Wednesday, August 26, 2020

#IECLB - Masks of Hope

Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana no Brasil

We can not provide all the care we would like.  Time does not permit it; always someone else is in need of some compassionate service.  In these difficult times, many people have had to interrupt their professional activity or lose their jobs. For this reason, Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana no Brasil (IECLB) Diakonia, in its various locations, has motivated organizations and faith communities to initiate diaconal campaigns, emphasizing the necessity that Diaconia must move on, even if in different ways, with care and hygiene, in the fight against the coronavirus.

The involvement of IECLB Diakonia and diaconal communities was great in the campaign for making masks. Several individuals, families, and communities of faith have been working hard, whether in sewing or in the donation of material. This activity is just one example of what so many people have done in the IECLB: placing their hands at the service of the diaconal Gospel of Jesus, assisting people in their sufferings. It is estimated that more than 20,000 masks have already been made and donated. 

In addition, there is a lot of love being donated: clothes, food distribution to promote human dignity, hygiene materials, information about prevention, listening to the tired people who needed care and comfort.

A diaconal action can save someone or minimize their suffering!

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10.10

May the diaconal love of Jesus transform lives through these beautiful acts.

Diác. Dionata Rodrigues de Oliveira

Diác. Ma. Carla Vilma Jandrey

Coordenadora de Diaconia e Programa Diaconia Inclusão

Secretaria da Ação Comunitária

Igreja Evangélica de Confissão Luterana no Brasil

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

COVID 19 lockdown and community connections

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown, social isolation, financial stress and insecurity about the future, have taken a toll on mental health and emotional well-being. Rev Christa Megaw, a Deacon in the Uniting Church in Australia, invited her congregation to consider ways to support people in their neighourhood. The responses were creative, and addressed the need for community connection despite the requirement for ‘social isolation’. 

After conversation with a local café owner with overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed customers, the church responded with donations to a Pay it Forward program to supply coffee to people through the café. 

The teenage shop assistants who continued to work, despite the stress caused by abusive customers and the threat of COVID-19, were so appreciative to be acknowledged with the gift of boxes of chocolates provided to local supermarket staff. 

School teachers and other school staff who were expected to continue to work, despite the lockdown, were experiencing stress as they tried to juggle face to face learning and the challenges of transitioning to online learning. The church gave packs of ‘Wellbeing’ cards to the teachers of four schools, to help them focus on caring for themselves, as well as their students. 

The church also delivered activity kits so families could do crafts with their children at home, which were then displayed on the glass windows and doors of the church buildings. 

While there was no ‘church in the building’ with the churches also in lockdown, the church found creative ways to be in the community, bringing some joy and welcome respite to those living with stress, anxiety and financial uncertainty due to the disruption brought about by COVID-19. 

Fiji - COVID 19 and Cycle Harold

 The Methodist Deaconess Order of Fiji had to manage both COVID-19 and Cyclone Harold in April 2020. They were able to support 2 Deaconesses serving in the outer islands with the provision of groceries. Houses had been blown down, and some neighbouring families had taken shelter with the Deaconesses. The Deaconess Order also provided food for vulnerable people on the street. In addition, the Deaconesses learned that children in most of the Methodist Schools had come to school without lunch due to the fact that most of their parents had been laid off work. The Deaconesses serving in schools were encouraged to work with teachers and parents to recognise the plight of the students, and to provide lunch packs.

(Deaconess Meresiana Kuricava is President, DIAKONIA Asia Pacific - DAP)

ELCIC and the pandemic

Here are two examples of how the ministry that two of our ELCIC deacons are involved in has changed due to the pandemic situations here in Canada. Deaconess Pam Harrington is a psycho-therapist from Ontario, and Rev. Karen Wedman is a diaconal minister serving in an administrative role with the Good Samaritan Society in Alberta.

Pam writes: I am doing therapy with people who have high anxiety due to Covid-19, trying to soothe their fears and anxieties and focus on what they CAN control in such an out-of-control time in history. People who are isolated sometimes lose touch with reality and are caught up in mixed messages on the media and can be easily manipulated, coerced and exploited. They also lose hope. It is helpful to have a community of support, so helping them build connections and find people they can relate to, either in social bubbles that are safe or by virtual means, is really important. 

Karen writes: I am serving on the EOC (Emergency Operations Committee) working on pandemic plans for the whole of our organization.  We meet each day and discuss current staffing issues, PPE (personal protective equipment), extra legislative requirements, employee support, etc. that is required in light of COVID. My role is still administrative, however, I send out a weekly devotion to all employees to lift them up in prayer and in gratitude for who they are and the work they provide. 

Karen works with another ELCIC deacon, Sarah Rudd, and says this:  Sarah is heavily involved at our care home that has over 75 cases of COVID. Unfortunately, the virus spread quickly and Sarah is assisting the care home, arranging extra shifts, meeting with residents and families, sitting with the dying and dealing with families who are grieving. As manager, Sarah is also coordinating the ministry of the other chaplains that have been brought into the care home to help at this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives and ministry. It is encouraging to see the ways Deacons are responding to the needs of those they serve, as those needs have changed during this pandemic. 


COVID responses in British Columbia

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of the least of these” Matthew 10:42

In a hot climate, a cup of cold water must have been a rare treat. I wonder what is a cup of cold water in the Pandemic in my context? I am a Canadian Anglican Deacon in Victoria, British Columbia.

Here, COVID has caused 195 deaths. Yet overdose deaths have climbed in the pandemic reaching a peak of 710 deaths as of June 2020. In June alone there were 175 deaths. We have more than one crisis. We have learned to social distance, wear masks and sanitize/wash our hands, but when the topic of a realistic, non-prohibition style response to substance use is raised, there is great resistance.  Might the cup of “cold water” be legal safe drugs? Could the cup of “cold water” be free alcohol to prevent painful nerve shattering withdrawal?

Hope and recovery walk hand in hand but the battle with addiction in times of isolation is difficult. Recovery at the best of times is complex. How can we offer nurture? People need the basics, safe secure housing, food security and respect. In recovery this is crucial along with access to treatment, supervised injection sites, safe available drug/medication supply.  They need supportive relationships as do their families who are further isolated by stigma.

We offer trauma informed yoga, online weekly meditations on scripture and the AA 12 steps, prayers, 5th steps, education/awareness, conversation, advocacy for change, information on community resources; from online AA meetings, to agencies who specialize in substance use needs. Our staff and volunteers from the congregation participated in the 3rd overdose prevention Naloxone training. We are working to offer a cup of “cold water” in Pandemic times.

Rev. Canon Nancy E. Ford, Director of Deacons

Deacon to the City out of Christ Church Cathedral,

ELCA responses to the pandemic

The Deaconess Community of the ELCA answered our question: "What losses and opportunities have members of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA experienced as they faithfully respond to their diaconal calls and work for the flourishing of all God’s creation?" They shared....

~ Sr. Shana Williams (pictured above):  The pandemic has affected my call mainly in a loss of in-person interaction with students, families, and colleagues. It has made everything we do exponentially more difficult. It has highlighted our strengths as a tiny school district, which lie in the relationships and trust we build with students and families.

~ Sr. Melinda Lando: As a healthcare provider, the impact of COVID-19 has forced me to adjust the care I provide to my patients. It has meant hot having direct, face to face, contact with my patients, but rather via telehealth. While this is better than no contact with them, I miss the direct, face to face and physically present  encounters. I've missed this tremendously.    

~ Sr. Clare Josef-Maier: As a campus minister, I realized with dismay that students whose worlds were turned upside down with the pandemic were going to look to me for wisdom and stabilizing. My own capacity to serve them felt like it was crumbling: no more in-person connections through which to gauge their individual needs and support their communal life together, information changing as often as I changed my clothes, my own bearings shaken by the personal impact of the pandemic to my family. But this experience has reminded me that narrow/antiquated definitions of leadership hold us back - the mere presence of caring engagement and accompaniment alongside students as they "surf the waves" of this time empowered their resiliency both as individuals and in community to one another.

 ~ Sr. Kriss Buss: As a hospital chaplain, I have lost the familiar space to grieve with patients and families and staff as they grapple with illness and the rhythm of life and death. In the midst of the pandemic, safety and responsible fear has separated so many families and patients and created many limits on our physical interactions, at the most emotionally charged times. And yet I have learned that there is a breaking in of love and grace in phone calls, the opportunity to hold someone's heart from a distance of six feet or sixty miles. I have learned that we become more aware of deep connection to one another when we must be aware of the distance. I am thankful for constantly thinking of new ways to care for my patients, families, and staff each day as we uphold the sacredness of life and death.

 ~ Sr. Dottie Almoney: The losses I have experienced in my call as a parish Deaconess is the loss of physical community. What I have gained is the knowledge that we can reach more people if we keep incorporating zoom for meetings and learning as well as worship that is live streamed after this pandemic is over!

~ Sr. Mary Arie: We live in a crazy time - what we took for normal is now a mere memory. I am called to pastor two small rural churches - everything is different. The way we do funerals is the most impacted - at the gravesite - no close contact with family. But the Holy Spirit is still comforting the loved ones. The words of comfort are still being said. To be flexible is the key. 

ProGente Connections’s Pandemic Respons

 A Deacon founded and led nonprofit near Boston, MA

Lori Mills-Curran

 ProGente Connections is a coalition of Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA) and Presbyterian (PCA) churches empowering and supporting the huge population of Brazilians living west of Boston, MA.  A Lutheran and an Episcopal deacon were instrumental in its founding.  PGC has served immigrants for several years with English classes for adults, children’s Portuguese classes, immigrant rights advocacy, citizenship help, and Orientation to American culture classes.    

 Amid an unprecedented political attack against immigrants, the US immigrant community is experiencing a storm of fear, illness, legal jeopardy, unemployment, isolation and hostility. Most are not eligible for government payroll loans, unemployment benefits, medical insurance or food aid.  Many lost service sector jobs or businesses.  Many are exposed to the virus daily with limited protective gear or information about its use. Childcare is gone and evictions loom.   Coming from areas with no rule of law, many people are terrified by recent US social unrest.  Extended families are in danger of infection in Brazil.  

 ProGente Connections has assembled practical aid such as food and cleaning supplies.  It is tapping local churches and charitable organizations for support for current needs, while moving all possible programs online.   PGC currently serves 47 families.  

 (Photo: Lori Mills-Curran, Deacon, Episcopal Church, Boston)

Cheryl Plummer, Hospice Chaplain (Lutheran Deaconess Association)

 Cheryl Plummer, Lutheran Diaconal Association, is a hospice chaplain. During this pandemic she has continued to be at the bedsides of those near the end of their lives, to offer spiritual comfort and support, religious rituals, and connection to loved ones in the hospital, extended care facilities and private homes. The hospitals are a somewhat eerie and different place during this COVID pandemic, the hallways are empty, no visitors and no routine procedures, but the units themselves are overflowing and busy with lonely patients. For patients who have the COVID virus Cheryl’s ministry has become one of praying in the hallways into the nurse’s phones into the isolation rooms, and comforting and reassuring their loved ones by phone.  Hospice patients in the hospital, who do not have the virus, are allowed one visitor at a time so visits are sometimes long as I wait as each family member is allowed in to the hospital to have their turn to pray and say their goodbyes. Even though our hospice patients can have one visitor at a time, sometimes due to their loved ones being elderly, or having underlying health conditions, or due to them having small children, their loved ones may not be able to be at their bedside as they are dying. So the chaplaincy team has been doing their best to help all those who are sick and dying to connect with those they need to hear from, to hear the voices that will comfort them the most. Even if someone is near the end of life and no longer responsive, the chaplains will help their family see their dying loved one’s face, share in prayer together, and say those things they need to say to them, the things that person needs to hear, that they are loved and will be missed, but it is alright to go be in God’s embrace. 

Cheryl recounts that recently she sat at the bedside of a dying patient and just held the phone while his daughter and then his son and then his wife each called and said their goodbyes, telling him what a good father and husband he is, and that it was alright, that they would take care of one another and his rescue dog, and that they loved him. I comforted each of them as they grieved from afar, with me as their presence for him, close enough to hear their loved one breathe. He died the next day.  

One of the hardest things is that hospice chaplaincy is usually a ministry of touch and hugs. So she has learned that one can hug and express caring using an extra compassionate word or prayer. Hospice chaplains all have moments of doubt and exhaustion and some fear during this crisis. A huge part of Cheryl’s ministry is supporting the rest of the hospice and hospital teams. She has cried a lot but then goes on and puts one foot in front of the other, to continue to provide spiritual care another day.

(Cheryl is a Deaconess in the Lutheran Diaconal Association, and a hospice chaplain)

COVID19 responses in Winnipeg - Josh Ward

In Winnipeg (Canada), United Church of Canada Diaconal Minister Josh Ward serves as the Community Minister at St. Matthews Maryland Community Ministry – an outreach ministry that works to provide support and build community alongside some of the most vulnerable people. When COVID first erupted, most of the support programs had to be cancelled. But there was no intention of abandoning the community entirely! So, fully masked, goggled, and gowned, Josh and the team continued to provide food service at the door for the first months of the pandemic. Where our drop-in normally sees 60 or 70 people in a day, those days saw up to 150 people each day coming to our door for food! The network of partner churches provided incredible support, which was even more incredible when you consider that they were also closing their own doors and trying to figure out next steps for their congregations as all this was going on. A local business person stepped up to provide hot lunches 4 days a week. With all this help the increased demand was able to be met. Though providing food is an important service, St. Matthews Maryland is truly about building relationships and a safe community for folk who don’t enjoy that elsewhere in their life. It was easy to overlook in the early days of the pandemic, when it felt more like a food line. But one thing that was really encouraging was seeing how people in this community responded to the pandemic. They were patient and generous. They took care of each other. They followed safety guidelines and social distanced when they were lining up for food. Instead of panic, we saw smiles and gratitude. A pandemic is exactly the kind of time when a strong community is needed most! So it was totally fulfilling to see how this community banded together. It confirmed for us that what we are doing in this community is working.

Thankfully, COVID hasn’t hit Winnipeg as hard as it has in other places. The community program is currently in the process of slowly re-opening in a safe way, with social distancing protocols in place. The commitment remains to build relationships and a strong community, so that everyone in the community knows that no matter what COVID throws at us next: We can handle it together! (Josh is based at 1JustCity - St Matthews Maryland Community Ministry, Winnipeg).

Sisterhood Bethesda in Basel, Switzerland - supporting COVID-19 projects

Member associations have offered financial support for projects in other countries. The Sisterhood Bethesda in Basel, Switzerland, maintains its commitment to diaconal work, even though the small community of 20 elderly Sisters is no longer able to conduct projects of their own. The three projects outlined here are indicative of their generous support to vulnerable people in a time where hope has been diminished and the future looks grim for so many people.

In collaboration with the relief agency Connexio (Network for Mission and Service of the United Methodist Church) in Switzerland, the Bethesda Sisters have offered emergency aid, focussed on alleviating the suffering of vulnerable people and food insecurity. 

In Argentina, food packages have been distributed to people in slum areas who have lost their income as a result of quarantine measures. In North Macedonia, protective clothing and disposable tableware was purchased to continue meal delivery and home care ministries for old and sick people. In the DR Congo, pastors’ families, whose income had diminished in a way that they could no longer live on it, received a big sack of corn meal each. Thanks to the love in action of the Bethesda sisters, thousands of people have been helped quickly and efficiently. 

The Bethesda Sisters have also funded relief work offered by Osteuropa Mission Schweiz (OEM -Eastern Europe Mission Switzerland), an independent Christian relief agency that advocates for ethnic minorities, the socially weak and disadvantaged, and is committed to fighting poverty that impacts the most vulnerable. OEM church members of all ages have prepared pots of soup outdoors, each of 100 litres. Soup, bread and vegetable salad have been given to needy people on the streets. As the food packages were given out, the church members prayed with the people and blessed them.

The Bethesda Sisters have also supported relief efforts in the Philippines, in collaboration with the agency Onesimo, a faith-based, non-profit NGO working among street children and their families and at-risk young people in Manila. It helps young people whose lives in the slums, or streets, are filled with hopelessness. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Onesimo has distributed food packages to thousands of families. In spite of the pandemic, about 400 young people are still cared for in the community-based rehabilitation programs in the slum churches. As schools have been closed, the young people are relying on alternative school systems, such as provided by the rehabilitation programs. Many of the slum churches have no computer nor internet provider. They were so thankful for financial support, so that the young people could continue their training through online learning.

New Web Manager for DIAKONIA World Federation

Web Manager Diane Kaufmann has been the DWF Web Manager since 2012 and has indicated she plans to hand over responsibilities by the end of 2020. Thank you for your years of faithful and dedicated service, Diane.  

Welcome to her successor, Deaconess Student, Sara Manning. We look forward to the redesigned web sites coming soon.  

How COVID-19 is impacting communities in Nigeria and Africa

(by Deaconess Ibironke O. Oremade-Oworu)

The Corona Virus Pandemic or the Covid-19 is an uncommon situation that showed up across the World and created a situation that the present generation had not witnessed before. The pandemic caused virtually all economies of the world to shut down. Movement within each country and across continents have been limited. 

The virus has caused so many deaths with some countries more affected than others. The western world, even with all the advancement in health care, has witnessed more death and has been greatly affected.

Looking at the effect of the pandemic as it affects Africa we might say that Africa has been very lucky because the fear at the beginning was that Africa Countries will be greatly affected especially in regards to our health care system and since no Country was prepared for something of this magnitude.

South Africa is the African Country that has been greatly affected with the highest number of infections and deaths.


Nigeria has also experienced her share of the Covid-19 infection but again the country has been lucky so far. The country has had 50,488 infections with 985 deaths and 37, 304 recoveries. 

The Government had to issue a lockdown of most of the country, causing businesses to shut down and people to stay at home. It was not a pleasant experience because most people earn their wages through daily labour or employment. When people are not able to go out during the day, then they are not sure of being able to feed their families. This was the greatest challenge at the beginning of the lockdown experience. 

The government acted by providing palliative measures in terms of cash transfer and provision of food stuffs to vulnerable families. However, this could not continue for too long because the population is so large. This challenge made the government ease the lockdown, so that people could gradually return to their businesses. There were stringent measures in place to curb the spread of the virus. The use of the facemask is compulsory even though the compliance is not 100%.

Another challenge which we have observed during this pandemic is the increase in cases of domestic abuse and rape. The rape victims have sadly been young babies, children, young ladies and even older women. When caught, the perpetrators of this evil act will most of the time blame the devil for their actions. There has been an increase in cases of fathers defiling their daughters and their family members. The government is concerned about this upsurge and is now working on enacting laws that will keep perpetrators of such acts away from the public for a long time. Some of our legislators and members of the public have suggested life imprisonment and castration for anyone caught in the act. 

As with other parts of the world, another challenge is how to get students to return to school in the midst of the pandemic. In Nigeria the government last week allowed students who have to write their final High School examinations to return to school just to write the examination - while observing all safety rules. However, in one State in the country, seven students writing the examination have already tested positive.

In the Archdiocese of Lagos, Deaconesses are working with relevant authorities and agencies to discourage domestic violence and rape through education programmes that highlight the importance of being vigilant with the girl child. As well, remembering that the boy child also gets raped. We consider gender when we speak about domestic abuse and rape.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

DIAKONIA World Federation - Executive Committee (July 2020)

The DWF Executive Committee met in July 2020 by Zoom. As people lived in different parts of the globe, from Fiji to Seattle, some were joining the meeting before dawn in winter (5.30am in South Australia) and others were joining the meeting late at night (Europe). People in North America had the luxury of meeting in the afternoon. The meeting happened for 1.5 hours each day for four consecutive days. A great deal of work was done. In fact, the Executive agreed to meet more often by Zoom, rather than one annual meeting, and that the face to face meetings would happen every second year. This enables more regular contact and monitoring the progress of the Executive's work, and is a wise use of financial resources. 

The Minutes of the DWF Executive Committee meeting are available here. If you prefer to read a PDF of the minutes, contact the DWF Secretary, Traude Leitenberger

The  Financial Futures Task Group report will be of interest to DWF members, with 23 recommendations. (Read more below)

New member association - Kaiserswerther Schwesternschaft

 In July 2020, the DIAKONIA World Federation (DWF) approved Kaiserswerther Schwesternschaft in Germany as a new member association, on the recommendation of DRAE (DIAKONIA Region of Africa Europe) Executive Committee. The Kaiserswerther Schwesternschaft is an evangelical sisterhood, with 74 members (mainly retired). Sr Ulrike Kellner served for many years as Secretary for DIAKONIA World Federation. 

Actually, this 'new' member has a long history, dating back to 1836 and the pioneering work of Lutheran Pastor Theodor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth. Over the decades, an enormous range of services have been developed in the social, health and education sector, including aged care, children and youth, people with disabilities, vocational training, schools, day centres, and the Florence Nightingale hospital with general and specialist clinics. The work is overseen by a Board, and employs approximately 2,600 people. Due to a recent re-structure, it has been necessary to apply afresh for membership, as previously membership was through the Kaiserswerther Association.