Diaconia in Community

Community development is an approach to enabling people’s engagement with and impact on their community. It assists them to identify their needs or issues and take to practical or political action themselves. Diaconal youth and social organizations or congregations can facilitate these processes as well as being involved in participatory approaches to service development.

The issue of community engagement has become central to the discussions of appropriate models of diaconia for the fast changing but diverse contexts across Europe. There is also a renewed discussion of congregational diaconia (including the development of explicitly diaconal churches). There are a growing number of research and development projects in the field. The need to bring these experiences together and create an ongoing forum for research, learning and development has been recognized. The interest of interdiac is to contribute to the implementation of innovative models of local diaconia in the contexts of Central and Eastern Europe, where its partner organizations operate.

The initiative works on these issues:

  • Seeing European social realities through the eyes of the people who are marginalized.
  • The specific role of diaconia and the church in building community participation, especially in marginalized and multicultural/multilingual environments.
  • The role and engagement of professionals, volunteers & activists in relation to the question of the real participation of people in their community or in working life.
  • Methods of work needed to address unemployment and for the social inclusion of people
  • The relationship of Diaconia to job creation and decent work in communities.

The interdiac initiative is implemented through a number of projects:

‘New Directions in Voluntary Action & Community Engagement’ – a 2 year project with Eurodiaconia and the interdiac founders

A ‘kick off’ meeting on ´community development in diaconia and the social action of the churches´ in Brussels, was organized in cooperation with Eurodiaconia

The exchange proved the value and importance of working ecumenically and internationally on this theme and the workshop identified the importance of further clarification of the root concepts informing the work and to take a more detailed look at working methods and strategies. The need to enhance contextual theological reflection was also emphasised. The participants from interdiac and others with relevant interests and experience stressed the need to share more expertise in developing explicit training and learning. However, because of the concern with volunteers and activists, the importance of ‘implicit learning’ was also recognised. The participants committed themselves continuing the process and a number of future actions were elaborated.

The kick off meeting was hosted by Eurodiaconia.

Study visit in Helsinki, in cooperation with Eurodiaconia

The study visit aimed at working on the issue of real participation, empowerment and the contribution of the social capital of volunteers and activists to community well being. This should contribute to the search for new approaches to community development and new understandings of voluntary engagement.

The study visit focused on developing participant’s understanding of:

  • Work with marginalized groups & minorities in particular neighbourhoods.
  • Community development & citizen participation.
  • Voluntary action in relation to real participation in community and engagement with working life.
  • The quality of community engagement of young people.
  • Engaging with unemployment and social exclusion of young people.

This Study visit was hosted by interdiac founder Helsinki Deaconess Institute.

Study visit in Český Těšín, in cooperation with Eurodiaconia

The study visit in Český Těšín was planned as a follow up action of the study visit organized in Finland.

The study visit aimed at working on the issue of participation and empowerment of ´forgotten young people´ in marginalized local communities. This contributed to clarifying and elaborating the root concepts for development of local initiatives. Young people were considered to be the ´experts´ in their own situation and in the main position to carry those initiatives in a long term perspective.

A special focus was put on developing the culture of voluntary action and the recognition of the developmental dynamics which support voluntary and community engagement.

The study visit was hosted interdiac founder Slezská Diakonia.

Publications

A report on this project, ‘New directions in voluntary action and community engagement’ was produced and is available from interdiac. A book of case studies in ‘Community Development and Diaconia’ has also been published and is available from interdiac.

´Seeking Conviviality, Re-formation of Community Diakonia in Europe´ - a 3 year project in cooperation with Lutheran World Federation

This 3- year consultation process organised by the Lutheran World Federation in partnership with interdiac ´Seeking Conviviality: Re-forming Community Diakonia in Europe´ was launched in December 2011. The so called solidarity group, the pan – European gathering of pastors, deacons and social or diaconia workers, students and teachers explored their work in diverse local contexts across Europe and in training and support for diaconia.

This led to thematic discussions on:

  • How Diaconia combats inequality and injustice.
  • How Diaconia opposes the consuming society and market driven economy.
  • Diaconia as a faithful response to God´s call through the ‘other’.
  • Diaconia as an approach to life in community.

Following these discussions, the reflective process ended with the identification of the most relevant key issues in participant’s regional contexts which were worked out in the collective publications:

  • ‘Seeking conviviality: Reforming Community Diakonia in Europe’. Available in English, German and Russian version.
  • Convivial Life Together. Bible studies on the theme, available in English.

The meetings took place in Järvenpää (Finland), Odessa (Ukraine), Rummelsberg (Germany), Manchester (Great Britain) and Tallinn (Estonia). The representatives of solidarity group were invited to the Lutheran World Federation European regional church leaders meeting in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Seminar on the Community Economy

More than 3 years expertise gained in supporting development and learning in the field of diaconia in community opened new possibilities to further developmental actions regionally based in Ukraine, with a long term perspective.

The meeting drew on the process of development of the strategies for community work and creating networks locally and nationally. The long term objective aims at empowering people to respond to phenomena like poverty or long term unemployment by building upon the resources within the community.

Specific focus was put on community economic development which recognises that localities have many assets and resources (not least the people!) and that there is a local economy which can be developed further, especially to meet local needs and to keep financial resources in the community.

The seminar was organised by interdiac with cooperation with the interdiac partner organisation German Evangelical Lutheran church in Ukraine (DELKU) with its seat in Odessa.

Workshops in Český Těšín

The Workshops promoted learning in support of the personal capacity development and empowerment of ‘forgotten people’ in multicultural settings and learning for intercultural education.

The learning journey throughout the Workshops contributed to development of appropriate skills and perspectives for actions with diverse groups and through development to encourage grass roots projects and actions.

The workshops supported the analysis of the changes in the region as they affect diverse groups.

In light of the previous experience of the participants and their resources, the learning built up the capacity of the learners to support the local partnerships in order to develop community based initiatives with the empowered groups of forgotten people in multicultural settings.

The projects of Study visit in Helsinki, Study visit in Český Těšín were funded with support from the European Commission. This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.

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The project of Workshops in Český Těšín has been funded with support of the European Commission, Life Long Learning programme, Grundtvig.
This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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