Monday, April 28, 2014

United Methodist Women's Assembly

Lovely to see Emma Cantor (President, DIAKONIA Asia Pacific) taking part in the consecration of 26 Deaconesses on Sunday 27th April, held during the closing service of the UMW Assembly, in the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky. United Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher and Bishop Cynthia Harvey consecrated the new deaconesses. General photos of the UMW Assembly here. Hilary Clinton's address, Wake up the World, can be viewed here.

 (Source: UMW)
Twenty-six women from 18 conferences were consecrated as United Methodist deaconesses during the closing plenary worship of the United Methodist Women’s “Make It Happen!” Assembly in Louisville, Ky., April 27.
Deaconesses and Home Missioners are women and men called by God to lay vocations in a lifetime relationship in The United Methodist Church. Their work alleviates suffering, eradicates causes of injustice and all that robs life of dignity and worth, facilitates the development of full human potential, and shares in building global community through the church universal.
“This class of deaconesses reflects the strength and unity found in the diversity of those who are called to ministries of love, justice and service,” said Becky Louter, executive of United Methodist Women’s Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner program. Among the deaconesses being consecrated during Assembly will be Jolynn “Jody” Bullard Halstead of Central United Methodist Church in Asheville, N.C., who knew early on that her work as a registered nurse at the city’s Haywood Street Respite was more than a day job.
“I have a need to be in uncomfortable places,” she said, explaining that she learned about the deaconess service track while leading Bible study in a local jail. “I’ve known for a while I was to be in mission but didn’t know where.”
When she started working with the Reconciling Haywood Street United Methodist mission church’s respite for homeless adults recently discharged from hospitals, her calling became clear. “All these things God put in my way seem to make it clear that I belong, I fit in at Haywood Respite,” she said. “I’m a RN and faith a community nurse, and I’m in mission,” Ms. Halstead said.

Deaconesses Consecrated in Assembly Closing Worship Deaconess consecrated during Assembly are:

  • Laarni Serquina Bibay, children's health advocate, Tidewater Pediatrics, Portsmouth, Va.
  • M. Garlinda Burton, coordinator of emerging ministries and intersectionality, Hobson United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Kathi Smith Edwards, staff, The Haven Women’s Outreach Center, Clyde, Texas.
  • Elizabeth Cheryl Farr, director of communications, New Albany District, New Albany, Miss.
  • Elizabeth Sevier Graham, outreach director, United Methodist Committee on Relief Sager Brown Depot, Baldwin, La.
  • Jane O. Grays, Outreach Aide, McKendree-Simms-Brookland Outreach House, Washington, D.C.
  • Mae Griner, RN, North Florida Regional Medical Center, Gainesville, Fla.
  • Megan Elizabeth Hale, teacher, Arlington Independent School District, Arlington, Texas.
  • Joylynn Bullard Halstead, RN, program manager, Haywood Street Respite, Asheville, N.C.
  • Barbara L. Haralson, program developer, Graham County Interfaith Care Alliance, Safford, Ariz.
  • Joy de Leon Hayag, community outreach coordinator, Pitter Patter Pantry, Lanark, Ill.
  • Anne Marie Hillman, director of education ministries, First United Methodist Church of Melrose, Melrose, Mass.
  • Pamela Marie Johnson, life skills trainer, Oakridge Residential Services, Brainerd, Minn.
  • Mary Ellen Kris, ministry with the poor consultant, General Board of Global Ministries, New York, N.Y.
  • Jerrie E. Lindsey, court appointed special advocate/administrative assistant, 22nd Judicial District CASA Inc., Ada, Okla.
  • Grace Sy Quimsiam-Mallare, lead teacher, Family Service Association-Hemet Child Development Center, Hemet, Calif.
  • Christina M. Meyer, special education teacher, Rockford Public School District #205, Rockford, Ill.
  • Cecelia Elaine Williams Nelson, registered dietician/nutritionist CitiCare Inc., New York, N.Y.
  • Tracey S. Owens, activity coordinator, Brooks-Howell Home, Asheville, N.C.
  • Anselma Samson, coordinator for leadership development for church and community, Resurrection United Methodist Church, Chesapeake, Va.
  • Elizabeth R. Shadbolt, immigration advisor, Vanderbilt University International Services, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Erie Stuckett, CEO/project director, I Challenge You Inc., Greenville, Miss.
  • Idelia N. Ulmer, environment health specialist, Seeds of Hope, Henry County Environmental Health Services, McDonough, Ga.
  • Judith G. Vasby, coordinator of caring ministries, Willerup United Methodist Church, Cambridge, Wis.
  • Lee Anne Venable, development director, Habitat for Humanity, Baton Rouge, La.
  • Jane H. Wakeman, school psychologist, Bridgeport Connecticut Public Schools, Bridgeport, Conn.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Sunday - He is risen!

God of Creation,
creating anew,
the silence is broken.
With the women in the garden
we catch our breath,
wipe our tears,
and try to articulate our
experience with you.
What words can describe
shadows fleeing from the tomb?
How can we tell of the morning
the world turned upside-down?
No mortal words will do.
Still, we must spread the news:
Christ is risen!
May every breath we take,
every word we utter,
everything we do,
witness to the truth
of Christ’s resurrection.
(Sharlande Sledge, Prayers & Litanies for the Christian Seasons, published by Smyth & Helwys, 1999)

Blessings to all in our DIAKONIA World Federation, as we celebrate the good news of Jesus' resurrection. In grand cathedrals, in small churches, in villages and in cities. In so many different languages and local customs. We are one, in the body of Christ. We are one, in the risen life of Christ. Alleluia!

(If you have photos of your Easter Sunday celebration, it would be great to share them on this website or on the DIAKONIA Facebook page).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

These words come from Neryl McCallum, written for this year's Easter Saturday reflection at Pilgrim Uniting Church.
These words lead us through various stages of grief and loss, as is appropriate for Easter Saturday, the in-between space. Perhaps the words might guide you through the in-between space. It is not the whole picture of Easter - that is still to come on Easter Sunday. But it is a moment in time for Mary of Bethany, caught in the emotions of grief and loss, and yet knowing there is more to come.

Mary of Bethany

I have been here before,
In this in-between space,
This space of uncertainty,
This place of grief.
This place where belief and disbelief collide together
Like waves collide against a rocky shore.
Where you're never certain if you're the shore,
Or if you are the thrashing waves.
Perhaps you are both -
Perhaps you are the moment of collision
Wave crashing into rock,
Rock drowned by wave -
Perhaps you are the emptiness in between
When the wave has resided
And the rock awaits another lashing.

I have been here before,
In this in-between space,
This place of uncertainty,
This place of sorrow;
This twilight place of shadow and light
where gloominess reaches out with fingers of grey
to dim and dull the world,
But where everything is illuminated by a golden touch
that brings forth the stars.
Here you feel the creeping grey
yet you are touched by the gold.
And when you look to the sky
you see a radiance of stars,
But you know they are shining there because it is dark.

I have been to this place before,
This in-between place,
Where what is past, has past,
and what remains, is uncertain.
Where what you have loved is gone,
All breath is gone, all heartbeat is gone,
All speech is gone, embrace is gone;
Yet you remain with your breath, your heartbeat,
with speech, but no words to explain
the aching and longing for one last embrace.

I have been to this place before,
This place, terrible place of abandonment.
Where anger dwells at the loved one's choice
To go passively,
Without a fight,
to simply step into a fate
that would be of no use,
bring about no good,
serve no purose,
other than to destroy the belief
he had instilled in us all,
that life is eternal and has no power over death.

I have been to this place before,
This terrible place of fury.
Where I long to scream at those who ran away,
Curse at those who beat him and hung him high,
Shriek at those manipulating politicians,
Who would not make a stand
against what they knew was wrong,
take revenge on those schemers who planned it all.
This is a place of despair where hatred comes easily.

I have been trapped in this place before,
and it was he, who led me away from here,
away from grief and sorrow,
away from anger and fear,
away from despairing hatred.
It was he who helped me rediscover joy,
who taught me to hope again.
I'm not sure I can leave this place on my own,
yet the lingering scent of my bridal perfume
invades my senses,
and tells me there is more to come
and begs me to go. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday


Today is one of the grey areas of the Christian year
a day when the lights are dimmed
and the sky feels overcast even if it isn't:
a day when theologians and poets feel
as if a heavy veil is drawn over heart and mind.
An inexplicably sad day. 

We resist the grey areas
Prefer to see everything in black and white,
look for cloudless, sunny skies,
throw in a bright colour or two
to try and enliven the scene. 

In the grey light of early morning - 
after a night in the ecclesiastical high court, 
and denial by one of his own circle - 
Jesus sound himself at the gates 
of the reluctant Pilate, who promptly 
tried to hand him back to the Jews. 

And though the sun rose that morning, 
the whole world turned grey for One
who found himself without friend or helper
faced with drinking a cup he'd prayed
would be turned away from him,
knowing that life was about to be drained out of him. 

Here's a day marked by the brokenness of the world
But it is not a day to wallow in misery
or to indulge in morbid thoughts about the crucifixion. 
It is simply a somber, dignified day
when we remember how it was for Jesus,
and find at the foot of the cross
a place to lay down ours and the world's sorrow. 

We are invited to accompany Jesus through this grey day: 
to be witnesses to his suffering,
to keep silence before his cries of dereliction. 
All we are asked to do today is to be present
to the sacred story as it is retold, and
to the inexplicable, mysterious, wondrous
transaction that was, and still is taking place. (adapted, Ann Siddall)

Walking through Holy Week
(Source: Mustard Seed Association)

Maundy Thursday - washing the feet of the disciples

photo: Lisa Polito, Lutheran Deaconess Association

Christ, my Lord,
my Supreme, my Master,
my servant on your knees,
wash my feet.

Let me chafe at the wrongness of it,
and wonder at its grace,
eternally confounded.

For my request,
and for my failure to request,
be gracious to me.
At my feet, come between me
and my pride and self-hatred.

Bathe me in your mercy,
wash away my judging mind,
baptize me in self-emptying,
cleanse me with forgiveness.

That which I withhold in shame
make beautiful.

Christ, for you
who wash the feet of the despised,
who serve and honour your Beloved,
I accept my place.

In every moment of my day,
for every person I meet:
no greater than my master,
may I kneel.

O Christ my Servant,
my Saviour,
wash my feet.
(adapted, Steve Garnaas-Holmes)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thoughts and prayers for Nigeria

It is shocking to learn of the bus station bombing in Nigeria where dozens have been killed (at least 71 according to reports) and 124 wounded. It happened during the morning rush hour. The bus station, 8km southwest of central Abuja, serves Nyanya, a poor, ethnically and religiously mixed satellite town. Nyanya is filled with government and civil society workers who cannot afford Abuja's exorbitant rents.

The attack underscored the vulnerability of Abuja, built in the 1980s in the geographic centre of Nigeria to replace coastal Lagos as the seat of government for what is now Africa's biggest economy and top oil producer.
Boko Haram, which says it is fighting for an Islamic state, has largely been confined to Nigeria's remote northeast. The group has been particularly active in the area over the past few months and is increasingly targeting civilians it accuses of collaborating with the government or security forces. Boko Haram violence has cost more than 1,500 lives already this year, but most of the unrest has affected villages in the remote northeast.
Nigeria is Africa top oil producer and largest economy, but more than 80 percent of the its 170 million people live on less than $2 per day. Analysts say that the Boko Haram unrest has partly stalled economic growth and scared away potential investors.

We hold in our prayers the families of those who have died, and for the nation of Nigeria.
We remember the Christians in Nigeria, where extremists are fighting for an Islamic state.
We remember the Deaconess Order, Methodist Church, Nigeria, and their ministry amongst the poor, vulnerable and needy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Palm Sunday

The large palm leaves have arrived, ready for church on Sunday, and they are already in place at the front of the church. Last week's exploration of the story of the raising of Lazarus gave me a new lens to view the Palm Sunday story, and to reflect on the entrance into Jerusalem. The previous time Jesus had been in Jerusalem (as reported in John's Gospel, just before the raising of Lazarus) the people had picked up stones in order to kill him, and it is reported that they wanted to arrest him but he escaped and crossed the Jordan to the place where John had previously been baptizing - far from the authority and reach of the religious leaders in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is in this remote location, the wilderness, that Jesus learns that Lazarus is sick. To go to Bethany to see Lazarus would have placed him in close proximity to Jerusalem, only 2 miles/3 km away. And when finally he does go to Bethany, Martha comes to him outside the village. Mary is summoned, but unwittingly brings the professional mourners, the 'death people', with her as they thought she was going to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus now finds himself surrounded unexpectedly by people, mainly Judeans, and his location is revealed. He goes to the house of Mary and Martha, and Lazarus, now four days dead, and raises Lazarus to life. Many of the people put their faith in Jesus. Others go the chief priests and Pharisees to tell them what Jesus has done. They ask, 'What should we do? This man is working a lot of miracles. If we don't stop him now, everyone will put their faith in him. Then the Romans will come and destroy our temple and our nation'. Caiphas, the high priest, said, 'You people don't have any sense at all! Don't you know it's better for one person to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed?' From that day on, the council started making plans to put Jesus to death. The powers that be plan to put him to death - the very one who has given life to Lazarus.
The text doesn't say where Jesus heads after the raising of Lazarus, but one would think he would return to the wilderness, and later returning to visit Lazarus, Mary and Martha six days before Passover. The Passover festival, a commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrew people over 3,300 years previously by God from slavery in ancient Egypt was a major celebration and Jesus clearly planned to be in Jerusalem for the festival, even though Jerusalem was a dangerous place for him to be. Mary's anointing of him just before he goes to Jerusalem is as if she is preparing for the day of his burial. It would be hard to imagine that Jesus would have headed to Jerusalem with joy, nor wanting to raise any fuss and attention that might draw unwanted attention to him by the authorities. It is clear that he had a kind of fearlessness, convinced of the mission he had undertaken to realize the reign of God, here and now.
The large crowd heard he was coming and took palm branches and went out to meet him as he arrived. They recognized him as so many others had previously, and shouted out - blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna - save us! 
This year, I have been giving space to contemplate Jesus' entry to Jerusalem - not from the view of the crowd (often considered triumphant, but probably more about longing and profound hope), but of Jesus himself, whose life would be cut short by the authorities - political and religious. 
My contemplation has invited me to consider the many places in the world where political and religious leaders continue to cut short the life and freedom of those who simply want to bring hope and healing to those who suffer, and release for those who are oppressed. To offer salvation - healing and wholeness. In many places, challenges to the power of the authorities result in the brutal quashing of dissent. And yet, there remains so much to challenge - corruption and greed dig deeper and deeper among the seats of power, such that the serving of the 'common good' no longer seems to be the primary responsibility of those who exercise power. We see punitive action against the vulnerable, exploitation of women and children, and justice and human dignity overlooked. People die of diseases that can be easily cured or prevented if we only had the will to do so. The challenges of hunger and food distribution are forgotten, and the plight of human trafficking ignored because it serves the economic market and production chains. Homelessness, unemployment and underemployment continue in rising numbers, as do the number of refugees and asylum seekers in the world.
What is the role of the church in offering salvation - healing and wholeness? In what way do we respond when we sense that there is danger from those in authority and power if we 'beg to differ'? Is there a diaconal imperative for fearlessness in challenging the powers when people's lives are diminished?
Margaret Wheatley writes: Today, in our troubled world, we need all the gifts that fearlessness offers us - love, clear seeing, bravery, intelligent action, perseverance. We can reclaim our vocation to be fully human. We can bring into being the world that Paulo Freire dreamed for us all, “a world in which it will be easier to love.”
I have been following the actions of 5 Christians who were arrested after their group held a prayer vigil in the office of the Australian Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, in reaction to what they described as Australia’s “cruel treatment” of asylum seekers on March 21. All charges have now been dismissed against the group. One member of the group said, “I have witnessed first-hand the conflict and suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine I feel compelled to take action to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers". Another said, “We were praying also for Mr Morrison, not in a way that was condemning or judgemental. We were actually praying that Mr Morrison might have a change of heart. In his maiden speech for Federal Parliament, he gave a really amazing outline of his vision that included justice and compassion for vulnerable people… For us, we were hoping Mr Morrison might have a change of heart and join us.”
This Sunday, Palm Sunday, there will be a 'walk for refugees' in each capital city around Australia, to protest peacefully, and to dissent against harsh actions by the Government. Australia is a democratic country, but there seems to be a hardening of attitudes towards dissent, and a curtailing of opportunities for 'civil disobedience'. Watch this space!

ELCA and the UN Commission on Women

Recently, on the DIAKONIA World Federation Facebook page, Jan Cherry posted a story about  two new, young Deaconesses in the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Clare Josef-Maier and Sister Liz Colver - who were recent participants in the ELCA Young Adult Delegation to the 58th United Nations Commission on Women held annually, representing the LWF and the ELCA.There were 5000+ delegates from all over the world who  gathered in solidarity to uplift critical issues regarding women and girl's rights. Clare and Liz  have written thoughtful, reflections on their experience (along with other reflections form other participants) and you can read them on the link here.