.
There were the usual kinds of activities like keynote addresses, including inspiring words from Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (report here), and many amazing research papers and projects discussed. We also had opportunities to experience site visits of diakonia around and near Oslo, learn from the city and the ways people are practicing diakonia there, embodying the conference theme of “Contested Spaces of Diaconia – Seeking Justice, Safety and Well-Being.”
Unlike Diakonia or DOTAC (Diakonia of the Americans and Caribbean), only about 20 of us identified as diaconal practitioners, and only two of us were from the Americas and Caribbean. Others hailed from across Africa, Scandinavia, northern Europe, and a few from east and south Asia. At times it amazed me what I didn’t know and what others didn’t know about diaconal history and practice. The range of people’s connections with diakonia was expansive; professors and academics, denominational leaders, students, political anthropologists and historians, and those in international development, peace and migrant justice work. The church in the world and the world in the church. For some, diakonia was a mostly-secular arm of publicly-funded social service/social practice left from the vestiges of a state-church structure. For others it was a historical Christian lens in need of revival for enacting international cooperation. And others saw it as a practice of the church interacting with the world.
It was amazing to be part of these truly intercultural and interdisciplinary conversations, and to offer my own perspectives from diaconal practice and education informed by the traditions of CCS, Anglican and United Church diaconates, and North American experience. I appreciated the ways that participants were grappling with content and context, models and methods, approaches and actions, responsibility and relationship. Decolonialism, intercultural practice, reparations and racism, ecological crisis and migration were key issues around the table, and will inform the next ReDi conference in 2025, likely to be held in South Africa. Perhaps you’d like to participate in this global perspectives experience – in person or online?