A DEACON WELCOMES RAMADAN

Deacon Jess Foster muses on the potential of respecting Ramadan for building better community relationships.

Why I Welcome Ramadan

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Five minutes ago I walked into the house. Its ten to ten at night and my youngest son shouts from his bedroom – there are samosas on the table. And there are.  Crispy vegetarian samosas – one for each member of the family – and they are still hot.

These samosas, along with all sorts of other delicious meals and snacks, have been arriving in Ramadan most days for the last 10 years or so. They are cooked by my neighbour who began her fast today. In the last few years we have shared much more than food over the fence – we talk about prayer, parenting, how faith affects our daily life and weather, washing and children.

As an interfaith worker, I am invited to join my friends as they break their fast in mosques and restaurants, in community centres and banqueting suites. I go as often as I can and I have learnt from this hospitality to invite my friends to come with me to church at Christmas or Easter.

Last year, at St Peter’s Hall Green, where I am a curate, we decided to offer hospitality in our church building and we were delighted that about 80 people came together to break the fast – sharing an Iftaar meal.  This year we are accepting the hospitality of a local community centre and working with them to offer hospitality to some of the people living in Birmingham who are refugees from Syria and to women who do not come from Muslim families, but have converted (reverted) to Islam and often break the fast alone.

As a church we are learning about the dimensions of both offering and receiving as we explore hospitality together and learn how to build bridges with our neighbours from different faith communities.

For me, the hospitality of being both a guest and host is at the heart of the Gospel.  Jesus knew how to be a good guest – I would have loved him to be at my wedding when the wine ran out – and a great host, washing the feet of his tired and dusty guests. The hospitality of God offers us fullness of life on earth and the promise of eternal life. The Holy Spirit built community at Pentecost that broke through cultural and ethnic divides and continues to draw people together both inside and outside the church.

Hospitality turns the stranger into a friend; it opens the door to reconciliation and urges us to see the world through the eyes of another.  It might start with a samosa but it could end by opening our hearts, minds and spirits to love our neighbour as our self.

This blog was written  on Monday (6th JUne) for the Church Of England blog  http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/

A PRAYER FOR THE GENERAL ELECTION

Lord, we give thanks for the privileges and responsibilities of

 living in a democratic society.

Give us wisdom to play our part at election time,

 that, through the exercise of each vote,

 your Kingdom may come closer.

Protect us from the sins of despair and cynicism,

guard us against the idols of false utopias

and strengthen us to make politics a noble calling

 that serves the common good of all.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

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A DEACON AND AIDS

Deacon Pat Wright is a nurse and during her working life was one of those who pioneered nursing Aids patients.  She does not mention it (typically), but she received the MBE for her work providing health care for Aids patients in Swaziland.   Here, she reflects on the outworking of her vocation as a health professional.

Diaconal ministry is characterised by service and mission to the world, especially to those who are vulnerable and on the fringes of the church and the margins of society: it is ecumenical and international.

The service and work that deacons do is very varied and so I offer my story as an example:

For 25 years I worked with people living with HIV & AIDS, and those affected. When this disease first came to the U.K. those infected and associated with it were ostracised; the media said the disease was the “Wrath of God”!  Many clergy endorsed this attitude and we even had hospital chaplains who were afraid to visit patients. Those of us who were Christians working and caring for people, showing them the love of God, did not get much encouragement and support; so we formed our own networks which were ecumenical.

At another hospital, the chaplain would regularly bring visitors to the AIDS ward but explain that he only visited patients when asked to do so. This was not because of fear on his part but, as he said,  the staff did the spiritual care and called the appropriate minister of religion when needed.  This illustrates another strand of diaconal ministry: encouraging and enabling all people to exercise their vocation and ministry.

My ministry took me far afield; to Europe, Thailand, Japan and (for 8 years) to the small Kingdom of Swaziland. Through working in countries where ministers of religion are seen as having power and authority, I learnt the importance of the deacon as the icon of the Servant Christ:  showing by example that the basis of all ministry, ordained and lay, is service.

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The Rev. Ellinah Ntombi Wamukoya, bishop of Swaziland

In ‘retirement’ I try to care for the carers by providing holiday cover for clergy in the parish and hospital chaplaincy. I have more time for prayer and am able to attend diaconal meetings and conferences, and have become even more aware of the contribution deacons make to church and society.

Historically, in times of economic threat  and social change there has often been a resurgence of  the diaconate, reaching out to the underworld and those on the fringes. In the present economic climate and cuts in social care, deacons are in the ideal place to help. Their ministry is community-focussed so they know the needs; they are in the right place to do prophetic social analysis and to raise the awareness of others in the church and society.

Politically the buzz words change all the time: in the church at present they seem to be ‘reform and renewal’ and ‘pioneer ministry’. Deacons are people on a mission – making connections between liturgy and pastoral need, building bridges between the life of the church and those outside  They are pioneers and innovators.

My un-churched friends often cannot see the difference between priests and deacons.  My simple explanation is that (generally) priests work from within the church out into the community, deacons work from the community into the church.

Rev Deacon Pat Wright

PENTECOST: A TRULY DIACONAL MESSAGE!

Getting out of the church and into the world with the gospel of Christ … encouraging the church to reach out to others and meet their needs with God’s love … that’s what the Holy Spirit did at the first Pentecost, and He’s still at it today.  May we as His deacons be always at His service with courage and joy.

MONTHLY PRAYER LETTER FROM DIAKONIA WORLD FEDERATION

The DIAKONIA World Federation Prayer Letter for June has been written by Deaconess Ulrike Kellner from Deaconesses’ Institute of Kaiserswerth.

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DIAKONIA Prayer Letter June 2017

In my church tradition we like to choose words from the bible for special occasions. Of course we know very well that you have to consider all the verses around to get to a proper interpretation. But still, the word you get at your baptism, your confirmation, your wedding often enough fits amazingly to you as a person and to your life. You all have heard from the Moravian watchword that is chosen for every day of the year. For many Germans this is the first reading in the morning. In my own tradition, that of Kaiserswerth, we follow a cycle of daily bible reading that is chosen by the Ecumenical Commission of Bible Reading. They also choose a word for the month. For June 2017 it comes from Acts 5, 29: We ought to obeyGod rather than men.

But what is it that God wants us to do? Sometimes it is even hard to tell what is going on! Fake news and alternative truths mingle with real news, politicians of all sorts paint their own picture to get as much followers as possible. Social networks pretend to connect people more than ever, myriads of words are shared but few things really said. Political wings seem to be stronger than ever, extremists terrorizing people and states, causing thousands of people to flee from their homes. And in the midst of this turmoil we are, struggling to do the right thing, to help others in need, to be a voice for those who already gave up. Shaken by the wind of contradictory news, opinions, demands. From June 28 we meet in Chicago for the DIAKONIA World Assembly to ponder together what it means to face this world in turmoil as diaconal people, what it means to obey God rather than men.

In the meantime, as we struggle along in our daily lives, I find consolidation and strength in a word of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who showed in his life what it means to obey God rather than men: “I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. forthat purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us resist in all times of distress. but he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. a faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future.” (D. Bonhoeffer, God Is In The Manger)

See you in Chicago!

Dc. Ulrike Kellner