Marginalised people must be focus of service, urges WCC conference
“Diakonia is an essential ecclesial function. It must be prophetic and transformative. It cannot be opted only in convenient forms,” asserted participants of a World Council of Churches (WCC) conference, reflecting on “Theology of Diakonia for the 21st Century”.
The event took place from June 2 to 6 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Diakonia is a Greek term used in the New Testament to describe ministries of service, mission and support. It is the source of the English words “deacon” and “diaconal”.
The conference attempted to re-imagine the concept of diakonia from the perspectives of the churches, marginalised people, and communities in the South. In a theological affirmation, a document produced during the conference, participants called the churches to work alongside marginalised people in their struggle for justice.
“Relocation of diakonia in the margins is not an option, but a divine mandate,” said Dr Wati Longchar, an indigenous theologian from India. He went on to say that the “church will not be able to realise what it means to be church unless it listens to the voices of the people on the margins.”
“We have to listen to the voice of Lazarus and not the rich man. Jesus made Lazarus somebody by naming him,” added Longchar.
“Diakonia in every form is prophetic and exposes the sinfulness of the world. To be prophetic is not only criticising what is wrong, but working for justice,” said Dr Reinerio Arce-Valentin, a Cuban theologian.
“If there is no participatory commitment, criticism could become opportunistic. Criticism must be based on an incarnated commitment in the reality where we live, like Jesus did,” added Arce-Valentin.
“Jesus’ diakonia began among the marginalised and it not only effected their healing but also restored their dignity. Diakonia today has to relate itself among the marginalised,” said Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame, another participant from Ghana, representing the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network.
This conference brought together more than fifty participants from churches, specialised ministries, networks and communities engaged with the WCC programs on Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation, Just and Inclusive Communities and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. The event was hosted by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka.
Prophetic diakonia is an important tool of transformation (WCC press release of November 28, 2011).