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By Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson

Many thanks to the Board of Higher Education and Ministry for the financial help I received toward attending the DOTAC 2015 meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil! What a rich experience it was!

Lois Rogers-Watson

Lois Rogers-Watson

Highlights of the Conference for me were several. First of all, the worship was deeply spiritual. It was well planned and executed. Our music leader was exceptionally fine and the chosen music was not only beautiful and easy to sing but it was theologically sound, in my humble opinion. Naturally, we servant leaders identified with the call to serve and to work for justice about which both the music and the liturgy spoke.

The evening worship services led by Lutherans were truly beautiful. We United Methodists could learn from the liturgies of other denominations. Our Anglican heritage speaks to me and I yearn at times for the orders of the day. In our personal devotions, my husband and I have a somewhat “order of the day” that is both challenging and satisfying.

Another highlight was the fellowship. To sit at a table with the same people for the entire conference was very special because one felt that you became a community and I appreciated each of my tablemates very much. They were diverse and yet we had so much in common. I came to love these people! Each is obviously a devoted disciple of Christ and each works in different but wonderful ways in their home communities. We only had one Portuguese person at our table and it would have enhanced our fellowship to have another but our dear sister was so lovely and I came to identify with her at a deep level.

Likewise, to interact at meal times with conference participants was special as well. Those of us who did the site visits together also had the opportunity to develop relationships through our shared experiences there.

The site visits were, indeed, a highlight. Our first site was similar but not the same as Ronald McDonald Houses in the USA. This site was more modest but certainly faith-based and that came through in several ways. Operated on a shoestring, it is providing housing for those awaiting transplants and/or checkups following transplants. The director is loving and enthusiastic about her work. The second site was the “Bread Project,” which is also exciting. Youth from distressed neighborhoods spend half a day three days a week at this project. They learn to bake and they learn computer skills. In addition, they take far-reaching field trips which expand their horizons beyond their neighborhoods and city. The staff at this site is very fine and well-skilled. They receive government funding and I pray that will continue because it is making a huge difference in the lives of these young people. While we were there a mother came to enroll her child because she has seen the results of the program in the lives of youth she knows. It, too, is faith-based and it is located in a church which gives not only space to it but also spiritual support.

The speakers were also inspiring. It happens I have not been in many situations where I needed translation and I found that to be an excellent experience. My language skills, despite some language study, are very, very poor outside the English language and I am humbled by those who are fluent in various languages beyond their native ones.

Lois Rogers-Watson stands by the UMC Deacons banner used in the opening processional at the DOTAC conference.

Lois Rogers-Watson stands by the UMC Deacons banner used in the opening processional at the DOTAC conference.

The content of the talks by these able speakers spoke to my heart. They underscored readings that I have recently done and just reaffirmed my commitment to justice activities. So many are eating bread crumbs in our world today! So many don’t even get the crumbs. We must take back the Kingdom in our churches and help our churches see that our call is to be counter-cultural. Fortunately, my current pastor gets that to some extent and I know I am looked to as the speaker for social justice. But, I need to be even a stronger voice and this conference helped equip me in that role.

It was my privilege to present a workshop on Israel and Palestine at the conference. Though attendance was light at the workshop, I pray that attendees saw the injustices of the occupation of Palestine and left with a determination to learn more and to speak out for the Palestinian people while at the same time praying for the Israeli government to change its ways.

Finally, while in the country of Brazil, friends and I took advantage of some travel after the conference. We went to Iguacu Falls, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro. Since Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, we hardly saw a speck of it but nonetheless we learned a great deal from the various guides we had and the other people with whom we interacted. It was our privilege to meet Diana, a lovely young Methodist woman, in Salvador. All with whom we talked were discouraged by the corruption of their government and some of the stories they shared were not unlike things happening in the United States. It is time for the crumbs to become full communion in Brazil, the United States, and the world at large!

Many thanks again for helping make my pilgrimage possible. It was deeply spiritually, culturally, and socially enhancing and I thank God for it.
Rev. Rogers-Watson is a retired deacon and retired home missionary serving in East Lake United Methodist Church, Palm Harbor, Florida. She is a Stephen Minister and is involved in justice ministries on the local level and also an active advocate for ending the occupation of Palestine. She is a member of the Indiana Conference and an associate member of the Florida Conference.

By Rev. Rick Tettau

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.—Psalm 16:11

Porto Alegre, Brazil, hosted the 13th Diakonia of The Americas and Caribbean (DOTAC) conference. Porto Alegre means “Happy Port” or “Joyful Harbor” in English. According to the Portuguese translator on our bus tour, the city was named after a couple who were happily married.

Extending a joyful welcome to visitors is a characteristic of those who live in Brazil. After we got settled on the bus, our guide said, “Welcome to Brazil!” His welcome to us was sincere and authentic. He went on to explain that when somebody welcomes you to Brazil it means you are always and forever welcome in Brazil. I found his words to be true throughout the conference. I gratefully received a joyful welcome with lots of hugs everywhere that I went.

Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.

Rick Tettau (far left) examines the Bread Workshop facilities in Brazil, a site that educates at-risk youth.

DOTAC is one of three regional organizations in the World DIAKONIA Federation. World DIAKONIA is an association of diaconal communities around the world. At our conferences brothers and sisters in diakonia from different countries come together to share stories about servant ministry, to learn from leading educators, share best practices, and fellowship in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The regional meeting of DOTAC is a smaller version of our world gatherings.

The DOTAC Conference in Brazil opened with a worship celebration at Igreja da Reconciliação (Church of the Reconciliation IECLB). I was honored to carry the banner for the United Methodist Deacons and Diaconal Ministers. Our theme for this conference was “The diakonia of Jesus—from crumbs to full communion,” based on the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. The conference aimed to help us see those who are feeding off the crumbs under the table and welcome them into full communion at the table of abundant grace, where Jesus Christ sits himself.

We had three speakers for the conference: Dr. Felipe Gustavo Koch Buttelli, a professor of religion at the Municipal University Center of São José, who studied in Brazil and South Africa; Dr. Rodolfo Gaede Nero, a professor of practical theology at the Faculdades EST in São Leopoldo; and Deaconess Irma Schrammel, who serves at the Heliodor Hesse Social Center in Santo André.

Overall, the speakers spoke about how Jesus’ ministry is shaped by the heavenly banquet. At the heavenly banquet we will share table fellowship, food, and an abundance of blessings. At the heavenly banquet there is a seat at the table for all. Since an open community meal is indicative of the heavenly banquet, Jesus acts accordingly in his ministry on earth: God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Since the heavenly banquet makes sharing at a table one of the main characteristics of Jesus’ ministry, it is no surprise that Jesus relates to all sorts of people at the table. There are feeding stories, dinner parties, weddings, breakfasts, and suppers noted in the Bible. All are welcome at the table with Jesus. Jesus is so closely associated with eating and drinking with people the Pharisees accuse him of being a glutton and a drunk (Matthew 11:19). On example of Jesus’ teaching on the heavenly banquet comes from the story of a father who throws his prodigal son a party upon his return home.

A challenge in Jesus’ time was the struggle against those who wanted to privatize the table. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus begs to eat at the rich man’s table, but the rich man denies him the opportunity. Likewise, the Pharisees want a closed, private table (Luke 7:39). In the early church the apostles worked to deconstruct the barriers to the table, so the blessings of the kingdom of God were not particularized. The Christian church became a place where Jews and Gentiles could eat together (Acts. 10).

The speakers pointed out how the Syrophoenician woman in the story was different than Jesus. She was a woman, non-Israelite, and a pagan worshiper. Yet, Jesus heard her story. He heard the pain in her failed attempts at receiving healing for her daughter. She admitted as much that the crumbs of Jesus’ abundance were good enough for her. Through his conversation with the woman Jesus comes to welcome her to the table and grant her request for the healing of her daughter. In this act of mercy Jesus unites the community. The community is made whole when those who eat from the crumbs under the table enter into full communion at the table with Christ.

The speakers encouraged us to consider those who survive off crumbs under the table today. They pointed out that people who feel marginalized, suffer violence, are abandoned, and hunger and thirst are all living off crumbs. Each speaker challenged us to seek a new paradigm of sharing God’s abundance. Mark 7 is an example of how an open table overcomes the fragmentation of human community. At God’s table there is plenty to care for the well-being of all people. Jesus eats with all and all are satisfied. This is authentic reconciliation. Diakonia works toward authentic reconciliation. An open table overcomes a fragmented human community. When all sit at the table of grace in the midst of cultural differences and diversity we will gain a wholistic perspective.

I saw the practice of an open table in action at two mission sites in Porto Alegre. The first mission site I visited was St. Luke House (Casa de Pasagem São Lucas). St. Luke House provides free housing to those waiting for medical treatment. Porto Alegre is recognized for being a leader in health research and services and this attracts from the countryside and even from other states in Brazil. Many of these people do not have a place to stay while they are waiting for medical treatment. For these people, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELCB) created in 2002 this residence alongside of a church. All are welcome to stay, eat, rest, and recover from their medical treatments at St. Luke House.

The second mission site I saw was the Bread Workshop. The Bread Workshop was created by St. Mark Lutheran Church in 1993. Its goal is to educate at-risk adolescents coming from local and neighboring communities offering them the possibility of generating income through working in cooperative and commercialized bakery production. The Bread Workshop teaches the art of baking bread while promoting faith and citizenship.

To help us unwind after a busy week we enjoyed a cultural celebration at the Churrascaria Galpão Crioulo, a Brazilian barbeque that offered live entertainment. The celebration of this culture night was dedicated to Nazgul “Naz” William, a United Methodist lay deaconess who was tragically killed in a random act of violence in China two years ago.

Brazil is a wonderful place with many wonderful people. From the beginning of the conference until its close after Sunday worship I felt the warm welcome of the Brazilian people. This experience of hospitality along with the teachings on our theme reminded me of what it means to be fully included as a guest. As we are all guests of Jesus at the table, this conference gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for hospitality in the church. As our tour guide explained about the meaning of “Welcome to Brazil,” we need to live into a vision of the church where all are forever and always welcome, because the church is a place where all are loved by God and God’s love never changes. The church is a place where those who are living off the crumbs can enter into full communion with Christ at the table of grace.

Rick Tettau serves as a deacon at Faith Community United Methodist Church in Xenia, Ohio. He is an alternate on the DOTAC central committee.

 

By Sue Zahorbenski

Death and taxes. Two things we can’t avoid, no matter what, no matter where.

In Germany, the churches and their many agencies and institutions are mostly supported by the government through taxes. About 8 to 9 percent of income tax supports the churches, although this may translate to only 2 percent of a taxpayer’s income. (Example:  $50,000 income, taxed at 20 percent, equals $10,000; church tax comes to $800-$900.) This allows unique and comprehensive caring for many people, as we witnessed during the World Diakonia Assembly in Berlin in July 2013.

Sue Zahorbenski visits a remaining part of the Berlin Wall on July 4, 2013.

Sue Zahorbenski visits a remaining part of the Berlin Wall on July 4, 2013.

For example, an old city church had dwindled to only 20 people in the congregation, so they went on a European search for a new model. A Swiss pastor and his wife were recruited to import their community model, including several families, to create the “Stadtkloster Segen” (City Cloister Blessing) in Berlin. After two years, they now offer Bible study and prayer, worship, breakfasts, counseling, spiritual mentoring, and more, for all who come, including visitors in their guest accommodations.

On a larger scale, the Evangelisches Johannesstift, which hosted our conference, is a huge community that offers a variety of ministries. Located on 187 acres with over 60 buildings, the campus accommodates both those who need help and those who provide help, employing about 1,900 people. The handicap-accessible bus stops at the front gate, so it is not isolated even though it’s on the outskirts of Berlin in the Spandau Forest.

At the Berlin Wall, I was touched by the story told in the Reconciliation Chapel service about a young West Berlin man who accidentally fell while peering over the wall. He was shot and killed by the East Berlin police, who told no one about the death of this innocent man. It was not until the wall came down in 1989 that this and other deaths were revealed to the public. His friends and family didn’t know what happened to him for years!

Elizabeth, one of our tour guides, may be the best example of the vim and vigor of the German deaconesses. She met our group at the train station and led us all around the city. The youngest person in her community was introduced at age 72, so we guessed that Elizabeth is probably closer to eighty. There were no golf carts on the Johannesstift campus to shuttle people from one end to the other. In the U.S., our lack of exercise may shorten our lifespan—another sobering lesson from Germany.

I was grateful for the opportunity to travel to Berlin to represent the diaconal ministers and deacons of the United Methodist Church. As one of the few diaconal ministers still working in New Jersey, it was great to meet so many from other denominations who still go by the name “diaconal minister” (though they may pronounce it “dia-KON-al”). Having attended many United Methodist Women jurisdictional and assembly meetings, I thought I had a global view of the church. The UMC is global, but now I see even more broadly. Thank you!

Sue Zahorbenski is diaconal minister at the United Methodist Church at New Brunswick (N.J.). This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.

By Rev. Rick Buckingham

The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness – John Wesley, Preface to Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739).

In the August issue of the United Methodist Deacon News, the Rev. Rick Tettau gave an excellent description of the theme, content, and location of the World Assembly of the World Diakonia Federation, held in Berlin, Germany, held in July 2013. To hold this event in Berlin held particular relevance in the history of the organization. World Diakonia began in 1946 in the midst of the debris of the Second World War. Much of Europe lay in ruins, and the Nazi movement had been the chief cause of the resulting horror. A residual dislike—even hatred—of Germans in general can still be identified in many parts of Europe to this day. Yet it was in 1946 that a group of Dutch deaconesses decided to reach out to their German sisters and others to rebuild the Christian bonds that had once united them. Diakonia World Federation had its roots in this act of reconciliation and healing, and was formally organized the next year in Copenhagen. The 2013 assembly is only the fourth one to be held in Germany, and the second in Berlin, the previous Berlin assembly being in 1963 in a newly divided city. To meet once again in this now unified city in a reunified Germany, under the elected leadership of President Sister Doris Horn, a native German (and a United Methodist), with the theme “Healing and Wholeness for the World,” was an especially powerful symbol for all of us.

Rev. Rick Buckingham, third from right, connects with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers outside the chapel at Johannesstift.

Rev. Rick Buckingham, third from right, connects with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers outside the chapel at Johannesstift.

My first exposure to World Diakonia came in 1992, at the assembly in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I had been a United Methodist diaconal minister for almost ten years, and was aware of the movement within our denomination to create an ordained order of deacons. I wanted to learn more about diaconal work worldwide, and I was not disappointed. Meeting deacons and deaconesses and hearing their stories of call and service from around the world changed my perspective and, indeed, my identity. Prior to that assembly, I saw myself primarily in occupational and professional terms as Christian educator and youth minister; afterwards I began to see myself as a called, set-apart person in mission and ministry, with concern for the needs of the larger world. I learned about DIAKAID, the fund established in 1969 to provide direct assistance for various diaconal ministries located in areas of the greatest need, and realized that I needed to be doing more in my own place of service to educate and motivate my congregation to take action to meet such needs.

Now, 20 years later, I found myself connecting to old friends and meeting new ones: the Swedish deaconesses with whom I shared a lunch, the Australian with whom I ate breakfast, the Canadian with whom I shared a hotel room, and especially the Tanzanians with whom I struck up a particularly enjoyable relationship. A young man from my church is about to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and I was able to send him the names of Christian friends there who could render him assistance and hospitality should he need it. Through Christ, the world comes together.

When we are willing to step outside of our comfort zones, experience people and cultures that are unfamiliar to us, and trust in the grace of God, we begin to discover what it truly means to be part of the church universal. We learn to communicate in the languages of faith and music, smiles and sharing. And when in the presence of other deacons and deaconesses and diaconal workers, we realize the powerful unifying factor of the call of Christ to serve others. When John Wesley wrote about the essence of the Gospel being social religion, and true holiness being social holiness, he had in mind what today we would call diakonia: serving by connecting the gifts of the church and the needs of the people. I now return to my workaday world rejuvenated, but also looking forward to the next opportunity I may have to be in company with others who share my call. I hope that you will consider joining me!

Rev. Rick Buckingham is minister of education and youth for St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Kensington, Md. This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.

By Rev. Jim Kraus

I first heard about the Diakonia World Federation assembly back in 2001 when it met in Australia. I was intrigued that a world community gathered every four years to encourage people in diaconal/deacon ministry. I was finally able to attend the 2013 gathering, in Berlin, and was moved and inspired through the programming, the discussions and connecting with so many from around the world.

Those in the diaconate from around the world meet at the historic Berliner Dom for worship and singing.

Those in the diaconate from around the world met at the historic Berliner Dom for worship and singing.

I loved hearing the daily chapel bells calling us to worship in the morning and the evening. I was moved to hear those bells peel as we all prayed The Lord’s Prayer in our own tongues. It was as if the bells agreed with the prayer and carried it over the community, first on the Johannesstift campus and then at the Berliner Dom.

We gathered twice in small groups, where I loved meeting people from all over the globe who serve God in so many ways and shared from their experiences. My view of ministry was widened by hearing others share of the work they are called to: a Presbyterian deacon pastor of a three-point charge from Canada, a mother superior from Tanzania, a surviving spouse who runs a ministry for the poor in Australia, and others from all types of ministry from nursing to education to administration. God’s hand is active and moving in the world.

How impressive to meet in Berlin, a city that has been destroyed by war, divided by ideology and politics, and yet has been reunited and is under constant renovation and rebuilding. This is a picture of the Church in many ways. We are separated from others only to be reunited and reclaimed by Christ and then remade. Even as Christian workers across denominations we are united in Christ.

As we exited the Berliner Dom for a final group picture the conference members and friends numbering near 500 spontaneously began singing “We Are Marching in the Light of God.” People in the park across the street ran over to see what this big group was about. Soon there were as many people looking at us as there were on the steps singing, witnessing to the goodness of God.

A presenter who spoke about Bonhoeffer included this memorable quote: “Wherever you serve God, even if you feel you are serving in the margins, you are serving in the center of God’s will.” Another speaker said, “When you are serving God, you are living your call and this service is a privilege.” How great to join with others from around the world at that moment and demonstrate the love and community of God to the world.

Rev. Jim Kraus is director of music and leadership development for First United Methodist Church in St. Joseph, Mich. This is a contribution to a series of reflections on the World Federation of Diakonia Assembly held in July 2013 in Berlin.

By Rev. Rick Tettau

 In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north; but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.—William A. Dunkerly

The Berlin Wall was erected on August 13, 1961. The wall divided streets, families, friends, and whole communities. The wall cut through the heart of Berlin, dividing the city, and on a much grander scale symbolized the division of Germany and all of Europe during the time of World War II.

Our tour guide on the bus told us a story about how a community that was divided by the wall worked out an agreement to swap church buildings in an effort to maintain their congregations who were living on opposite sides of the wall. It was a solemn experience for me to attend worship at the Chapel of Reconciliation at the memorial of the Berlin Wall, where they hold service every Tuesday through Friday at noon to remember those who were killed trying to get over the wall. It broke my heart to the read the names of peaceful men and women whose lives were cut short at the Berlin Wall. To the delight and praise of the world, the Berlin Wall was opened on the night of November 9, 1989. On this day thousands of people streamed like water through the boundary and the work of healing in Germany began.

“Healing and Wholeness for the World” was the theme for the Diakonia World Assembly, held July 1-8, 2013, at Evangelishes

Rick Tettau (second from left) confers with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers on the Johannesstift campus.

Rick Tettau (second from left) confers with other United Methodist deacons and diaconal ministers on the Johannesstift campus.

Johannesstift in Berlin, Germany. The Evangelishes Johannesstift is a diaconal training and ministry center that serves older adults, families with children, and people with disabilities. Evangelishes Johannesstift has served the Berlin community for over 150 years. Their purpose is based on 1 John 3:18: “Let us not love with word, neither in tongue; but in deed and truth.” Nearly 350 deacons and diaconal workers representing 37 different countries gathered for the assembly, which meets every four years.

Throughout the week we were engaged in a variety of activities. Each day opened and closed with worship. There were multiple presentations during the mornings and afternoons. Presentation included “Life is Flowering for Us All,” “God at the Margins,” “Healing and Salvation in the Work of Hildegard van Bingen,” and “Healing and Community.” Each participant was assigned to a small group of about 10 people to discuss the presentations and share experiences. The small groups were intentionally mixed by region so one received a global perspective of diakonia. World and regional meetings uplifted the ministries in which participants were engaged back home. There was a German cultural night and plenty of opportunities for sightseeing.

This was my third Diakonia World Assembly. The 2001 World Diakonia Assembly was a critical part of my spiritual formation as a deacon and it helped me prepare for my ordination interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry. Since then, I continue to make the World Assembly a part of my continuing education as a deacon. There is much to learn by attending and many great people to meet and get to know. Needless to say, it is refreshing to be around people who share a common call and vocation. You will not need to explain to anybody the purpose of diakonia or the function of a deacon, diaconal minister, or deaconess. You are among friends who understand!

Overall, I plan to keep the World Diakonia community in my thoughts and prayers until we are able to meet in person again. In the meantime, having a computer that translates different languages will help me stay connected to my colleagues and friends from around the world. I leave you with the prayer below. Use this to guide your prayers as you offer healing and wholeness to the world.

Prayer from the Chapel of Reconciliation at the Berlin Wall Memorial:

“Let us praise the Lord, who lifts up the low and tears down the mighty from his throne. He alone knows how to judge rightfully. To him let us pray, “Lord have mercy on us!”

“For all those, murdered at the Wall and its line of death, in the prisons and camps, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For the dead, who died of sorrow because of their destroyed families; for all, who lost their home and homeland at the boundary, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For all who have public responsibilities for justice, freedom, and virtue of every person, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For all, who influence public opinion as testimonies of truth; for all, who educate the coming generations, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“For all, who are not able to take advantage of freedom, we pray, “Lord, have mercy on us!”

“Lord, our Father, let us take up the task of reconciliation, which you ordered us to fulfill by being free in Jesus Christ our Master. Amen.”

The next Diakonia World Assembly is scheduled to meet July 3-10, 2017.

Rev. Rick Tettau serves Faith Community United Methodist Church in Xenia, Ohio. This is the first in a series of reflections by deacons and diaconal ministers who attended the gathering with the assistance of a United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry grant.