Sunday, December 27, 2015

Vale, Deacon Lynne Hough

Deacon Lynne Hough (1938-2015) served as Senior Deacon in the Diocese of Mississippi, and served on the Discernment Committee and Commission on Ministry. She was ordained a Deacon on February 18th, 1996, and served at St Patrick's Episcopal Church in Long Beach for 20 years, and as chaplain at Memorial Hospital Gulfport for 23 years. She died Tuesday, December 22, 2015 in Gulfport. 
We give thanks for people like Lynne who have embodied diaconal ministry, and have served with humility, compassion and commitment.
Sun Herald article here

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In the labouring.....

This seems timely.....
The wonderful Jan Richardson writes: If you haven't met Thelma yet, I'll tell you that she showed up at my drafting table years ago, as I was working on the artwork for my book “Night Visions.” You can see that Thelma is not much like the ethereal, benign depictions of angels we often see today. Thelma is more like the angels who show up in the Bible, those messengers who come with outlandish invitations and wild expectations. In the reflection that accompanied her image in “Night Visions," I wrote, "An angel named Thelma is what I need in this season; an uppity angel at my shoulder. Someone who can breathe fire. Who will remind me that being nice won't sustain me through the labor. Who will cry out with me in the birth pangs. Who will dispatch the dragon who waits to devour what is struggling to be born." 
An Advent Blessing from an Angel Named Thelma 
I am here to tell you
that if you need to push,
if you need to press on,
then I will hold your hand
in the laboring.
Move heaven and earth
to clear a way for you.
Help you holler.
Cheer you on.
But I am thinking
that maybe first
what you need
is a nap.
That what is called for
is to lay yourself down
and rest
just for a little space.
Maybe do some dreaming.
Maybe think for a bit
on what is really
yours to do.
When you wake up,
when you rise,
I promise
then we will take on
the world.
—Jan Richardson 
Image: "An Angel Named Thelma" © Jan Richardson

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!

DIAKONIA Prayer Letter December 2015

This year our attention has been drawn to many areas of concern including:
* an escalation in global fear with the increased focus on acts of terrorism;
* desperate people fleeing conflict and war, seeking refuge and asylum in places far from home;
* the dramatic impact of climate change reflected in weather patterns, and the COP21 talks in Paris with a positive commitment to respond to climate change. 

Reflect on the areas of joys and concerns in your area of ministry, in your diaconal association, and in your nation/region. Let us hold them in our prayers together. 

Reflect on your own ministry context. May our actions and priorities reflect Jesus’ love and compassion as we respond to the challenges in our own time and place. 

Christmas invites us again to recognise Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and to remember that Jesus and his family were refugees, fleeing Herod’s acts of cruelty and murder. It also reminds us that Jesus, hope of the world, has a human face. In Jesus, God has ‘moved into the neighbourhood’, present among us. 

May the words of this poem (written by my friend Craig Mitchell) be words of hope and encouragement in your ministry, and sustain you in your prayers. 

Today God has a human face
Heaven's child in earth's embrace
Blanket wrapping grubby grace
Today God has a human face

Today hope has a human face
New life born in dusty shed
Promise crying to be fed
Today hope has a human face

Today peace has a human face
War zone cut by infant's sigh
From Beirut and Palestine
Today peace has a human face

Today joy has a human face
Angels pointing down our street
Heaven swirling at my feet
Today joy has a human face

Today love has a human face
Prodigals are welcome here
Refugees no longer fear
Today love has a human face

All earth today sees heaven's face
Mystery present in this place
Turning point of time and space
All earth today sees heaven's face

God’s blessings be with you in your ministry, 
and may your ministry be enriched by the company of Christ 
and the empowerment of God’s Spirit. 

Congratulations, Angela!

Congratulations to Deaconess Angela Kristen McWilliams Goodson, consecrated as a Deaconess at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Kansas, on Sunday December 20th. Blessings to you for your ministry.
Deaconess Angela and Lisa Polito
Deaconess Angela Kristen McWilliams Goodson,
Lutheran Deaconess Association

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Deacons in the Methodist Church of New Zealand

In 2013, a Deacon was inducted under the stationing process into a parish - St Stephen's in Tauranga,  with Deacon Margaret Birtles the history-making Deacon. 
Deacon Margaret Birtles (left) with Deacon Edna Evans (middle) at the induction service
The following is the report prepared for the church conference in November 2015. Please hold in prayer our brothers and sisters in diaconal ministry in the Methodist Church of New Zealand. 

DIACONATE TASK GROUP of the Methodist Church in New Zealand
The Task Group continues to be available to support new deacons, and to be a sounding board/advisory group to churches and people needing information.
We have met with Rev Nasili Vaka'uta and Rev Val Nichols at Trinity College and are assured of their support for future deacon candidates. Recently we were invited to speak about the Diaconate to present and future students, with the whole service themed around the ministry of deacons. We spoke of the 30 year history of the present Diaconate and gave insights into the work deacons have involved themselves with, as well as giving a brief look at the ministries of deaconesses before 1976 when the Diaconate was reformed to include men. Deacons, after suitable training were also then Ordained at Conference.
In May would-be candidates and deacons met at Wellspring for a one day Retreat with Rev Liz Hopner. This was very helpful as a gathering place as well as in encouraging those in active ministry of the importance of self-care.
In April 2016 we are planning to meet for 3 days at Convocation in or near Christchurch. We are glad of the renewed interest in the Diaconate - with deacons working alongside presbyters and lay people and reaching out to their communities in their churches geographical areas.
We were saddened by the death of Deacon Jean McInnes last November – Jean served in many honorary welfare roles and was awarded an MBE for services to the community.
We asked 3 active deacons to share their areas of ministry for this report.

Falinisesi (Sesi) Hafoka (Glen Innes, Vahefonua). Sesi is an on-call primary teacher.
She is involved with a weekly gathering for elderly Tongan people and visits and participates in their activities such as weaving, cooking, Bible study, and sharing stories. In her Chaplaincy role she represents the Churches Education Commission (CEC) often spending time with needy children, or helping students make right choices, as well as in helping teachers with pastoral care.
Sesi helps the presbyter in serving Holy Communion, and with funerals, and is a Marriage Celebrant. Sesi says that through a relationship with Jesus, prayer and Bible reading, along with the love of God, healing and transformation comes to many lives.

Ruta Galo (Mangere-Otahuhu Parish). Ruta is a full time primary teacher. She has experienced many challenges, heartaches, fun times and blessings at work. She encourages the congregation to 'go out to Love and Serve'. She is involved with the Fitlife group, and family workshops, along with public questions/debates with the local community. Ruta has established a network of support with people from church, work and family which stabilises her quite busy and often hectic lifestyle. She is active in her local church with children and families e.g. Confirmation classes for youth, along with social activities. At work “Positive Behaviour for Learning Teams” and an “Incredible Years Team” includes the development of 4 key values: Responsibilities, Resilience, Respect and Relationships. She hopes to develop and nurture young church leaders from these.
Two deacons are stationed in smaller churches half time and both are doing well as they give time to their local communities as well as being deacon in their church setting.

Deacon Ruta Galo with her son Fau'ula and mother Susana
Megan Alley is stationed at Kaurihohora (Kamo/Whangarei) and her involvement with the community is with the local hall committee, fundraising, a craft group especially for Mums and babies, Girls Brigade support, teaching lonely and young people to cook healthy meals, providing transport and leadership for Mainly Music, hospital visiting, as well as church duties and leadership.
The Task group is encouraged by renewed interest in the Diaconate ministry of Te Hahi Weteriana. We give thanks to God and to all who have supported us over the years.
Members of the Diaconate Task Group will continue as is for 2015/16: Co-Convenors: Edna Evans (retired) & Margaret Birtles with Brenda Fawkner, Rachel Tregurtha (retired), Megan Alley (ordained 2012, Deacon in placement, Kaurihohore, North Auckland), Ruta Galo (ordained 2014).

Deacon Brenda Fawkner (second from left)
Taranaki Base Hospital’s Chapel celebrated its 50 year anniversary in May 2015, and Deacon Brenda Fawkner was there with past and present chaplains to celebrate (she was appointed locum chaplain in 1995). 

Click on this link for stories about other Deacons in the Methodist Church of New Zealand - Deacon Rachel Tregurtha, Deacon Richard Williams and Deacon Lorna Goodwin. 

Ministry with the Deaf: Methodist Church in NZ

Sandra Gibbons has been ordained as a Deacon in the Methodist Church of New Zealand. She is serving in ministry with the Auckland Deaf Christian Fellowship (ADCF), where she conducts worship, and provides pastoral care for the congregation.
She had previously worked with ADCF as a layperson for a year and then realised she could better serve the congregation if she was ordained. She continued her ministry as a chaplain, until her ordination.
"I saw that it was terribly important for the Deaf people to receive the sacraments and be married and buried in their own language rather than through English interpreted to them. Language is a very deep issue for the Deaf community. For them, English is a second language. Everyone has a right to be taught in their own language. It is about identity and who you will become in the world.
Read more here: 'Ministry with the Deaf'; 'Hearing the Word of God through Deaf ears', 'Share God's Love'.
Blessings for your ongoing ministry, Sandra!

Ordination service for Sandra Gibbons
Rev Sandra Gibbons serving communion
Deacons in the Methodist Church of NZ 

Friday, December 18, 2015

DOTAC 2015: Welcoming all to the table

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.—Psalm 16:11
Porto Alegre, Brazil, hosted the 13th Diakonia of The Americas and Caribbean (DOTAC) conference. Porto Alegre means “Happy Port” or “Joyful Harbor” in English. According to the Portuguese translator on our bus tour, the city was named after a couple who were happily married.
Extending a joyful welcome to visitors is a characteristic of those who live in Brazil. After we got settled on the bus, our guide said, “Welcome to Brazil!” His welcome to us was sincere and authentic. He went on to explain that when somebody welcomes you to Brazil it means you are always and forever welcome in Brazil. I found his words to be true throughout the conference. I gratefully received a joyful welcome with lots of hugs everywhere that I went.
Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.
Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.
DOTAC is one of three regional organizations in the World DIAKONIA Federation. World DIAKONIA is an association of diaconal communities around the world. At our conferences brothers and sisters in diakonia from different countries come together to share stories about servant ministry, to learn from leading educators, share best practices, and fellowship in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The regional meeting of DOTAC is a smaller version of our world gatherings.
The DOTAC Conference in Brazil opened with a worship celebration at Igreja da Reconciliação(Church of the Reconciliation IECLB). I was honored to carry the banner for the United Methodist Deacons and Diaconal Ministers. Our theme for this conference was “The diakonia of Jesus—from crumbs to full communion,” based on the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. The conference aimed to help us see those who are feeding off the crumbs under the table and welcome them into full communion at the table of abundant grace, where Jesus Christ sits himself.
We had three speakers for the conference: Dr. Felipe Gustavo Koch Buttelli, a professor of religion at the Municipal University Center of São José, who studied in Brazil and South Africa; Dr. Rodolfo Gaede Nero, a professor of practical theology at the Faculdades EST in São Leopoldo; and Deaconess Irma Schrammel, who serves at the Heliodor Hesse Social Center in Santo André.
Overall, the speakers spoke about how Jesus’ ministry is shaped by the heavenly banquet. At the heavenly banquet we will share table fellowship, food, and an abundance of blessings. At the heavenly banquet there is a seat at the table for all. Since an open community meal is indicative of the heavenly banquet, Jesus acts accordingly in his ministry on earth: God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Since the heavenly banquet makes sharing at a table one of the main characteristics of Jesus’ ministry, it is no surprise that Jesus relates to all sorts of people at the table. There are feeding stories, dinner parties, weddings, breakfasts, and suppers noted in the Bible. All are welcome at the table with Jesus. Jesus is so closely associated with eating and drinking with people the Pharisees accuse him of being a glutton and a drunk (Matthew 11:19). On example of Jesus’ teaching on the heavenly banquet comes from the story of a father who throws his prodigal son a party upon his return home.
A challenge in Jesus’ time was the struggle against those who wanted to privatize the table. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus begs to eat at the rich man’s table, but the rich man denies him the opportunity. Likewise, the Pharisees want a closed, private table (Luke 7:39). In the early church the apostles worked to deconstruct the barriers to the table, so the blessings of the kingdom of God were not particularized. The Christian church became a place where Jews and Gentiles could eat together (Acts. 10).
The speakers pointed out how the Syrophoenician woman in the story was different than Jesus. She was a woman, non-Israelite, and a pagan worshiper. Yet, Jesus heard her story. He heard the pain in her failed attempts at receiving healing for her daughter. She admitted as much that the crumbs of Jesus’ abundance were good enough for her. Through his conversation with the woman Jesus comes to welcome her to the table and grant her request for the healing of her daughter. In this act of mercy Jesus unites the community. The community is made whole when those who eat from the crumbs under the table enter into full communion at the table with Christ.
The speakers encouraged us to consider those who survive off crumbs under the table today. They pointed out that people who feel marginalized, suffer violence, are abandoned, and hunger and thirst are all living off crumbs. Each speaker challenged us to seek a new paradigm of sharing God’s abundance. Mark 7 is an example of how an open table overcomes the fragmentation of human community. At God’s table there is plenty to care for the well-being of all people. Jesus eats with all and all are satisfied. This is authentic reconciliation. Diakonia works toward authentic reconciliation. An open table overcomes a fragmented human community. When all sit at the table of grace in the midst of cultural differences and diversity we will gain a wholistic perspective.
I saw the practice of an open table in action at two mission sites in Porto Alegre. The first mission site I visited was St. Luke House (Casa de Pasagem São Lucas). St. Luke House provides free housing to those waiting for medical treatment. Porto Alegre is recognized for being a leader in health research and services and this attracts from the countryside and even from other states in Brazil. Many of these people do not have a place to stay while they are waiting for medical treatment. For these people, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELCB) created in 2002 this residence alongside of a church. All are welcome to stay, eat, rest, and recover from their medical treatments at St. Luke House.
The second mission site I saw was the Bread Workshop. The Bread Workshop was created by St. Mark Lutheran Church in 1993. Its goal is to educate at-risk adolescents coming from local and neighboring communities offering them the possibility of generating income through working in cooperative and commercialized bakery production. The Bread Workshop teaches the art of baking bread while promoting faith and citizenship.
To help us unwind after a busy week we enjoyed a cultural celebration at the Churrascaria Galpão Crioulo, a Brazilian barbeque that offered live entertainment. The celebration of this culture night was dedicated to Nazgul “Naz” William, a United Methodist lay deaconess who was tragically killed in a random act of violence in China two years ago.
Brazil is a wonderful place with many wonderful people. From the beginning of the conference until its close after Sunday worship I felt the warm welcome of the Brazilian people. This experience of hospitality along with the teachings on our theme reminded me of what it means to be fully included as a guest. As we are all guests of Jesus at the table, this conference gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for hospitality in the church. As our tour guide explained about the meaning of “Welcome to Brazil,” we need to live into a vision of the church where all are forever and always welcome, because the church is a place where all are loved by God and God’s love never changes. The church is a place where those who are living off the crumbs can enter into full communion with Christ at the table of grace.
Rick Tettau serves as a deacon at Faith Community United Methodist Church in Xenia, Ohio. He is an alternate on the DOTAC central committee.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Multi-faith community meal

Deacon Phil Belieber (Association for Episcopal Deacons) joined other clergy to attend a multi-faith community meal in support of the Al Aqsa mosque this month. Earlier in the week a bigot threw a pig's head at the building. That act of hate generated an outpouring of love from the community and from across the country. 
He writes: The attendance was huge and heart warming. I was deeply moved by the number of members of the mosque who came up and shook my hand and thanked me for my support. There were many different faiths represented supporting our Muslim neighbors. We participated in an amazingly delicious meal and had wonderful conversations. Their hospitality was very telling. We attended their evening prayer service. Afterwards a member of the mosque who was originally from Palestine said, "This is how it should be. We come together in unity and love under one God. It's what's in your heart that counts". He continued, "Where else could you have Jews during Hanukkah come to a mosque for a community meal. Praise Allah". I pray that as sons and daughters of Abraham we may continue to live in peace, love and community.

Rev (Deacon) Jenny Walker

Rev Jenny Walker, a Deacon in the Uniting Church in Australia, has been the Minister in Placement at Taperoo (Adelaide, South Australia) for several years. Today, she farewells the congregation, and will take up a new placement in 2016 at Prospect Uniting Church. Blessings on your ministry, Jenny. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

United Methodist Women - stories of service

Stories of Service: Overcoming Injustice and Finding Hope

Stories of Service: Overcoming Injustice and Finding Hope
Cindy Johnson 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” -Luke 4:18
As deaconesses and home missioners we serve in ministries of love, justice and service. With Jesus’ ministry as our guide, we seek to address injustices as a covenant community. These are two of our stories. 

Cindy Johnson: A Refugee Gives Birth in Texas

Last year I was blessed to spend 35 days in Israel and Palestine. Celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, I became aware of the many injustices at the time of Jesus’ birth, as well as the injustices going on now behind the literal walls that divide people. I had traveled halfway around the world and the issues facing my sisters and brothers hit very close to home.
I am a deaconess serving in Brownsville, Texas, a city where a fence has been erected to separate the United States from our neighbors in Mexico. I volunteer at a center helping immigrants and refugees who are fleeing injustice. The border patrol brought a young, pregnant woman to the center. She was from Eritrea, a country bordering Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. No one at the center could speak her language, but it was clear she was about to give birth and needed to be at a hospital. The two male border patrol agents were ordered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to leave her at the center. Because she was in labor, the center could not admit her but would call an ambulance for her. The border patrol agents would not release her without orders from ICE so they put her in the back of their truck.
As her labor advanced, her strength drained. She had not had food all day — and it was already 5:00 p.m. I could tell she was scared. I am not a nurse or doctor; my first-aid training had not equipped me to deliver a baby. But the Spirit called, so I climbed into the truck. I held her hand, prayed for her, her baby and family and continued to advocate that she be taken the hospital. After about a half hour the two border patrol agents agreed to head to the hospital while waiting for the go-ahead from ICE.
I felt good that the young woman got proper help at the hospital. After giving birth, she and her new baby were taken to a home that helps refugee families in Austin, Texas. Reflecting on the day’s events, I saw how much more work we have to do to overcome these types of injustices.

Rachel Harvey: Growing Hope in Those Who Struggle

Rachel Harvey
Rachel Harvey
For the past year and a half I have served as a Deaconess in Cape Town, South Africa. I began my service volunteering at the Oranjezict City Farm. I arrived with little experience, but the farm was a beautiful place of learning, healing and friendship.
After about a year at the farm, I learned about Streetscapes, a new work-readiness program where street people are employed 40 hours a week with time built in for skills development, counseling and motivational sessions.
Streetscapes received donations of soap-making equipment, a wood fired oven and two vacant city lots to farm. But they had no experience  making soap, baking bread or growing vegetables. They were looking for help.
I felt the Spirit calling me to risk leaving the established farm to test my semi-green thumb and try something new.
I have been serving with Streetscapes now for three months. My gardening crew consists of 30 street-based people, many of whom struggle with substance abuse, criminal backgrounds and stressful living environments.
The neglected city lots were in rough shape, full of trash and crowded with rats. Last month we cleared enough space to plant a test patch of beans. One of the participants, who drinks four bottles of of wine a day, told me he was really enjoying the gardening. “My sister,” he said, “I want you to know I’m really excited about seeing those seeds go in the ground and am waiting for them to come up. Cause when they come up and start growing it’s like watching me. I’ve started drinking a little less so I’m ready for work; I have a lot of hope for those little plants.”

Born on the Margins

With so many paths before God, a poor, young, refugee woman of color was chosen to give birth to Jesus on the margins. 125 years of the deaconess and home missioner movement teaches us that today we too must place ourselves with the marginalized to continue to see God’s story unfold.
In this season of Advent may we tune our ears to the continual call of the Spirit who invites us to find hope in unexpected places, whether in parking lots, garden plots or mangers.

Rachel Harvey is a deaconess in Cape Town, South Africa. Cindy Johnson is a deaconess serving in Brownsville, Texas.

Lost boy of Sudan ordained as Deacon in Utah

(story by Marjorie Cortez, and published on line here)
Gabriel Garang Atem, a Lost Boy of Sudan, was ordained a deacon by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah Saturday afternoon. Atem has been serving as an Episcopal lay pastor for Utah's Sudanese community.
The Right Rev. Scott Hayashi ordains Gabriel Atem and Aimee Marie Altizer as Deacons within in the Episcopal Church at the Cathedral Church of Saint Mark in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015.
SALT LAKE CITY — At an age most boys spend their days at play or in school, Gabriel Garang Atem was running for his life.
It was 1987 and civil war had forced him and thousands of other Sudanese children, mostly young boys, to flee Sudan on foot to Ethiopia to escape death or induction into the northern army.
After being orphaned or otherwise separated from their families, some 20,000 Sudanese boys endured unthinkable dangers — attacks from wild animals, drowning in rivers and rebel attacks. On top of that, they were malnourished, dehydrated and were constantly exposed to the elements. Thousands were killed or died.
"It was not safe for us because there was no way you can protect yourself. You do not have weapons. You are not grown up enough so that you can defend yourself. It wasn't really a good life for us," said Atem of Salt Lake City, who is 36 years old, married and the father of twin 19-month-old boys.
One constant — the presence of God — carried him through the darkest days, he said.
When God called him to become an Episcopal priest, there was no question what he should do.
"When God called me, I accept the call because since I was a little boy, I knew I wasn’t going to live on my own without the help of God through people," he said.
On Saturday, Atem and Aimee Marie Altizer were ordained as deacons in the Episcopal Church during a service at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark. After serving as deacons for an allotted time, they can apply for ordination to the priesthood.

A new Deacon in the Uniting Church in Australia

Wendy McHugh was ordained on 5th December in Brisbane, Queensland. Wendy (and Matthew, ordained as Minister of the Word) then presided at communion. Blessings on your ministry, Wendy!
presiding at communion

The Moderator congratulates Wendy on her ordination

Friday, December 4, 2015

Climate Change action

Rev (Deacon) John Brentnall
You will be aware of the Climate Change talks in Paris and the hopes for a real commitment to addressing the serious challenges of climate change.

This week, more than a hundred people staged a 'sit in' (People's Parliament) in Parliament House, Canberra (Australia) to demand action on climate change. Among them was 93 year old World War II veteran and environmental activist Bill Ryan, who was escorted out with his walker. Aboriginal elder Aunty Mabel of the Bailai people was the last to be ejected as demonstrators reconvened outside. Rev (Deacon) John Brentnall also addressed the protesters.

Do you know diaconal ministry agents engaged in action on climate change?

John asked how Christian MPs can claim to be Christians when they are causing our farmers, our First Nations folk, and our Pacific neighbours so much suffering? Isn't one of God's commandments to love thy neighbour?

Deaconess retreat in Fiji

The annual retreat for the Methodist Deaconess Order in Fiji was held from 30th November to December 4th, 2015, in Dudley Intermediate school. The retreat served as a Refresher Course for all Deaconesses. 

(photo taken at last year's retreat)