Friday, March 19, 2021

Praying for Tanzania

This week the Tanzanian President John Magufuli died, reportedly from COVID19 though publicly announced as a heart attack. Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent COVID skeptics, and had repeatedly claimed that Tanzania, a country of some 60 million people, had defeated COVID-19 with God’s help and the power of prayer. 

It is one year since the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. The President’s death happens at a time when anxiety and fears over the continuous spread of the COVID-19 virus continue to escalate, and when people are dealing with multiple losses of life in their own families and communities.

Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan has now taken his place as the country's head of state. She becomes Africa's only current female political leader (the Ethiopian presidency is a largely ceremonial role)  and joins a short list of women on the continent to have run their countries. The 61-year-old is affectionately known as Mama Samia - in Tanzanian culture that reflects the respect she is held in, rather than reducing her to a gendered role. 

Let us uphold the people of Tanzania at this point in history when they are experiencing stress and uncertainty. 

At this time, we also remember the four Member Associations in Tanzania in this time of upheaval and pray for a smooth transition in political power, and wise decisions for the good of the country. 


* KARAGWE Diocese Umoja Wa Masister, Tumshubire

* Namarila Mother House E.L.C.T.-HWD

* DAYOSIS YA KASKAZINI Ushirika Wa Diaconia Faraja

This week, a new prayer book, “Voices of Lament, Hope and Courage,” was published by the World Council of Churches, and will be a guide for the special upcoming WCC “Week of Prayer in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic” from 22-27 March. It is free to download

Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, interim WCC deputy General Secretary, said: “We have seen the critical role churches have played and continue to play in all the areas of the human condition affected by COVID-19: mental, physical, economical, spiritual, and environmental. With this week of prayer, we hope to help share the stories that allow us to grieve and keep us inspired to continue to act with solidarity and impact.”

Here is one of the prayers: “God of hope, our hearts overflow with gratitude for your abiding presence during these exceedingly difficult and troubled times. May the flames of hope remain aglow among individuals, families, communities and nations during the pandemic.”

Please keep Tanzania in your prayers, and the welfare of our 4 Member Associations. 

GBV - Enough is Enough

I have thought long and hard about this particular post. Should I post this on the DIAKONIA President's blog? But here it is. 

And the starting point is the basic truth that 'as followers of Jesus, we are called to name gender-based violence as a sin against God and a breach of the love, trust and care that Christ embodies and calls us to model. All women should experience safety, respect and dignity and the fullness of life that God intends for us all' (A statement by Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia)

Rev Sandy Boyce at the March4Justice rally in Adelaide

This week, thousands took part in 'March4Justice' rallies in Australia to highlight gender based violence (GBV) and to 'speak truth to power' and to vested interests that protect perpetrators and silence victims. In London, thousands rallied in London to express their horror at the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of an off duty police officer. And in the USA a 21-year-old evangelical (baptised in 2018) has been arrested for shootings at three Atlanta-area spas, killing 8 people including 6 Asian-Americans. (Interesting article here about the link between a particular kind of evangelical thinking and practice, and objectification and vilification of women. How we do our theology really matters!). 

Sadly, so many more examples could be added...

In many countries gendered violence is normalised as a 'domestic' issue rather than a criminal matter. In the USA, one in five black women are rape survivors. One in four black girls experience sexual abuse. Amnesty International reports that in the Pacific region almost 70% of women and girls experience rape or other sexual violence in their lifetime, one of the highest rates in the world. This is often at the hands of a partner or family member. A culture of shame and victim-blaming prevails, so many crimes are not reported, and the ones that are often go unpunished. Few Pacific Island nations have specific laws that make violence against women and girls a crime. Any existing laws are also poorly upheld. Truth be told, this is replicated globally. Around one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence – mostly by an intimate partner. Around 38% of all women who are murdered are killed by their partners. The World Health Organisation says that violence against women has reached "a global health problem of epidemic proportions." Gender-based violence (GBV) is a profound and widespread problem, which disproportionately affects women and girls. It is systemic, and deeply entrenched in institutions, cultures and traditions globally. In countries where there is extreme poverty as well as cultural obligations to stay with a partner, leaving a relationship may not be an option for many women experiencing abuse. 

(Churches and agencies are working on programs that directly address this and with a focus on empowerment of women and girls - but it is such a huge, deeply entrenched issue). 

DIAKONIA World Federation (DWF) Executive Committee has for many years supported Thursdays in Black, a World Council of Churches campaign for a world without rape and violence. (Watch the video here). You are encouraged to wear black and a badge/pin on Thursdays, and to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness, and speak truth in the public arena rather than perpetuate a culture of silence. While classified as a crime in many countries, sexual assault is often treated as a private issue, with the victim being effectively silenced. Enough is enough!

The campaign is simple. Wear a pin/badge to declare you are part of the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence. Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence. Encourage others to join you. (Often black has been used with negative racial connotations. In this campaign black is used as a colour of resistance and resilience). Share your Thursdays in Black photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, using hashtags #ThursdaysinBlack and #WCC! Post photos on the DIAKONIA Facebook page. (Thanks to people in DOTAC who regularly post photos of themselves wearing their Thursdays in Black pin/badge). 

So, why would DIAKONIA World support the Thursdays in Black campaign and other initiatives related to GBV? Why would churches give a priority to raising awareness of GBV? 

To quote Cornel West, Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public

In the Bible, justice fundamentally has to do with right and good relationships. It describes conditions - material, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual - in which people flourish in right relationships with God and with each other. When something damages or ruptures those relationships, doing justice involves setting things right. Justice involves integrity, wholeness, and wellness for people and their relationships.


God of the entire universe, all people are made in your image. They are known by you and loved by you. All the resources of the world are yours. God, please bring your boundless resources to help women and children around the world who are experiencing violence of any kind. You know each of them by name. We only hear of them, but you see all. 

We pray for governments around the world to rule wisely and to make and enforce laws to protect women and children from violence. Please provide support agencies with the resources they need to provide for the needs of victims. 

And please change the culture that permits, ignores, downplays or excuses violence against women and children throughout the world. Please give your grace, comfort and healing to all those who suffer. Amen. (Source: Common Grace, 16 days of prayer against domestic and family violence)

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Recognising Deaconesses in Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI)

St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 is the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the 5th century. 

It seems appropriate therefore to highlight in this post the Deaconesses in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI). There are fifteen deaconesses currently serving in local congregations across PCI, alongside hospital, and prison chaplains and other specialist ministries. Deaconess Rosemary Spiers is the President of the Deaconess Association 

Deaconess Louise Davidson

Deaconess Louise Davidson is one of the most recently commissioned Deaconesses (2020). As part of her journey in becoming a deaconess, she undertook three years of training at Union Theological College in Belfast.

Previously an auxiliary nurse working in the Ulster Hospital and a community healthcare worker for 25 years, Louise said that she had always felt God’s call on her life. “I have always had that desire to help and support people and that has been accompanied by real sense of God’s call on my life, while not exactly knowing where it might lead. I always had an interest in what a deaconess did, so to follow in the footsteps of so many faithful women is a privilege. I am so thankful to be able to join them and I’m really looking forward to working with the team at West, walking alongside people and watching God work in their lives. It is a privilege to be able to serve the Lord in this way, something that I couldn’t have done without the support and encouragement of my family".

The first Deaconesses in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland began their training in 1908, when the office of Deaconess was established by the General Assembly. This followed an earlier 1904 General Assembly report that looked at the work of the Church in industrial areas. One of its recommendations was that minsters in urban congregations be provided with trained support staff to assist them in the carrying out of their duties. This included the training of women for full-time church work. Since then, hundreds of women have been called by congregations, and to other areas of specialist ministry, as deaconesses within the Church. The overall responsibility for them lies with PCI’s Council for Mission in Ireland in partnership with Presbyterian Women (PW) and the Council for Training in Ministry.

Each of the denomination’s 19 regional presbyteries have certain responsibilities for deaconesses, including the commissioning of them to the office of deaconess. This takes place after they have been called to serve in a congregation, which is responsible for deploying them to meet specific local pastoral and community needs. 

Mission in Ireland Secretary, and PCI’s current Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, noted that “Deaconesses have played an important role in the life of our Church for well over a century now, seeking to serve God, the Church and the community. Taking up lead roles in missional and evangelistic activities, they support the warp and weft of ordinary congregational life in so many important ways. I am hugely supportive of the work that our deaconesses do, a group of women deeply committed to the service of Christ in the community, which is such a powerful social witness to the gospel". 

At the commissioning service, PCI’s Women’s Ministry and PW Development Officer, Pauline Kennedy, presented Louise to the Presbytery for her commissioning as a Deaconess. During the service, she also presented her with a badge of office, a silver brooch bearing PCI’s emblem, a representation of the burning bush (Exodus 3), Latin motto ('Ardens sed Virens' -‘burning but flourishing') and the word ‘DEACONESS’.

In September 2021, a new intake of three Deaconess trainees will begin their training. 

Deaconess Rosemary Spiers is President of the PCI Deaconess Association. 

Deaconess Rosemary Spiers

(edited from an article on the PCI website)

This prayer is attributed to Patrick:

Christ be with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

DUCCs are meeting

DUCCs attending Chicago Assembly 2017

DUCC (Diakonia of The United Church of Canada) is meeting March 3 and 4, 2021, 12 pm—3 pm CST. That’s early morning in the DAP region and evening in the DRAE region. As you start the day or end the day in DRAE or DAP, or wherever you are in the DOTAC region during the day, please remember in prayer our brothers and sisters in DUCC as they meet together (virtually). 

Statement of Vision:
God calls us to diaconal ministry. 
The gospel of Jesus invites all to this ministry:
to offer compassion and accompaniment,
to work for liberation and justice,
to act as advocates of creative transformation.
Diaconal ministry, as a recognized order, is rooted
within our faith tradition and history,
and it is continued and embodied
in an ecumenical, world-wide community.
This vocation is a journey
involving Spirit-filled enrichment and learning,
requiring humble offering of self,
demanding prayerful discernment and courageous risking,
exercising visionary and communal leadership,
promising joy and meaning,
and daring to imagine God’s abundance
in a world of love and respect.
Through education, service, social justice, and pastoral care,
diaconal ministry in The United Church of Canada,
encourages a growing faith,
speaks truth to power,
seeks mutual empowerment,
proclaims prophetic hope,
nurtures life-giving community,
fosters peaceful, right relationship,
within the church and the whole of creation
wherever the Spirit may lead.

Adopted at DUCC National Gathering, April 2009.

Canada continues to have public health restrictions to deal with COVID19 and variant strains that are causing concern because they spread more easily, cause more severe illness, or current vaccines may be less effective against them. It’s been a long winter in largely lockdown conditions.