CABSA was @Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development. 3-6 Octobr 2017

Lyn was invited to attend An Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development convened by the World Council of Churches in Geneva. The WCC reported as follows from this event:

Forum strengthens ecumenical commitment to diakonia

Forum strengthens ecumenical commitment to diakonia

Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

12 October 2017

Ecumenical diakonia means complementing each other in what we do best: serving our communities, thus bringing visible church unity to the world, agreed participants at an Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) last week.

More than 100 representatives from churches, church agencies and specialized ministries across the globe met in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva from 3-6 October to seek a common vision for the churches’ engagement in diakonia and sustainable development and strengthen their ability to collaborate.

Sharing the existing practices of ecumenical diakonia, Samer Laham, member of the Middle East Council of Churches and a regional director of Ecumenical Relief Services, noted that bond of cooperation between churches is the expression of church unity. “It can be seen today in many diaconal activities on the ground in countries that have been living under volatile conflicts like Syria and Iraq”, he acknowledged.

Caring for refugees from Syria has been a priority of the Armenia Inter-church Round Table Foundation as well, said foundation director Dr Karen Nazaryan. “Since 2014 we are consistently helping refugees from Syria to find a safe place in Armenia, supporting their integration into Armenian society economically, socially and spiritually.” More than 2,000 Syrian refugees have benefited from the program, and this support is possible thanks to collaboration of Armenia Round Table Foundation with ACT Alliance and its member agencies, says Nazaryan.

Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, one of the authors of the newly developed “Ecumenical Diakonia” document presented during the forum, advocated for assets-based ecumenical work - an attitude that would bring forward what each partner is already doing best along with a courageous move to be widely open to serve the other.

Lyn van Rooyen, executive director of the faith-based non-governmental organization CABSA in South Africa, shared that her organization deliberately works non-denominationally in training and equiping faith leaders to respond to the HIV challenges.

“We work from a competence or asset based perspective and realised very early on that collaboration and cooperation, also with other faith communities, is a very important asset”, says van Rooyen. “In our training we often have representatives from many different denominations and faith traditions and significant community response is often initiated when denominational barriers are broken down.”

In South Africa faith communities often start collaborating when there is a compelling need and limited resources, adds Lyn van Rooyen. “In these situations faith communities, compelled by the love of Christ, find new and creative ways to respond to seemingly overwhelming crises.”

Sustainable development goals adopted by the member states of United Nations and a global civil society provides renewed strength for the diakonia and advocacy work of churches and their ministries, thinks Ingrid Næss-Holm, climate advisor of Norwegian Church Aid.

“When we advocate for climate justice, when we work with partners to end gender-based violence and when we provide humanitarian assistance in times of crises - it is all diakonia in practice”, says Næss-Holm. Norwegian Church Aid has been addressing the issues climate justice, economic justice, access to water, sanitation and hygiene, peace building in many places of the world for a long time. “However the sustainable development goals give us a renewed strength and legitimacy to take this work forward together with existing partners and new allies”, envisions Næss-Holm.

Speaking of the outcomes of the forum, it is impossible to overlook the presented framework for further cooperation, the Ecumenical Diakonia document, acknowledged as a common ground and a solid basis for conversation, bringing churches and other actors in diakonia and humanitarian work at one table.

For Roel Aalbersberg, member of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, the most important outcome of the forum was the introduction and discussion on the Ecumenical Diakonia document. “In 2014 the Malawi Consultation had called for the creation of such a policy paper that could be shared by churches and specialized ministries alike. From now on we will have a common framework for our diakonal and development work”, says Roel Aalbersberg. “It is a major step forward in our mutual relationships!”

“It was very inspiring to see the unity between WCC, ACT and LWF (Lutheran World Relief) shown by the three secretary generals and reflected in the discussions”, says Næss-Holm, reflecting on the days of the forum.

A strong and united ecumenical family that puts diakonia into action can indeed make a huge difference in addressing today's injustices and achieving the sustainable development goals. “When we add the interfaith dimension - we will be even stronger”, adds Næss-Holm.

The Ecumenical Strategic Forum gathered participants from churches, councils, communions and specialized ministries, involving national, regional and global ecumenical actors. The primary objective of the forum was to strengthen ecumenical collaboration on diakonia and development; stimulate strategies for leveraging national impact; and provide a road map for the ecumenical accompaniment of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Ecumenical diakonia: sharing God’s gifts at all tables

Ecumenical diaconia: sharing God’s gifts at all tables

LWF General secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge at one of the panel discussions during the forum on Ecumenical diakonia. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

05 October 2017

"Maybe through ecumenical diakonia, hence by jointly preparing the tables for the marginalized and hungry, the theologies will emerge among us that will allow us to eventually accept the invitation of Christ to receive and share God's gifts at one table”, said Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, during the Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development. The concept of “ecumenical diakonia” has been a key element of inspiration in the discussions taking place at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches (WCC), in Geneva, Switzerland, between 3-6 October.

Nordstokke advocated for assets-based ecumenical work, an attitude that would bring forward what each partner is already doing best along with a courageous move to be widely open to serve the other.

As he presented the recently launched WCC document “Ecumenical Diakonia” to the forum, Nordstokke explained that the process of developing it was accompanied by a working group drawn from the WCC, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and ACT Alliance.

The document conceptualizes ecumenical diakonia from two perspectives. The first links to a theological understanding of diakonia, based on reflection that seeks to understand diakonia as a dimension integral to the nature and mission of the church; and the second being more practical, describing how churches are engaged in diaconal action across confessional and geographical boundaries.

The text, which is becoming an important tool for churches worldwide to explore entry points between their diaconal work and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “considers the specific contribution of diaconal agencies; responds to relevant political and social issues in today’s world; provides theological insight; and proposes concrete steps to strengthen the diaconal capacity of the churches in cooperation with their ecumenical partners”, reads the document.

“It is our hope that the process of distribution and reflection on the Ecumenical Diakonia document will help our member churches to have a more comprehensive understanding of how their diaconal work can be in many ways a collaboration on the SDGs”, said Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary. “May the shared constructive spirit that dominates the discussions here in Geneva these days also be a sign of hope that would take our churches and partners toward the next level of ecumenical cooperation.”

General secretary of the LWF, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, commended the Ecumenical Diakonia document as it "gives a common ground for all of us and is a good basis to begin the conversation". He referred to the challenge to give this document political traction so as to address questions of structures, processes and agendas to bring different diaconal actors to one table. He acknowledged that in many cases churches and other actors in diakonia and humanitarian work "still have a huge distance between them”.

Junge also explored the common challenges that the document makes clear are still on the table. “How do we bring together the grammar of the churches with the grammar of sustainable development goals?”, inquired the LWF general secretary.

Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, general secretary of the ACT Alliance, sees the agenda of Ecumenical Diakonia as an important element to bring partners closer in the work on development. “The ecumenical movement has to explore its potential, and stop going for competition. In such a competitive world as today, we may better come together as one ecumenical movement; otherwise, we are risking being irrelevant”, he said.

“Ecumenical diakonia has to be understood in a way that we complement each other, that builds on the distinctiveness of our organizations and members”, concluded de Faria.

Photos from the Ecumenical Strategic Forum (download free of charge)

9.5 Theses by the WCC general secretary

Full address of LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge at the forum on Ecumenical diakonia

Responding to the world’s challenges: forum shapes strategy on diakonia

Responding to the world’s challenges: forum shapes strategy on diakonia

Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

04 October 2017

An Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development was convening this week, drawing 130 thinkers from across the globe who have agreed to seek a common vision for churches and strengthen their ability to collaborate.

The forum, hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), is taking place 3-6 October at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. Its objective is to strengthen ecumenical collaboration on diakonia and development; stimulate strategies for leveraging national impact; and provide direction for the ecumenical accompaniment of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee moderator Dr Agnes Abuom described the forum as a vital aspect of a journey together as it provides the opportunity to review the context and impact of various ministries. “Further the forum is also a time to reflect and plan together for the future, acknowledging our different roles and their interrelatedness,” she said. “The theme is of great importance to all of us and our institutions because it resonates with our identities and mandates as faith-based organizations and the ecumenical movement at large.”

In his presentation, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said: “In the month of commemorating 500 years of Reformation, a modest contribution to our joint reflection and actions for a new transformation of the world towards unity, justice and peace, maybe could be expressed in 1/10 of the amount of theses that initiated the transformation called ‘Reformation’.”

Tveit said: “When we try to discern the signs of our times, we see many tendencies towards different quests for unity.”

He added: “There is a sense of being one world through new possibilities of communication and sharing information, connecting people through enormous and sometimes unlimited openness, but also making the world a globalized marketplace dominated by a few and powerful actors, some with little or no ethical or value-based standards.”

Tveit said also: “There is a new momentum for the unity of the church. The connection between a new quest for unity and a new quest for ecumenical diakonia should manifest itself in new initiatives towards more mutual accountability.”

Tveit concluded: “For the constant renewal and reformation of the churches and human societies we cannot wait for figures like Martin Luther or Martin Luther King. We all have to be, and we all can be, agents of change for unity, justice and peace.”

Prof Dr Kjell Nordstokke offered a presentation on the document “Ecumenical Diakonia,” which takes into account the longstanding experiences of diaconal practice and reflection within the ecumenical movement. The text also considers the specific contribution of specific diaconal agencies; responds to relevant political and social issues in today’s world; provides theological insight; and proposes concrete steps to strengthen the diaconal capacity of the churches in cooperation with their ecumenical partners.

Rev. Jörgen Thomsen, representing DanChurchAid, reflected that more and more people are starting to realize that faith informs world views and shapes behavior, and many are seeking cooperation with faith actors in the world.

“In this new dialogue I expect us to be courageous,” he said. “The most courageous act you can perform is to actually say ‘welcome’ to somebody you don’t know: Welcome to those who invite us to cooperate for change.”

“For us in the LWF, partnership can only be defined as accompaniment,” the LWF general secretary Rev. Martin Junge said. “In times of fragmentation and communication breakdowns our ability to work and stand together as partners in diakonia becomes a telling witness to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our hearts.” Junge underlined the need to invest more in theological education and formation.

ACT Alliance general secretary Rudelmar Bueno de Faria noted that over the years churches have been major actors in development in almost all continents. “It is something that we cannot ignore, especially if we consider the social capital they can mobilize - volunteers and more,” he said. “Nobody else can do the same.”

We are now in a change of era, he added. “Conflicts are increasing everywhere, with migration and displacement reaching records. We are facing increasing populism in very corner of the planet, hatred speeches, exclusion, discrimination, xenophobia, racism, and homophobia.”

“As churches and faith communities, we cannot be silent,” he concluded. “We have to act and to speak out."

Photos from the Ecumenical Strategic Forum (download free of charge)

9.5 Theses by the WCC general secretary

Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development

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