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Caribbean churches reflect on new directions for diaconal work

May 3, 2013

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

“Diakonia must be done through action, social services, advocacy and challenging systems and structures that create injustice and dehumanization of people,” said the Rev. Paul Gardner of Jamaica at a recent seminar here, which included a visit by the president of Haiti.

Diakonia is a Greek term used in the New Testament to describe ministries of service, mission and support. It is the source of the English words “deacon” and “diaconal” and was the theme of the April 15-18 seminar.

“We are able to develop tools through which we can continue to exemplify our Lord’s work in various situations,” said Gardner, a Jamaican Moravian pastor and member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee. “The Haitian context in the dialogue provides us the perfect background for discussions, reflections and prayers about diakonia.”

The event was organized by the WCC in collaboration with the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) and hosted by the Protestant Federation of Haiti (PFH).

The seminar provided a space for dialogue on best practices for the diaconal ministry of the churches. Participants shared updates on contemporary issues related to diakonia and development in the ecumenical movement, particularly in the Caribbean.

Forty people took part in the discussions, including representatives of the WCC member churches in the Caribbean, diaconal projects, diaconal institutions and specialized ministries in Haiti.

The methodology for discussions at the seminar was facilitated by the Regional Ecumenical Advisory and Service Centre (CREAS) from Argentina.

The event was part of a process on diakonia initiated at the WCC’s 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2006, and leading to the WCC’s upcoming 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, later this year.

The discussions were a follow-up to consultations on diakonia in Romania in 2009 and the Netherlands, 2010. A document, Theology of Diakonia for the 21st Century, an outcome of the WCC consultation in Sri Lanka, 2012, was also discussed extensively.

In her reflections at the seminar, Elvire Douglas, a Haitian participant from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said, “Diakonia should be a way of living for each Christian bearing testimony of the gospel in the 21st century.”

“Prophetic diakonia is to be promoted by the churches to enable and reset its objectives and define relevant strategies to teach, empower and advocate for justice and peace for the healing of the world,” she added.

Translating diakonia into social action

Haiti’s president, Michel Joseph Martelly, visited the group on April 17, thanking PFH specifically for the invitation and offering greetings to the participants.

“My pledge to you is to tell the world to work with the government of Haiti for the improvement of the living conditions of people,” said Martelly. He expressed appreciation for the “accompaniment of the churches to build the kingdom of God, bringing peace, justice, reconciliation, democratic values among the people through action and prayers.”

“What would Haiti be today without pastors and priests?” he added.

The Rev. Lesley Anderson, a member of the CCC presidium, affirmed that this dialogue has an “impact on the direction in which the church leaders must work to enable people to have a new vision of hope in a world of despair.”

“From biblical and theological perspectives, we have examined the socio-political and economic realities of our region. We feel inspired by our togetherness to seek solutions to the many and varied challenges with which we are confronted,” he added.

The Rev. Carlos Emilio Ham, a Cuban Presbyterian pastor and the WCC’s program executive for diakonia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, said that the seminar represented an opportunity of “regional empowerment through mutual sharing.”

Currently, the WCC is working toward strengthening the diaconal capacity of member churches and networks that “will further empower them to transform structures of injustice and violence exacerbating suffering of people and communities,” said Ham.

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