Sunday, August 3, 2014

Visit with Deaconesses (Methodist Church in India)

It was a pleasure to be able to meet with Deaconesses (Methodist Church in India) in Chennai on 1st August, and to learn more about their ministry - the joys and challenges. I was glad to host them for a dinner in the evening, and then to meet afterwards to discuss ministry projects. It was wonderful that Deaconess Shaila John Wesley, Executive Director, Council for Deaconesses Work, MCI, was able to travel from her work place in Karnataka to join us.

Rev Sandy Boyce and her husband Geoff, with Deaconesses (Methodist Church in India)
The day before, I had met with Dn Shaila John Wesley, Executive Secretary, Council of Deaconesses Work, Methodist Church in India (MCI) in Bangalore and saw some of the ministries offered by deaconesses, and then we travelled together to Chennai to meet with Deaconesses there.

Shaila provided me with plenty of reading material, including her report to the MCI General Conference in relation to the Council of Women’s Work, the compilation report from the 12 Deaconesses Conferences of MCI, and the IX All India Deaconesses Assembly in 2010.

The overwhelming impression for me is the faithfulness of the women who serve as Deaconesses. They have placements in schools, hostels, aged care, hospitals and other institutions. As well, some serve as lady evangelists, particularly in rural areas, and provide leadership to Sunday Schools and WSCS programs.

Many of the women do not receive regular payment, and I wonder about how they survive at all. One report said that they had not received pay for more than 10 years. Another said the average payment for deaconesses was as low as Rs 20,000 ($US40) - for a year! Some of the hostels for students from rural areas require fundraising and student sponsorship, and many struggle to survive, and some have ceased to be.

Each regional conference has a small number of deaconesses, with few (or in some cases, nil) new probationers in each conference.

The deaconesses seek opportunities to hold workshops, seminars and training courses for the local women, especially those in rural areas, where they can learn and utilise their learning.

Despite the difficult circumstances in which they exercise ministry, the deaconesses remained faithful to a vision of serving.

‘Women’s Work under the Deaconesses Ministry can be very meaningful and challenging to provide guidance to the society at large and particularly among Christians. Our ministry has great relevance, and need and ministry among children, youth and women has become more important and necessary than before”. (Mrs Anita Singh, Deaconess Secretary, Agra Regional Deaconesses Conference).

Some strategic planning for the future includes:
systematic ongoing training for the Deaconesses and other Co-workers to equip them with better and modern managerial skills;
training to equip Deaconesses and Co-workers to use resources which are available within the present structure and settings;
introducing a system of better accountability and more transparency;
sharing more information in the Churches and other agencies to create interest in people, and agencies to participate in the Deaconesses Work;
major renovation of buildings and infra-structure development.

Finally, the confidence and trust in God, despite the troubles and trials they face, weaves through the ministry of the deaconess in the MCI. They speak about their primary call and responsibility to spread the good news of Jesus Chrsist in and through their lives and service.

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