“I am proud of myself!”

So said a young woman I met in Belgrade last week. Living with her own challenges, she gave me an insight into how diaconal work is not simply about fixing a problem but about building people up and giving them the belief and confidence in themselves.

As I traveled through Serbia to see the work of our member Philanthropy, I could see that the people I met valued the care and compassion given by Philanthropy as much as they valued the material support they received. Sitting with a group of older ladies who gather together to do traditional crafts I realised that as much as the group existed to keep such crafts ‘alive’ the real benefit of the group was the friendship and companionship that was developed through the group – it was all about community – and having that community made the ladies happier and ultimately, more positive about life. Seeing a new residence for homeless people being built demonstrated the commitment to creating community. Going with the home care team to visit some of their patients was another view on why companionship and community are so important. Going to see one older gentleman we found one of his neighbours already there, having brought him some food, and before we left, another neighbour turned up to see how he was doing. In another home, the love and affection between the carer and the client was palpable – this was not only a professional help but a friendship, a companion and a lifeline to a world the lady struggled to participate in physically. Meeting people who were learning about IT and as a result, being able to ‘match’ their grandchildren on social media made me so happy! Seeing the deep knowledge staff and volunteers had about the communities and the people they worked with showed that actually, their work was all about relationship – relationships with the community, with people who had needs and also with each other. But they created relationships – in community groups of women, in support groups for people living with HIV, in-home care and in their disaster relief work. They were all successful because of the relationship and because of that relationship people were proud of who they were, what they were doing and how they could use their confidence to help others. Amazing.

But I also learned about the difficulties of stereotypes and fear, of the inadequacy of pensions and social assistance, of widespread loneliness, of rural communities struggling to survive, of limited resources to provide essential social services and questions about sustainability. We can get tied down in looking at the politics of everything but sometimes we need to step back and see what is going on beneath it all – fractured or fracturing relationships. Fractured economics that does not ensure equal and fair distribution, fractured social systems that do not provide adequacy of income, fractured understandings of humanity where we see some people as having more value than others. It is this fracturing of relationships that can then cause us to have policies and actions which do not achieve well-being, enable people to reach their full potential and strengthen our societies.

Diaconia constantly goes against this trend, creating positive relationships and communities where people can thrive. Diaconia aims to restore relationships that have been fractured – whether they be personal or corporate. Diaconia is increasingly counter-cultural, pursuing community and solidarity rather than individualism and isolation. Diaconia is about making people feel proud of themselves for who they are and who they will become and releasing the potential in every one of us.


This is such a #diaconal project and a pioneering way of ‘doing church’.  I wonder how many #distinctivedeacons are already involved in this kind of outreach?

Creating Community through the World Cafe

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Like the rest of Europe, life for asylum seekers in Gloucester, England, is a ‘liminal space’ where they survive and wait, knowing they could be moved by the authorities at any time.  “It is like living in an open prison without a status, charged of a crime without a name,” says ECM missionary Rita Rimkiene, who with her husband Vidas Rimkus, founded the World Café.

world cafe foodThe World Café is not a ‘ministry’ however – it is a community where the emphasis is on hospitality, friendship and valuing everyone’s contribution.  “My family in Lithuania was great at hosting parties and as a child, our flat was a place where people gathered and shared life. God brought that back to me when I met Him. Vidas and I have always been fond of having people join us for dinner, lunch and sometimes even breakfast”

As more people joined them, they began meeting in a church hall in central Gloucester, and the World Café Community was born.

Twice-monthly social events are held for between 80-150  people, sometimes even more. The asylum seekers and refugees cook meals from their own countries, with occasional British cuisine. “Everybody comes together to eat, share their joys and troubles, celebrate child birth and mourn, share joys when receive refugee status and be encouraged when they are refused. This is the night when friendships are formed,” says Rita.

While local people are encouraged to befriend the refugees and asylum seekers, “at the end of the day it does not matter who befriends who, we all just  need to be encouraged and loved and experience unity despite of our religious, social or ethnic backgrounds. I love seeing people moving on in life and when it is really tough we can stand together.”

The World Café supports asylum seekers who have particular professions like GP’s where Home Office without a refugee status gives work permission. Generosity of local folk enables World Café to fund some of the exams. Recently, a Pakistani lady passed all the exams and is looking for a job.

Dalal was a Syrian 5 Star Hotel chef who recently arrived in Gloucester with his wife and three children. He has been volunteering at the World Café and using his amazing cooking skills around the city at various church events. The next step is to get Dalal into his own catering business with the help of local business people.

The café has also built relationships with other organisations, such as GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) as well as with Fair Shares, a secular organisation, which helps to find volunteering jobs for all willing.

Rita sees the local involvement as two way: “we want to help local people to use their gifts,” she says “such as sewing, English language teaching, arts, anything really, that can help people to connect and find a new trade or help develop friendship by doing something together.”   This has included a local English teacher who had young children, so couldn’t teach evening classes – but was available for the daytime English club, and even a local charitable trust who has been impressed by World Café’s self-sustainable model which meets both physical and spiritual needs.

And the spiritual side is important too. “The World Café is funded and runs on the compassion and love of local people and churches,” explains Rita. “It welcomes everybody, no matter of their faith and background and is a safe place for inter-religious dialogue. It is a place where Buddhists, atheists, Muslims and Christians feel equal, loved and nurtured.

“Muslims began to come to church on Sunday services. As a result of this, men’s Bible study group started. When people make friends, we hear stories of churches looking after a refugee or an asylum seeking family or an individual. People celebrate Christmas and Easter, take people on holidays, camps and have Sunday dinners. During Ramadan Christians fast together and break fast. People started to pray together and read Holy Books.”

“For example, a young Iranian came to the World Café for a meal. On Sunday he came to church to find out about Jesus, where he joined men’s Bible study group. He went to every housegroup during the week until one day he accepted Christ as his Saviour and got baptised shortly after that. Now he is active within a youth group and has become one of World Café leaders.”

So while asylum seekers and refugees are amongst the most marginalised in society, the vision of the World Café is to give them somewhere to belong  through creating community.

As Rita explains: “The World Café has endless opportunities! ‘The table’ is the beginning of a journey together. As food sustains us physically, open conversation opens a door to our very being – our soul.”

Jo Appleton

Creating Community through the World Cafe


A brilliant post from Terry, a diaconal enquirer in Derby diocese.  It speaks for itself.

Time to duck and cover?

Sorry I have been so quiet.. work is… complicated at the moment, and takes up more thought space than it should.

My mind is also in a weird place, slowly formulating what to write in my essay to the diocese, and how to do it without reading another flipping book about the joys of the priesthood or readership (no offence to my Reader and Priest friends).

Anyway.. enough apologies, time for the actual reason for the post.

So.. last night was meant to be an evening with bishop Alistair (Derby Bishop) followed by a Deanary Synod vote about whether we merge our two deanerys (Heanor & Erewash Valley). In the evening the bishop gave our table groups questions to discuss for 5 mins then present to the group.

One of the questions was along the lines of “if we are saying that the kingdom of God is spread by encouraging people to encounter God even in the smallest of ways, then how are we to use our structures and resources for this kind of witness?”

We discuss the issue, then the wonderfully obliging person (one of our churchwardens) who had stood up for the previous two answers suddenly nudged me, refused to stand up, and did a “Your turn”.


I took a deep breath… and said something along the lines of:

“We discussed that is was not about getting people to feel that they have to do things a certain way, but ensuring everyone in our community knows that they both belong and are loved.

We must be in our communities and engaging with them regularly for them to see this, it is not about the community becoming members of the church, but the church being part of the community so that the encounters with God can happen.

We need to be more flexible in our structures to allow this to happen *deep breath*, one of the problems in the Church of England is that we say we want community involvement, but we have drawn away from it and seperated ourselves from the communities to which we belong.  We push so hard to encourage people to the priesthood or readership that we have lost sight of our diaconal calling to the community, and this is to our detriment, when our churches lose focus on the community others rise to take their place – an example being when the church was often not involved with the impoverished in the Victorian Era, the Salvation Army rose up to take up what we had lost.”

There had been nods throughout, and happy faces doing the nodding in a “finally, someone said it” way… but I dared not look to the bishop as I have been told on a number of occasions “Derby does not ‘do’ deacons, and is unlikely to change”.

My girlfriend said something similar as her table had people like ours (and our diaconally minded vicar (woo hoo))

Afterwards the bishop came over, and thanked us both for what we had said – and it does not seem to have been just being polite, as before that he had been speaking to the rural dean, did a gesture of “ah, I just need a moment, excuse me” when he came over, and then went back to the rural dean…

Which then begs the questions…. if our parishes want us to work in the communities… and the bishop wants us to too… why are we a diocese that “Does not do Deacons”?

I can see this essay being quite interesting to write.

Terry, it’s a good job these two aren’t in your diocese!  They’d never have made it!

Related imageSt Francis of Assisi – deacon

Image result for st laurences

St Laurence – deacon