Diakonia in context
In today’s globalized context, both societies and churches are experiencing the turbulences and challenges of major changes which very often have a negative impact on the most vulnerable people and communities. Within the past 20 years, first the countries of Central Eastern Europe, and later also other parts of Europe, have been confronted with economic crisis, affecting the sustainability of millions of families and whole communities. Within almost 20 years of democratization processes, and other integration endeavours aiming to create one broader Europe, both politically and economically, many countries began to recover and grow into new systems. Yet, the global financial crisis and the related Euro crisis have shown the fragility resulting from dependence on the financial system, and the related vulnerability of many people. Another development within the changing landscape of Europe, is the migration movements, both within Europe and to Europe from conflict areas in the Global South. The number of people with migration background who remain in vulnerable situations is growing with the effects of economic crisis throughout Europe. And the challenges of growing multi-cultural and multi religious neighbourhoods are new to many countries, as well as to churches.
The political and economic changes are accompanied by growing secularization and declining church affiliation, reflecting the loss of sense and the spiritual emptiness resulting from materialistic ideologies, on the one hand. Yet, on the other hand, was soon to be recognized a growing awareness of the importance of religion and religious values, as an empowering factor in community building, especially among marginalised and immigrant communities.
Seeking conviviality: Reforming Community Diakonia in Europe
Within Europe, a solidarity group was created, among people doing diaconal work in all 3 regions of Europe: Central Western, Northern, and Central Eastern Europe. The group comprises some 28 participants. The group is convening in workshops and through electronic communication tools, to share experience of their work, their visions and motivations, under the perspective of establishing participatory, grassroots approaches to Diakonia that can inform diaconal concepts and formation in Europe, as well as work in global context. of the LWF communion.
The first step in the joint consultation process of LWF and interdiac was held in December 2011 in Järvenpää/Finland and the group came up with following outcomes from their discussions:
Four Theses on Diakonia
1. Diakonia is a faithful response to God's call through the other
- Diakonia is in itself an expression of faith in God's presence, in the 'other', the one who is marginalised or 'different'. What does this mean for us today, in Europe?
- In secularizing and multi-religious contexts, how do we address the new questions arising regarding the involvement of and working together with people from diverse backgrounds of faith and outlook?
- Who will do the work? Between professional approaches and voluntary commitment?
- How can we develop volunteering in the neighbourhoods? And how do we resource and accompany volunteers and activists?
- In the midst of all the diverse challenges, how do we decide which groups and issues we are going to focus on, in our respective context?
2. Diakonia is an approach to life in community
- Christian identity is built on and in community. How can we strengthen the understanding of Christian witness becoming alive in working together with other actors, for better community?
- Diakonia is a life style, as consequence of Christian faith – how can we bring today's managerial and professional requirements into dialogue with Christian values?
- What will strengthen churches' integrating capacities, i.e. towards creating good neighbourhoods and restoring conviviality with those living in situations of vulnerability?
- How can Diakonia become a motivator and thought changing movement which brings visibility to Christian witness, in the broader community and society?
- How will it be possible to sustain Diakonia in contexts of financial crisis in churches and the wider economy? How are we able to strengthen the identity of Diakonia and give it space, also in church structures, as the 'liturgy after the liturgy'? What does it mean to be a diakonal church?
3. Diakonia promotes equality and justice
- How do we take up responsibility for sustaining justice, as individuals and churches?
- Diakonia is a voice advocating for those who suffer injustice. Who should Diakonia address, with and on behalf of those who are not treated justly?
- How do we avoid simplistic answers to contextual complexities?
- Diakonia is committed to deal openly with ethical challenges, but how do we deal with a situation where working silently may be a basic requirement to support vulnerable people (for example in working with people without documents)?
- What are the elements for a constructive relationship between church/Diakonia and the state at a time of reducing resources and changing values?
4. Diakonia opposes consumer society and market driven economy
- How can we address the contextual complexities which cause the 'splitting' and differentiation in society?
- How can we transform the consumer society and market driven economy, which are factors of marginalization and at the same time create a real basis for people's livelihood?
- What constructive ideas can Diakonia offer to resolve the present world's economic systemic deadlock? Do Christian values and practice offer alternatives to market driven economy?
- Churches are part of the market system and of society, its culture and structures of marginalization. This raises the question as to how the church can be in solidarity from a position of being privileged.
- Where does Diakonia find open spaces for developing its responses?
- How can Diakonia contribute to a world with more justice and love?