Thursday, February 4, 2021

Foundation of the Diakoneo Community Neuendettelsau

Foundation of the Diakoneo Community Neuendettelsau

The diaconal communities in Neuendettelsau are setting out on a common path into the future

The Neuendettelsau Deaconess Community, the Diaconal Sisters and Brotherhood and the community of employees in the Diaconate have joined forces to form the Neuendettelsau Deaconeo Community.

Within a year, the "Working Group Future of the Communities", consisting of representatives of all three communities, developed a future-oriented concept and sustainable structures.

At the beginning of October 2020, the new Diakoneo Gemeinschaft Neuendettelsau was officially founded in a meeting of the working group. "I am very pleased that this truly historic step for Diakoneo has been successful and wish the new community a bright future," said Rector Dr. Hartmann, Chairman of the Board of Diakoneo.

On October 23rd, the Board of Trustees of Diakoneo KdöR approved the foundation of the new community, which will in future be led by a council consisting of three members from each of the previous communities. This council will be headed by Rector Dr. Mathias Hartmann until the new leadership of the Diakoneo Community is appointed by the council. A selection process has recently been underway. 

Until the new leadership takes up its duties, Sister Erna Biewald, the former superior of the deaconesses, and Sister Roswitha Buff, the former head of the Deaconical Sisters and Brotherhood, are members of the transitional council in an advisory capacity. They will retire next spring.

Different roots and yet the same intention

"All three communities have the task of shaping and helping to shape the diaconal profile of the work at Diakoneo," emphasized Dr. Mathias Hartmann, even if the respective roots are different. The Deaconess Community has existed since the founding of the Neuendettelsau Deaconess Institute in 1854. The almost equally old brotherhood and the sisterhood founded at the beginning of the 20th century merged in 1995 to form the Deaconess Sisters and Brotherhood. The community of employees in the diaconate was newly founded in 1999 as a supplement to the historical communities. The new Diakoneo Gemeinschaft Neuendettelsau has about 350 members, most of whom work or have worked for Diakoneo.

Re-Di (Research Diaconia)

Re-Di (Research Diaconia) is the International Society for the Research and Study of Diaconia and Christian Social Practice. 

In September 2020, Re-Di offered a conference with a far reaching range of presentations from around the globe. (The 8th International ReDi conference original planned to be held in Oslo was replaced with a virtual online conference due to COVID-19)

Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd (DUCC) reports: The wide variety of the understanding, practice and theology of the diaconate broadened my outlook. The rich sharing of ideas deepened my diaconal identity with intellectually stimulating ideas and studies. Two keynote speakers shared their understanding of the conference’s theme: Diakonia as Gamechanger?: Leadership of Service in Times of Crisis, Complexity and Transformation - from an Asian and from an African perspective. Clearly, this organization is working hard to expand its horizons beyond its European origins.

Panel presentations that I attended continued the diversity of perspective:

* a Norwegian researcher studied the impact of a program active in churches through Africa - Use Your Talents. The program focuses on the Parable of the Talents as a key scriptural image but one woman quoted in the study pointed to the David and Goliath story saying for her context, “Goliath is poverty”;

* German understandings and expressions of diakonia are dominated by their massive social work networks that grew out of the deaconess Motherhouses. Currently, these agencies are staffed by a majority of people who are not Christian, so one researcher from Heidelberg was outlining various ways to address pluralism in these faith-based institutions;

* An Australian originally from China outlined the vast network of social agencies in the Uniting Church of Australia. He also upheld a theology of incarnation for diakonia (Matthew 25 - the least of these is where we see the Christ);

* A professor from the Philippines explored the biblical roots of gratitude as a paradigm for practising diakonia;

* A researcher in Germany shared her study of an organization that reclaimed an abandoned industrial site and was using the facility to locate many social enterprises; 

* A historian shared the lives of three women who were “firsts” in the church of Norway and compared their leadership styles with male models. The women tended to stress communal approaches and idealistic principles; 

* A Cuban championed the inclusion of indigenous traditions and anti-colonial reconciliation for a diakonia based in a socially committed spirituality; 

* A Filipino studying in South Africa examined the fear-based dehumanizing and othering tactics of the Duerte government’s “war on drugs”;

A Swedish congregational study suggested diakonia would be enhanced by an alliance of learning-oriented deacons (there is at least one deacon in every church) and strategic vicars (pastors).

* From South Africa, a presentation on a Christian theology of migration used the Abraham and Sarah and Lot stories from Genesis to understand the work with displaced peoples; 

On Friday, September 18, DOTAC offered a Zoom de-briefing session. The attendance was small but the discussion indicated that the conference was highly appreciated. Two issues emerged in the conversation:

* Diaconal Formation - support and networking of ecumenical and international educational programs for those training for the diaconate; 

* Diaconal Scholarship - sharing of resources and encouraging writing about the diaconate. 

Because of the hour for North America - mostly in the middle of the night - participation was hampered. Most people took part in segments of the conference. And we selected different panel presentations so we were in different breakout “rooms”. I counted 20 people who used the DOTAC institutional registration to participate.

Ted Dodd, President of DOTAC

(Note: Ted is convening a Zoom meeting on Feb 11/12 with Re-Di and DIAKONIA World to explore an intentional partnership between the two organisations).