Coordination or Isolation? Diakonia Between Churches

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This is my final week of reflecting on Ralph Kee’s brief, but thought provoking book, Diakonia: The Church at Work. Find previous articles here: Cooperative Diakonia: Serving or Sharing, Deacons: Harbingers of the Kingdom, Diakonia and the Neighborhood.

In his 26 page book, he argues that diakonia (service), is much more than a religious word. It’s a movement—something that is “the word being done.” And it’s something still critical for the church today. You can download Ralph Kee’s book, Diakonia: The Church at Work

While attending Boston University for my MSW, I wrote a paper on the church and community, not realizing I would be working in this unique field years later. One of the key things I wrote about was the collaboration of churches both with each other and with their neighbors for the transformation of the neighborhood. 

Ralph Kee focuses a whole section of his little guide to Diakonia Between the Churches. He argues that, “the nature of diakonia is such that it is carried out not only by one local church, but by many churches.” He calls for a comprehensive, organized and sustainable way of churches to work together, not just on a program, but on a collaboration between churches.

In this model, the resources of several local churches (not necessarily from the same denomination), network together to address mutual concerns. In order for this to be sustainable, he says a Diakonia Coordinator, someone to collectively work with deacons of the churches located near one another, would be necessary.

Three years ago, I facilitated 8th grade students through learning about and assessing their community’s response to homeless residents. In the process, these students discovered that oftentimes church resources were focused on their own members and the services offered by churches duplicated one another or other local organizations. There was an overall lack of coordination and communication between one another when working with the community. They wondered, “Why can’t churches all work together?” 

In their final report to church and organizational representatives, they proposed ways for churches to network with one another and collaborate with citizens and organizations as they worked with the community. 

Sometimes I also wonder if we (congregations) could be better at working together? Are we working in isolation rather than in coordination? How about your congregation?

  • Are your deacons coordinating well with other churches in your community, not by giving away the diaconal responsibilities to another organization, but working together for the good of the neighborhood?

  • Are you working across denominational lines? How? And are community members leading the process?

  • What are the challenges in working together?

  • How would working together contribute to a more equitable distribution of resources?

  • What would congregations learn from each other?

One of the goals of my work is to see churches in a neighborhood working closely together along with residents of the community. I’d love to hear your thoughts and to learn more from each other!

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This requires churches to be part of one community and working with churches in that one community.  I am part of a congregation with members all over a large city. Each member would be close to other churches in their own smaller community. An article showing how churches can work together in such a situation would be helpful.

Community Builder

Great thoughts August. The word "community" can be hard to define. Geographically, in a city, I'd define it as the neighborhood of the church. If no one from the church is a member there, all the more reason to work with residents of the neighborhood and the other local churches in the neighborhood for the transformation of that neighborhood. (examples: Salem OR Church as Neighborhood centers initiative, San Antonio TX Faith based initiative brings together many churches) I believe that a church body has a responsibility to be a good neighbor and make visible the kingdom in the specific place that it is located. Each member of that church also is called to be good neighbors where they live, work and play. There are lots of ways of discovering how to do that. But you are right, church members living elsewhere in the city can also work for the transformation of their individual neighborhoods, being a great neighbor and supporting the work of the local churches/organizations and institutions where they live, I just think we overlook the responsibility churches have to their particular neighborhoods and neighbors. So I think it's both and. And great idea - another discussion on how to do this well. Let me know if you'd like some resources. Hope you join in more discussions - you sound like you have great ideas!

Among CRC churches in this classis we always used to have a diaconal coordinator and semi-annual get-togethers, where we would hear inspirational things happening in other centers--I recall a car maintenance outreach, food packaging etc.  Also though locally, several churches worked together recently helping a family aftee a tornado wrecked their place.  Are these the types of things you're suggesting, Jodi? Good to see you on here!

Community Builder

Yes these are examples. Not sure what Classis you are part of, but you are right, there are some Diaconal conferences and coordinators still in place in the United States, but there used to be more. Canada has Diaconal Ministries Canada that helps facilitate diaconal work.  I'm hoping to get more churches in the United States networking about diaconal work, particularly as they work with their community. I'm also thinking beyond denomination. Are local churches working with each other for the transformation of their local community or neighborhood -  beyond banding together for food baskets and clothing drives? Here are two examples: The Boston Project - https://www.tbpm.org/community/tnt-neighbors-united/, Spring TX - https://www.otshca.org/) Let me know if you want to connect about church with community or diaconal work. Value your input!