The seminar, which was held 4 th - 8 th December 2017 in Český Těšín was the second within the joint interdiac and St Martin Lutheran congregation initiative “Diaconia Creates Conviviality”. The event gathered 8 representatives of the churches and diaconia of Lutheran and Reformed church from Ivano-Frankovsk and Kiev. They all are gathered in the Missionary Union of the Evangelical Communities of Ukraine. With regard to the process of the seminar, everyday activities included morning and evening prayers, evaluation and during the process, energizers as required.
Identity and Diaconia
Introducing participant’s names and telling the stories about each one’s own name put the candle of the deepening reflection on identity. It was stated that a given name is sometimes like a shadow, which accompanies a person throughout the life. It is also an indication for the person’s origin and the importance of family ties or the actual life situation of the parents choosing the name. It was expressed as wish, if possible for some participants, to be more intentional while choosing a name for a newborn child.
Journeying throughout the year, the small group discussion was an invitation to taste some products which were associated with the questions related to personal and professional life: chocolate stood for sweet moments, a nut for a tough situation and pistachio for surprises. This opened another window to the life experience, which shapes both the personal and organizational identity. We concluded that the richness of the stories expressed the importance of relationships with God and people. Relationship can be like a ‘stone’, being a very solid ground but also like a glass, which is easily shattered. The dialogical paradigm and interdependency were underlined when creating relationships.
‘How do I see myself and how does the society (people around me) see me?’ was the question that framed the journey to dig out more deeply each person’s own identity and to reflect on to what extent the surrounding society has an impact on my everyday acting.
Following the metaphor of pealing an onion, several layers of identity were uncovered and confidentially shared. Being aware of the diverse complexity of personal identity shed a new light of understanding on the question of ‘why I am seen by others differently and why some layers of the onion can’t be seen at a first glance’.
The symbol of a car was introduced to stand for the organization/institution that people work for. The question as to why car is moving and in which direction related to the mission of the organization and provoked a looking back to the deeper layers of the onion and mirrored the motivation for being engaged in such organization and/or church & diaconia initiative. Discussion of the ‘people sitting in the car’ and their position uncovered the service model and role divisions within the organization.
Faith has been recognized as a crucial element of personal identity for active engagement in church and diaconia and as an entry point for each organizational action.
Diaconia in Context
Symbols of herbs, flowers and animals were offered to create the picture of the environment in which the organization is operating and what are significant impacts of the environment on its existence.
The following could be read from the pictures:
- Lack of trust in the government
- Lack of trust in people
- The minority position of the Protestant churches, whilst having a strong voice in lobbying on certain ethical issues. The interreligious coalition is considered to be important when it comes to lobbying for certain value-based decisions.
- The aggression of Russia in the eastern part of Ukraine and the real impacts of war on the individual lives of people.
- Growing nationalism and propaganda
- Inequality in the use of the services, e.g. health services
A possibility to encounter homeless people and alcohol & drug users in the different centers of 2 service providers was an invitation to reflect on the operation of the organizations, their values and approaches used while working for/with people. New knowledge about the ‘system world’ of formal structures and the impact of national and European policy as well as globalization opened another window for understanding on the existence of these kinds of services in Czech context.
A deeper discussion provoked both the question of the visibility of values in everyday life, while working for/with people and a questioning of the understanding of ‘service’ in light of a discussion of personal and professional engagement.
Some synergies and contradictions were observed and reflected from the perspective of theological understanding of diaconia presented and experienced in the centers and having embedded in own identity and / or teaching the church.
Two candles of diversity brought a new light to the window when reflecting on the impact of culture on Lutheranism in the Silesia region – and vice versa - and sharing the experience of building up the diaconal church in the town. The identity issue was tackled from other positions. It became very clear in which way the elements of national background, language, denomination and social status have been changing over time and shaping life together.
The importance of creating a space for discussion and for the building up of relations is a way towards conviviality and creating the diaconal church. Being aware of the individual vocation and its constant reflection very clearly shapes the motivation for the engagement. Going out beyond the walls of the church building and reaching different people in their specific life environments was stressed when giving a response on planting the diaconal church.
Silesia can be considered unique because of its Protestant history. The Church of Grace in Cieszyn witnesses as to how religion can unite - but also divide - people, and that this has consequences which impact down several generations. Taking a journey in history by being present in the church building, playing the organ, listening to church music and praying or meditating lit yet another ‘candle of diversity’ seen in the light of faith history and individual spirituality. A convivial evening spent together with the leadership of Silesian Lutheran Church and Church council members was an event for the celebration of the life history of the people, church and country, recent experiences and their own talents was followed with sharing of food and drinks. Harvesting the Insights The time to harvest of the observations and reflections and what had been shared and learnt came, when the participants were asked what ideas can be packed in their suitcases and put into action after they return home!
1. New Insights into Diaconia:
- building up and strengthening relationships in the congregation in order to understand each other better and support each other in difficult life situations
- diaconia means ‘go to the world’, support those who are homeless, who lost everything, or who left their homes because of war
- work as a team means finding ‘my place’, defining my role and being able to take the responsibility for certain actions
- continuing to discovering personal talents and to use and develop them
- build relations with the local administration, give some inputs for new developments in the social field, inviting them for a joint cooperation
- work with the fathers
- introduce creative and critical reflective methodology and use it
- continue working with children & youth on the street
- maintain on-going reflection on what has been done so far
- deepen cooperation between the churches of the Missionary Union
- deepen cooperation between the churches and local diaconal initiatives
- involve ‘those who are served’ in decisions and actions of the service
- seek a more creative and effective use of the resources, e.g. rooms or cars
- better understanding on the concept of serving to the others
- wish for and understanding of new possibilities
2. Items needed to support diaconal action:
- advices / counselling
- better planning
- systematic approach to the tasks
- agreements about new co-operation
3. Personal items packed in the suitcases:
- new motivation
- being stronger
- feeling of being united
- gaining new perspectives
- better understanding of vision
- understanding on why God uses tools & people and what can we learn from it
- drink “kofola” and bring gifts for the family relatives and friends
- new friendships
- deepen friendships
- becoming more open to myself
- strengthening the faith
- re-ordering the life priorities
- ‘switch’ attention from being concentrated on myself towards concentrating on the needs of others
Closing the Seminar
The seminar was closed with the blessings for the journey and deep prayers to continue with the convivial living together each in the place to which they are called.