Deacons, diaconal ministers find connections in work
|A UMNS photo by Sharon Rubey
Diakonia World Assembly participants leave Durham Cathedral after a world celebration worship.
Aug. 17, 2005
A UMNS Feature
By Vicki Brown*
Some 400 deacons,
diaconal ministers, and deaconesses from 31 countries struggled with
language barriers and financial differences but still managed to find a
common thread in their work of servant ministry during a worldwide
“Diaconal ministry is
about the church itself being on the margins, looking at what it might
mean to be a marginalized church, instead of seeking out people to work
on the margins on behalf of the church,” said the Rev. Sharon Rubey,
director of candidacy and conference relations at the United Methodist
Board of Higher Education and Ministry. “I think it is a challenge
that we as deacons are called to communicate to the whole church.”
Deacons from at least
10 denominations, including United Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians
and Presbyterians, found inspiration for their work during the 19th
World Assembly of DIAKONIA World Federation in Durham, England, July
The theme of the
meeting, “Diakonia at the Margins — Challenge and Hope,” spoke to some
of the challenges of the meeting itself, as well as the bombings that
took place in London and Egypt in July.
Williams, a Lutheran who is president of the World Assembly, named five
priorities for the group, beginning with overcoming language and
communication difficulties, Rubey said.
“There are five or six
major languages spoken, not to mention tribal dialects,” Rubey said.
This year, materials were translated into German and English, but a
pledge was made to have translations in five languages at the next world
assembly in 2009.
Williams cited were addressing the uneven financial status of deacons
from different regions, helping young people capture the spirit of
diaconal ministry, recognizing the history of the diakonia and fostering
grass-roots connections, Rubey said.
The Rev. Anita Wood,
the agency’s director of professional ministry development, said deacons
often feel they are working alone, and she believes the assembly gave
those who attended a sense of unity and support for the work they are
“There’s a great
contrast in the type of diaconal workers,” she said. “For instance, you
have deaconesses in Germany who still dress in habits, almost like a
nun, and they pledge to be celibate. That’s one end of the spectrum. At
the other end are deacons who work outside the church, like an
Australian who drives an all-terrain vehicle around to visit people in
the bush country of the outback.”
Despite the wide
variety of diaconal workers across countries and denominations, Wood
said deacons still find they have a great deal in common.
“They are serving the
same kinds of needs in health care, education, community involvement
issues, although the needs may be unique to the setting,” Wood said.
|A UMNS photo by Sharon Rubey
at the Diakonia World Assembly celebrate Holy Communion at the ancient
ruins of a monastery on Holy Island in England.
Both Wood and Rubey
said the group spent time in prayer for victims of the July 7 terrorist
bombings and that many of those at the meetings had relatives or friends
who lived or were visiting in London.
“Here was a worldwide
gathering going on, talking about how to build up trust with people at
the margins. It was in total contrast to what was happening with the
bombings,” Wood said.
Diane Wasson Eberhart,
deacon at Grinnell United Methodist Church in Grinnell, Iowa, said she
was impressed by the resurgence of the ministry of diakonia in several
“It was amazing to hear
about the variety of ministries provided in over 30 countries
represented,” Eberhart said. She, too, was struck by the differences
between the people from different countries and denominations, including
the fact that some were laypeople and some ordained clergy.
“All feel called to
live out the servant ministry of Jesus Christ,” she said. “People serve
in major cities and rural villages, but all work with those whom society
has sometimes forgotten.”
*Brown is an associate
editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation at the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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