Thursday, March 26, 2015

DIAKONIA Prayer Letter - Litany of Reconciliation

The DIAKONIA Prayer letter for March was written by Diakonisse Ulrike Kellner, Editor, DIAKONIA News

Ulrike writes:
I recently rediscovered a prayer from Coventry Cathedral in England. Even though it was written in 1959, I find that this prayer speaks to the challenges of our current situation. I invite you to join with DIAKONIA on March 26 and pray together this prayer:

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father Forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own, Father Forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, Father Forgive. 
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father Forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee, Father Forgive.
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children, Father Forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God, Father Forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
In the name of Christ, our Lord. 

These words are used as the response in the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, which is prayed in the new Cathedral every weekday at noon (in the Ruins on Fridays), and is used throughout the world by the Community of the Cross of Nails. The prayer is a magnificent statement pointing to the way of Christ - of forgiveness, even in the midst of devastation.  

Today the medieval ruins of Coventry Cathedral continue to remind us of our human capacity both to destroy and to reach out to our enemies in friendship and reconciliation. In 2011, the ruins were designated as a memorial to all civilians killed, injured or traumatised by war and violent conflict world-wide. In order to commemorate these civilians, the Cathedral chose six themes to guide its focus: aerial bombing, refugees, sexual violence as a result of war, landmines, child soldiers, and the environmental impact of war. 

Canon David W Porter - Canon Director for Reconciliation Ministry at Canterbury Cathedral writes: “How we live with our deepest differences both within the Church and our increasingly fractured world, is one of the major challenges to the credibility of Christianity as good news.”

Some more about this Litany of Reconciliation:
Following the bombing of the medieval Cathedral on 14th November, 1940, Provost Richard Howard made a commitment not to revenge, but to forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. Using a national radio broadcast from the cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over he would work with those who had been enemies 'to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world.' He had the words 'Father Forgive' inscribed on the wall behind the Altar of the ruined building. 

It was this moral and prophetic vision which led to Coventry Cathedral's development as a world Centre for Reconciliation, which over the years has provided inspiration and support to many Christians addressing ongoing conflict in contemporary society.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Another flight, another tragedy

All 150 passengers and crew on an Airbus A320 flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf are believed to have died after it rapidly lost height and began an as yet an unexplained descent into a remote and mountainous area of southern France. The dead are believed to include 45 Spanish and 67 German nationals, and 16 students together with their 2 teachers who were returning from a student exchange program in Spain. The students were from Joseph-Koenig school in Haltern, just north of Dusseldorf, western Germany.

Ulrike Kellner reports, 'We all are shocked and mourning'. 

Two girls hug as they cry beside candles and flowers placed in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium in Haltern, western Germany Tuesday, March 24, 2015. There were 16 students and 2 teachers from Haltern among the 150 people on board.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who said she would travel to the crash site on Wednesday, said the crash had plunged Germany, France and Spain into “deep mourning”. Spain’s King Felipe VI said he was cancelling his state visit to France to return to Spain.
The remote location of the crash makes access difficult and conditions are expected to deteriorate over the next 12 hours as a storm system moves into the region, producing rain, strong winds and high-elevation snow, complicating any investigation and recovery of bodies.

You may know that Dusseldorf is the airport closest to Kaiserswerth, the 'cradle of diakonia', where Theodor Fliedner (and his wife Friederike) established the Deaconess motherhouse. The DIAKONIA Executive met in Kaiserswerth in July 2014. 

Lord, we are deeply saddened at the news so many have lost their lives so suddenly. We pray for those who have been devastated by this tragedy. We hold in our hearts the families forever changed by grief and loss. We can only imagine the trauma and devastation they are experiencing. Bring them consolation and comfort. Surround them with our prayers for comfort and strength. We pray also for those emergency workers dealing with the trauma of recovering bodies, in a difficult location. Grant them courage to face the daunting task that lies before them. We pray as well for the people of Germany and Spain and other nations who mourn the loss of their citizens. We offer our prayers and the deep sorrow of our hearts seeking some consolation, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Association for Episcopal Deacons (AED)

The February 2015 edition (online) of AED's publication Diakoneo is available here.

Facebook page here; Website here

The new Association for Episcopal Deacons board: (L to R) Lauren M Welch (Maryland, president), Tina Campbell (Northern California, past president), Douglas Argue (Southern Ohio), Tom Lutes (Minnesota), Brad Peterson (California), Gen Grewell (Olympia), Kate Lester Harrigan (Central Pennsylvania), Maureen Hagen (Oregon, VP/president-elect), Elaine Bellis (Chicago), Geri Swanson (NY). Not present: Greg Rickel (Olympia), Carol Jablonski (Washington), Michael Kitt (Chicago)

the new AED board

Monday, March 23, 2015

Methodist Order of Deacons - Southern Africa

The annual Convocation for the Methodist Order of Deacons of Southern Africa begins will be held from Monday 23/3/2015  to Friday 27/3/2015, at eMseni. Let us together hold this gathering in prayer, that it be a time of great fellowship in Christ, encouragement in ministry, and inspiration to be part of God's transforming work in the world. 

Field visit to John Wesley Community Centre 25 km from meeting venue at eMseni
 Rev (Deac) Dr Vernon van Wyk is the Warden, 2015-2017.

Rev Deac Dr Vernon van Wyk

Friday, March 20, 2015

World Water Day - 22nd March

 When the poor and needy seek water, I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
Isaiah 41:17-18

We have many visitors in our home, and always have to go through the routine of explaining the need to save the first cold water in the shower before the hot water begins (usually half a bucket) and to refrain from running the water in the sink to wash dishes (when the water just goes down the drain). We are diligent in using the cold water saved in the shower on our garden. Not a drop should be wasted! South Australia is known as the driest state in the driest inhabited continent. Most of SA is in the arid zone, and only the south-east gets good rainfall. The capital city, Adelaide, situated in the south of the state has an annual average rainfall of 528mm. This makes it the driest capital city in Australia. Farming by Europeans in marginal farming country in the northern part of the state has also increased desertification which has had a lasting effect of increasing South Australia's overall dryness. Adelaide is experiencing a significant dry spell of weather, the longest in 35 years with less than 1mm of rain. South Australia is fortunate to have good infrastructure and planning, and a desalination plant (controversial due to the cost of construction), so the dry conditions can be managed. We also have rainwater tanks (as do many Australians) - our tanks hold 13,500 litres, enough in winter to provide all our water needs in the wetter months of the year (although I'm amazed to learn that in many states in the USA collecting rainwater for personal use is illegal.
In the midst of a very dry spell where I live, I reflected on World Water Day, March 22nd (which falls on a Sunday this year and could be a focus for worship). World Water Day is an opportunity to focus on a precious resource becoming more scarce and denied to millions around the world. The top ten countries at risk of water shortages are here, and there are issues with companies such as Coca-Cola that have been heavily criticised for causing extreme water shortages in developing countries where supplies are scarce. In India, a Coca-Cola plant was forced to close after it was alleged to have contaminated local water, and in other areas farmers have been unable to irrigate their fields after the company established a bottling plant. It takes 2.7 litres of water to produce 1L of product. 
'Across the world, cases of environmental damage, exploitation of water resources and abuses of workers' rights are shockingly common. It's time that directors of multinationals held to account - but that will only happen when politicians accept that the current free-for-all is failing the world's poor.' (Louise Richards, Executive Officer, War on Want). 
Water concerns are no longer theoretical. The UN projects that 30 countries will be “water scarce” by 2025. Eighteen of the 30 are located in the Middle East or North Africa. Water scarcity will threaten the failure of already failing states and there are implications for people who risk becoming 'environmental refugees'.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 17th - St Patrick's Day

Patrick of Ireland (389 - 461)
At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock. After 6 years of slavery, Patrick escaped to Britain. Because he believed that God's hand was in it all, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back... and walk once more amongst us.” He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith. Over the next 30 years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat. (Summary from Shane Claiborne's Facebook page)

This well known prayer is attributed to Patrick:
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

St Patrick's Day prompted me to explore more about the Deaconesses of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, who mainly work in congregations, in hospitals, in hospice care, in prisons, in special work and in the community.  'Deaconesses bring authentic faith in Christ to everyone they meet. As women with a specific calling they are a dedicated group, some trained with specific skills in counselling or caring, others passionate about reaching people beyond the normal circle of the church. Thank God for them. They bring the extraordinary Jesus with them into the ordinary world'. (Source: Deaconess website).

Pray that as people throughout Ireland celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, they may be inspired to engage further in mission and outreach work, and sharing their Christian faith with others.

2015 Deaconesses of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
 Here's another link to a page with individual photos of deaconesses, and information.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Christian Education in the 21st Century - Diakonia Phil (Philippines)

Diakonia Phil (Philippines) has hosted a Christian Education Summit, with the theme, 'Rekindling the Spirit of Christian Education of the 21st Century. More than 25 Christian Education Coordinators and Chairpersons from the Lutheran Church, United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), United Methodist Church and other church denomination joined the Regional CE Summit in Concordia Theological College (Lutheran) from Feb 27-28th, 2015. Great to see this ecumenical cooperation.

Celebrating International Women's Day - March 8th, 2015: Make it happen!

All around the world, International Women's Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. Celebrated on March 8 every year since 1911, thousands of events occur to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organisations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women's groups, the media – and faith groups - celebrate the day.
International Womens Day
Deaconess Mable Kifwabantu Sichali and Hazel Watson
Deaconess Mable Kifwabantu Sichali is the Community Development Social and Justice Secretary for the United Church of Zambia (UCZ). She tells her story:
"I was born into a Christian family from the UCZ. My father died when I was a young girl in 1984, causing life to change for us. We had very little school sponsorship as my mother was a civil servant and was poorly paid, and so to survive I had to work to raise money to go to school. It was survival of the fittest. One day in September 1992 my elder sister's son suddenly became ill. At church that day I felt the peace of God and had the conviction that I was being called to serve. This was a problem, having moved we were attending the Evangelical Church of Zambia, which has no female pastors and does not allow women to preach in front of men. However, over the following years I was surrounded by such a great witness of men and women of God who encouraged me to join the ministry. In 2004 I was admitted at the UCZ theological college and my journey as a diaconal worker in the UCZ started. During my first appointment in Mazabuka I coordinated women's work in three consistories, and in 2007 I founded Tugwashanye Support Network, an organisation working with orphans, vulnerable children, and widows, living with HIV and AIDS. In March 2014 I was appointed as Community Development Social and Justice Secretary, and currently work on projects including self-help groups (partnered by the Church of Scotland), and continue to negotiate for gender based violence support.
"When I look back and reflect on my life I feel I have come from nowhere. I never knew that one day I would tell my story because I never saw anything good coming out of my life. However I have seen the grace of God in my life - I am now a head of department and the first Deaconess to serve at management level in the history of the UCZ."
Source: Church of Scotland

Faithful ministry in a complex context

This morning, as the dawn is breaking, my heart and mind and prayers are focussed on our friends in Egypt, the sisters ('tasooni') who are part of the Daughters of St. Mary Convent, Beni Souef (located in middle Egypt on the western bank of the River Nile). This is an order of Coptic Deaconesses in Egypt founded in 1965 by Metropolitian (Bishop) Athanasius who said, "We have to address social needs. Commitment to the poor is our priority. We are committed to the most needy, the marginalised". These include garbage collectors, the mentally handicapped and abused women. The convent includes a refuge for women facing personal hardship and severe marital problems - it is one of the few women's shelters available in Egypt".Monastery gate

At least 30% of the population in Egypt live under the poverty line, and there is tremendous social and economic disadvantage, as well as political and religious challenges in the country and the region. In rural areas, people earn on average between $3 and $4 a day. “It’s a hard life; if you don’t work all day, you don’t eat at night.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt was founded by St Mark the apostle in the 1st century and is deeply rooted in the Egyptian culture. Islam entered Egypt in the 7th century and since then, the Coptic Church has been living with Muslims in a multi-faith context. In a country of 80 million people, there are between 10-20 million Christians. The Coptic Church has never isolated itself, but has been actively involved in society. Bishop Athanasius himself actively sought dialogue with Muslims in the 1970s and 80s. He made it explicitly clear he didn't believe in a theological dialogue with Islam, but that for him dialogue meant finding ways of living together in peace. Diaconal ministry is offered to both Muslims and Christians in a multi-faith context, arising from biblical and theological understandings about co-existence with others.
In the last few decades, Egypt has experienced an increasing Islamic extremism. Some Muslims perceive diakonia as a way of evangelizing for Christianity and some fundamentalist Muslims do not accept co-operating with the Church. As well, there are some Christians who think that the Church's diaconal work should only target Christians. It does leave the Church vulnerable in a time of escalating tension and rising violence. 
This morning I read an article, 'What happened on Thursday morning', by Rev Prof Andrew Dutney, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. It concerned a meeting this week where he heard a speaker (Archbishop Zaia, Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon) speak briefly about the situation of his people in the Assyrian Church of the East. Andrew writes: 'Quietly, but purposefully the Archbishop drew us into his community and invited us to feel the weight of the burden of leadership that he carries. He spoke about the 135,000 Christians driven out of Mosul by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) to become refugees in Syria. He described the horrors of their flight and the gruelling deprivations of life for those who made it to refugee camps. But it’s not just the Assyrian community that is being destroyed, said Archbishop Zaia, “the plight of Christians in the Middle East – from Egypt to Iraq – has reached the point of disaster.
You may have heard that in February 2015, Egypt launched airstrikes to bomb ISIL targets, in retaliation for the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been captured in Libya where they were seeking work.
Embedded image permalink
Tony Rezk icon for the 21 martyred Coptics
Libya, rich in oil and short on labor, has long been a magnet for Egyptians. Libya's 2011 civil war left much of the country in ruins, creating a boom for skilled foreign workers. Egyptians jumped at the opportunity, and they are the largest single group of foreign workers in Libya. They have continued to go to Libya even as Egyptians, and Copts in particular, have become targets for Islamic extremists flourishing in Libya's chaos. The beheadings of the Egyptian Coptic Christians has since led to 15,000 Egyptians fleeing war torn Libya. 

And so the tensions and violence are escalated. And the plight of Egyptian Christians remains dire. 
And my thoughts and prayers went immediately to the diaconal sisters in the Daughters of St. Mary Convent, Beni Souef, who are dedicated in their commitment to run clinics and mobile clinics, nurseries, elementary schools and other services, and especially for mentally handicapped persons. Their diaconal ministry is thankfully a world away from the violence happening within Egypt and the Middle East. Please remember them in your prayers, and especially that their work can continue with strength and compassion in the context of social, political and economic upheaval.
(March 19th is the anniversary of the establishment in 1965 of the order of The Daughters of St Mary's Convent, Beni Souef).

God of wholeness, God of Grace,
to you we bring our thanks and praise.
To a world that searches
you are a lamp that shines,
to a world that is hungry
you are food that sustains,
to a world that suffers
you are hope of release,
to a world that’s broken
you are one who restores,
to a world full of hate
you are love that forgives,
to a world that denies
you are truth that endures.
To you we bring our thanks and praise,
God of wholeness, God of Grace.
©John Birch

Peace Flag