Diakonia and the Neighborhood
July 8, 2021
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For two weeks I have shared reflections from Ralph Kee’s brief, but thought provoking book, Diakonia: The Church at Work. You can find the articles here: Cooperative Diakonia: Serving or Sharing and Deacons: Harbingers of the Kingdom.
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.
As I learn more about the work of the diaconate, I am convinced that everyone is crucial and their strengths and gifts are needed. Today I want to explore the idea of a neighborhood church.
Ralph Kee lives in Dorchester, MA, where he planted a church and has done ministry in the neighborhoods. He has a close connection to the community and believes that the local church is where it is at! He explains that like the communal relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the church models this relationship to their neighborhood. It is the pattern of total community that Jesus “projects into the earth.” When Jesus calls people to himself, he invites them into a communal lifestyle. Christian unity then is meant to be visible and concrete in a particular neighborhood.
Kee says that we can visualize “a truly credible church, known and appreciated by everyone in the neighborhood,” and effective in working with the neighborhood. He believes that when a church “is not a local church, but draws its people from neighborhood and towns at some distance from the church, then it is difficult to have much by way of local, public diakonia.”
This idea and the following questions are definitely something for congregations to wrestle with. Do we represent the neighborhood? If no, why not? As a diakonia, do we have a responsibility to the neighborhood where the church is located? If we don’t represent it, what is an effective way to be a good neighbor?
One way he suggests living out this type of diaconal ministry is through “diakonia” groups. These small groups of individuals study and pray together, but their primary concern is on “church-as-servant”, learning and practicing effective service or “sharing” (learning from and standing in solidarity) with neighbors and working together for transformation.
An example he gives of this is a diakonia Housing Group. This group equips the church to have deep relationships with the owners of apartments as well as renters, is involved in city-wide housing concerns within the political and legislative process, cares and gets involved in issues like low-income housing or for those with physical challenges, and helps tradespeople and professionals understand their sacred calling and mobilizes them for working with the community on housing issues. A credible, neighboring church is both very practical and very inspiring as it moves its faith into action.
Our faith needs our head, heart and soul as well as our legs and hands. “When church people use their gifts (in their neighborhood), they are that much more in harmony with the will of God and thus much more likely to be spiritually alive.” I would argue also that when the church actively seeks to use the gifts of the neighborhood, they are more likely to be spiritually attuned to God and alive in their faith.
What do you think? Are you a neighborhood church? Do you have these type of “diakonia” groups?
As a neighbor, what is a church’s responsibility to its community?
What are some of the challenges for churches whose members don’t come from the neighborhood or who don’t represent the neighborhood?
Let’s connect! I’d love to learn what you’re up to and have a conversation about your congregation’s diakonia and the deacons’ work.
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