Friday, May 30, 2014

Community of Lutheran Deacons (CLD) Annual Meeting 2014

The Community of Lutheran Deacons (CLD) will hold its Annual Meeting from May 30 - June 2, 2014. The Community of Lutheran Deacons includes men who are deacons or deacon students (*). The CLD meets annually for worship, business and growth. These are typically four-day events. Please hold them in your prayers.

          Deacon Students 2013

(Source: LDA) In 2011, the Lutheran Deaconess Association Board of Directors voted to accept men into the LDA's diaconate.  Creation of a community of men as part of the LDA diaconate grows out of the church’s understanding that every Christian is called to a life of diaconal service. The church sets apart diaconal leaders to guide, encourage, and assist Christians in that service.
Three men began their education and formation process at the spring student seminar in 2012. They joined 20 deaconess students scattered around the country. These three men began forming the CLD (Community of Lutheran Deacons).
  • Ben Ema is a nursing student at Valparaiso University from St. Louis, MO.   Ben is the first CLD President.
  • Elliott Stephenson is Director of Youth and Family Ministries for a congregation in Mitchell, SD.  He is married and a Valparaiso University alum.
  • Steve Arnold is a chaplain living in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.
In Spring 2013, two more men were accepted into the LDA's program:
  • Andrew Stoebig, a Valparaiso University alum, has a Master's in choral conducting, loves liturgy and sings professionally.  He spent several months in Germany prior to joining the LDA's program.
  • Jack Walter joins the LDA in mid-life.  He's using his professional training and career in the law to inform his Kairos prison ministry - his true calling.  And, Jack is married to a deaconess and they live in Northwest Indiana.
These five members of the deacon community are all students in deacon formation and anticipate consecration over the next few years. Within their small band, they represent a flexible range of diaconal interests: education, spiritual direction, gerontology, youth work, nursing, music and liturgy. They hail from Minnesota, Indiana, and South Dakota.

Rev (Deac) Dr Ted Dodd (Centre for Christian Studies, United Church of Canada) was a guest at the second annual retreat of CLD in 2013. He reflected: "These men are in the process of initiating a parallel community with the Lutheran Deaconess Association (LDA). During our time together, we pondered the nature of community. This new group wanted to discuss the kind of values and assumptions they brought to community life. In one of my presentations I asked them to consider a series of “both/and” polarities as marks of community. I hoped these tensions would not just denote dualistic thinking or competing tensions but rather opportunities for finding ways of balancing, or perhaps ideally  integrating, these points usually seen as opposites on a continuum". (See link here)

Members of the Lutheran Deacon community along with guests and hosts

 (*) The Lutheran Deaconess Conference (LDC) includes women who are deaconesses or deaconess students. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

KAIRE: Pilgrims with a burning heart

KAIRE comes to Minsteracres

Kaire is an ecumenical body related to DIAKONIA, and meets every two or three years. 
This year, a group of 41 nuns, deaconesses and an ordained Anglican minister of every Christian denomination came together at Minsteracres in May for their three-yearly meeting. Following on from their recent meetings in Italy, Germany and Switzerland, the north east of England was chosen as the cradle of British Christianity.
Meaning rejoice (it was the first word of the angel’s greeting to Mary: “Rejoice so highly favoured. The Lord is with you”), Kaire is an inter-confessional group of people in monastic, diaconal or active service in their church, who are moved by the Spirit to a conversion to prayer, to one another and to unity.
Many of the women are superiors in Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant communities, and come together as a group to maintain a dynamic between the structures of the church and the spiritual life by prayer, study and friendship.
The aim of the meeting, with this year’s theme ‘Pilgrims with a burning heart’, is to be a focus of communion to discover again the thing which is at the heart of their vocations; to encourage an ecumenical and spiritual experience in the service of humankind; and to be a ferment in society in the discernment of church unity.
“What characterises us all is longing for reconciliation and renewed communion in the Church and among the churches,” explains Sr Alice Reuter, secretary to the group.
Their approach certainly struck a chord with Sr Therese O’Regan, one of Minsteracres’ community, “I’m thrilled to meet this group for the first time,” she said. “In their living witness of church unity they represent what I aspire to as a woman in the church.”
 Source: Minsteracres

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Area Deaconess Conference - Istanbul

Istanbul Lutheran Church
The history of the Istanbul Lutheran Church goes back to the year 1709 when the first Lutheran pastor was sent to Constantinople from Sweden. In modern Turkey, the Istanbul Lutheran Church was founded in 2003. Some Finnish Lutherans had been working in Turkey since the beginning of the 1970s, but during those years they couldn’t really think about having a Lutheran congregation living there. In the beginning of this millennium, Finnish people living in Istanbul saw that it was now possible to start a Lutheran congregation, to come together and have public services. They started in the old Lutheran chapel with services in Finnish. People invited their friends and neighbours to attend. Gradually they started to translate the service and sermon into the Turkish language. In 2002, the first pastor was called to serve the congregation in Istanbul—Risto Soramies. He could preach in Turkish. He completed the enormous work of founding the church. Today, he is the bishop of the Mission Province in Finland.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Congratulations, Robin!

Deaconess Robin Hughes was consecrated on 11th May at Bethesda-on-the-Bay Lutheran Church in Bay Village, Ohio. Robin had previously completed a social work degree, a natural fit for diaconal ministry. Robin has been a distance student through Valparaiso University, completing on-line courses and chaplaincy training. She has been serving in an internship as visitation minister in a congregation. Congratulations, Robin!
(Lutheran Deaconess Association)

Reflections on Lectionary reading: Acts 2:42-47 (May 11th, 2014)

'From the very beginning, we find the early Christians gathering together to share with each other the bewildering experiences that they have had with the risen Christ. They found that resurrection was not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared'. (Walter Wink, Resonating with God's Song). 'Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us. That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love when we see death and destruction and agony around us. We say it together. We affirm it in each other'. (Henri Nouwen, Finding my way home). 

Acts 2 describes a community engaged in active economic sharing that goes far beyond charity: 'All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need' (Acts 2:44-45). They shared in the breaking of the bread, where they recognized afresh the risen Christ present with them. They practiced generosity and hospitality. They practiced service to the 'least of these', and economic justice and non-violence. The community gathered around study, fellowship, worship and agape love. It is evident that God's Holy Spirit had empowered this early Christian community to live a collective life that reflected the model of servant ministry of Jesus.

And this description of a utopian vision of community lasts for five verses - and is not mentioned again as such in the biblical narrative! But in time, it has become idealized, much like Mothers Day* has become. It doesn't tell the whole story.

'Interpreters since the Reformation have proposed that the Acts description of the early church community offered a symbolically idealized portrait of communal life, that these verses describe practices that were necessarily short-lived and limited in scope'. (Rita Halteman Finger, Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the book of Acts). Certainly, the early church community had its strengths as well as its fractures and conflict (the latter permeates the Epistles). And the story in Acts 5 (Ananias and Sapphira) provides the sobering reality of fraud and dishonesty and opportunism that still emerges from time to time in the global church community. The Bishop of Bling comes to mind!

And looking beyond the immediacy of the early church community to the wider context, we see the way this fledgling sect of Judaism adapted quickly to the social and political norms in which it found itself. Women's leadership was marginalized, despite women being amongst the benefactors for the early church. Slaves were told to accept the authority of their masters, even when they are harsh, and to endure suffering. The inclusion and advocacy for the disadvantaged had limits, especially as the church moved from the periphery as a marginal sect of Judaism to being appropriated as the state religion by Constantine. If conforming to the Roman Empire was costly in terms of what happened with the leadership of women, one can imagine the costliness to the integrity of the Christian faith and its traditions and practices when it was appropriated as the religion of the empire.

The story told in Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, where according to Eusebius it built structures and hierarchies until it became something that fitted in nicely with the Roman Empire. Does this say something about the way the Christian Church accommodates societal structures and expectations?

It invites me to wonder about the way the Gospel is constantly being aligned with and subsumed into the prevailing social and political and economic realities of our time, rather than offering a challenge to assumptions and values that are embedded in practices and behaviours that denigrate or damage people. How might the Gospel enable the church to hold a mirror up to societal values and then reveal an alternate way - the way of Jesus. Even when it means losing power and privilege, and even financial support (government taxes and grants given to the church). Just maybe, the church can be most effective when it is on the margins, rather than in the centre with its accompanying power and privilege that can effectively compromise the integrity of the Gospel?

God is re-revealing to us the radical message of Jesus - a message of transformation through service, sacrifice and selfless love for our neighbours, enemies and ourselves. A message of humility and simplicity as the way of abundance and eternal life. Christians have never meant to be the ones in power. In fact, history shows us that anytime Christianity is given a position of power and influence, it quickly departs from the Gospel of Jesus. Christianity is the religion that proclaims a God who humbled God-self and entered into creation, taking the form of a servant - who touched the untouchables and spoke sharp truth that exposed those in power. Christianity is a religion centred on the subversive power of love and sacrifice, not power and wealth. (Brandan Robertson, posted on Sojourners website)

Just because Acts 2 has become idealized does not mean it can easily be dismissed. The description of the early church community in Acts 2 anchors humanity's deepest hopes for community, justice, generosity, and meaning specifically as a result of people drawn together by the crucified and risen Christ. This passage does not celebrate community or the church for its own sake. The community of faith exists as an extension of the risen Christ's own commitment to bring hope and healing to the world, so all may live and have life in all its abundance.

May we be open and willing to embrace the joy and pain of change, and to hold to the belief that the global community of believers gathered as the body of Christ is the hope of the world, with the power and potential to renew and reconcile our broken world through the way of Jesus. May it be so. Amen.

(*The service on May 11th, 2014, was also Mothers Day in many countries including Australia)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ted Dodds reflection on the course, Diaconal History and Spirituality

In January 2014, Rev (Deac) Dr Ted Dodd attended a course on Diaconal History and Spirituality at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.  It is SO GREAT to see the exchange of learning happening across and between denominations. It would be great to see more intentionality in these kind of exchanges, be they learning opportunities or ministry placements or observation.
Here are Ted’s reflections on the event…
ted_dodd“I chose this course because I wanted to consolidate my understanding of the two thousand years of diaconal history. While I do not claim to be an expert, I now feel that I have a rich understanding of the significant eras in the timeline of the diaconate.
Through the centuries, this ministry has taken on a variety of forms and functions. No one definition of diakonia stands as decisive or irrefutable. No single model delineates diaconal ministry finally or categorically. Over the ages, the diaconate has moved with flexibility into areas where they are needed, where service is required. Further, diaconal ministry is more than an office or the people who were called deacons or deaconesses; the whole church is called to diakonia.
While I do not believe history needs to be seen through a deterministic lens, I do feel that we are shaped by the past. The diaconal story begins before one is commissioned, consecrated, or ordained, and one is moulded by it, often without knowing the details or without articulating its assumptions. I deeply valued this opportunity to learn who we are by studying the past. Immersing myself in the content of our diaconal tradition offered me a broader comprehension of my vocation and will enable me to share this knowledge and insight with our students.
A second goal of the course was to ground the process of diaconal discernment and formation in spiritual practice. We read texts related to community: Brother Roger and the TaizĂ© community, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work, Life Together. We participated in daily public worship, kept journals, and entered into a private, daily lectio divina reading of the Psalms. Additionally, we studied an excellent short history of Christian spirituality, Bradley Holt’s Thirsty for God.

participants in the Lutheran diaconal ministry course in South Carolina
Ted at far right with the neon yellow shoes, at the Diaconal Ministry Course in South Carolina
Being immersed in the Lutheran culture for a week proved to be very rewarding. My sense of their theology and values grew exponentially. I delved into their rosters of ministry, various denominational documents and core writings, and some of their divisions and theological influences. As well, this experience offered me the chance to visit in an area of the US where I have not really been connected previously. I ate barbeque and biscuits, collards and fried green tomatoes. One evening we were invited to attend “Beer and Hymns” at a local pub. The bar was packed with Southerners singing songs of faith in what would normally be a very secular setting; I had read about such endeavours of the emerging church; I was happy to witness such an initiative in person. On the weekends bracketing the course, I visited Savannah and Charlotte and managed to see four art galleries, a historic plantation, a restored mansion, and the Museum of the New South. I watched the Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade, attended a service at First African Baptist Church, and also went to a Centre for Afro-American culture. This exposure intensified my commitment to diversity and broadened my perspective.

'Virtual' Online conferences

It's very interesting to see the way that technology has enabled 'virtual' online conferences/seminars. Here are two that may be of interest, all from the comfort of home.

Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future
(* this is a Catholic initiative, but much of the discussion will be relevant to other denominations)
: June 9-July 8, 2014
Organisation: Hofstra University
Instructors: Gary Macy, William T. Ditewig, Phyllis Zagano, all noted researchers and authors of articles and books on the women's diaconate.
Resources: Participants will need 2 books (available on Kindle as well as through Amazon - see below)
Course outline: During the seminar, the first four days of each week will contain readings and lectures (about an hour's worth of work per day). Each Friday, the Discussion Board will open for three days. Where possible an instructor or a teaching assistant will join in. The seminar will consider questions related to past, present, and future during the discussion:
1. In the past: Who were the women deacons in the early church? Were they ordained? What did they do? Why did they disappear?
2. In the present: When was the diaconate rejuvenated, and why? Has there been consideration of women in the diaconate?
3. In the future: What are the obstacles to women in the diaconate? How can these challenges be addressed? What would it mean for women to be ordained?

To register, follow the instructions here. It's FREE.
Ordination of Women to the Diaconate in the Eastern Churches: Essays by Cipriano Vagaggini Collegeville, MN, Liturgical Press, 2013.
Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future.
(With Gary Macy and William T. Ditewig) Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011.

Lutheran World Federation
Once again, the LWF (Department for Mission and Development) is planning a 'virtual conference'. It was brilliant in 2013, and I would encourage you to check it out. It will be held on 18th September, 2014 and will again feature highly diverse speakers, be accessible in five languages (English, Spanish, German, French and Indonesian) and have engaging conversations. More detailed information will be available towards the end of June 2014.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Methodist Diaconal Convocation (UK) 2014

The Methodist Diaconal Order Convocation (UK) has meeting, May 6-8th. On the final day of their annual Convocation Methodist Deacons plan to take part in an act of rededication. Here is one section of the liturgy:

Let us give thanks to God for the privilege of this ministry to which we have been called, within the fellowship of the Order:
For Gods sovereign love promising to make all things new;
for the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for all the world;
for his abundant grace, our example and hope;
for the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the people of God and for the church which has nourished and sustained us;
for the call which we heard and the ways in which it has since been renewed;
for the power of Christs gospel to search us out and reclaim us when we have lost the way;
for the ways in which God has sustained us in times of doubt and difficulty and enabled us to learn from weakness and failure;
for the joy of serving others in the name of Christ;
for the privilege of sharing in the pilgrimage of faith and the ministry of others;
for what we have received from those we sought to serve.

The 2013 Convocation received this report, which raised a number of issues including appointments for Deacons. 'As the number of Deacons available for stationing continues to rise, and as many circuits seek to consolidate staff teams as they engage with the Regrouping for Mission process, and the effects of the current economic climate which has forced many circuits to close existing diaconal appointments. The situation is serious and it is likely that up to 30 new appointments will need to be created if all the Deacons available for September 2014 are to be matched with circuits. The number of Deacons married to Presbyters continues to rise. This brings another dynamic into the stationing process'.

It is wonderful that the Warden of Deacons in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Vernon Van Wyk, has been able to be present at the 2014 Convocation.

The abduction of the girls in Nigeria

Just before dawn on 14th April, 300 schoolgirls were rounded up at a boarding school in Northern Nigeria. Armed men from the fringe Islamic militant group Boko Haram torched the school and abducted the girls, taking them to the rebels' camp deep in the bush. The leader of Boko Haram declared in a video that God had told him to sell the girls into slavery. The kidnapping is just the latest in a series of assaults on schoolchildren. Eight more were abducted in the same area in the past few days.
This has prompted a response of “profound concern” from the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. In his letter to Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, Tveit encouraged “swift and peaceful” action to restore these students back to their homes. “This tragic situation is devastating not only to the immediate community, but also to all Nigerians praying and working for peace. It touches the World Council of Churches directly, as many who have lost their daughters are members of our church families in Nigeria".  He added that the WCC’s concern for the abducted Nigerian students is “intensified in the face of increasing global sexual exploitation of girls and women, and the possibility that these abducted students may become victims of just such injustice and violence.”
“Following the rescue of these children for which we pray, the impact of exploitation may require long-term accompaniment of the young women and their families by the Nigerian government, faith communities and local networks of care and support,” he added.
Assuring the WCC’s support to the Nigerian government, Tveit said that the WCC is ready to assist in “mobilizing the inter-religious and international communities to seek effective and peaceful means towards safely restoring these students to their homes, loved ones and communities.”
Read full text of the WCC general secretary’s letter

The latest grisly attack on a Nigerian village this week is absolutely tragic. It happened in an area that troops had been using as a base in the search for the hundreds of abducted schoolgirls. The assault on the village came after military troops deployed to the area were called to the border area near Chad, where reports - later determined to be false - surfaced that the schoolgirls had been found with Boko Haram militants. The death toll in the village could be as many as 300.

You may have seen the campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, which initially began on Twitter. It has quickly spread, with demonstrators taking to the streets over the weekend in major cities around the world to demand action. Hadiza Bala Usman, Coordinator of the campaign, says, 'We want countries outside Nigeria, the international community, to support us and show that these girls are not forgotten'. Perhaps in solidarity with grieving families in Nigeria you could use social media to post a photo of yourself, like the ones below.

Clearly the response needed from the international community involves particular interventions. As a global diaconal community, let us hold this situation in our prayers. Praying is powerful. 'Prayer is dangerous stuff. And amazing stuff. It gets us deeply involved. It makes us co-creators. It transforms us and our world in some significant ways. It shakes things up and takes us to uncharted places. It leaves us unsettled in many good ways. The prayer that changes - changes us, changes our world, is the one that accepts a role in the answer'. (Joe Kay, on the Sojourners blog)

This prayer by the Nigerian Catholic Bishops seems as relevant as ever: “All powerful and merciful father, you are the God of justice love and peace. You rule over all the Nations of Earth. Power and Might are in your hands and no one can withstand you. I present our country Nigeria before you. I praise and thank for you are the source of all we have and are. We are sorry for all the sins we have committed and for the good deeds we have failed to do. In your loving forgiveness, keep us save from the punishment we deserve. Lord we are weighed down not only by uncertainties, but also by moral, economic and political problems. Listen to the cries of your people who confidently turn to you.  God of infinite goodness, our strength in diversity, Our health in weakness, our comfort in sorrow, Be merciful to us your people. Spare this nation Nigeria from chaos anarchy and doom. Bless us with your kingdom of justice, love and peace. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen”. (June 27, 1992, in response to a particular crisis in the country)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lutheran World Federation virtual conference


Once again, the LWF (Department for Mission and Development) is planning a 'virtual conference'. It was brilliant in 2013, and I would encourage you to check it out. It will be held on 18th September, 2014 and will again feature highly diverse speakers, be accessible in five languages (English, Spanish, German, French and Indonesian) and have engaging conversations.

More detailed information will be available towards the end of June 2014. The bonus is the opportunity to connect with diaconal colleagues (even if you're not Lutheran!), and there is no travel involved so dramatically reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Knowing that access to internet is not as easy to access nor low cost for everyone, the organizers are setting up a solidarity fund for the conference to assist others with the cost to access the internet in cafes etc.