A DIACONAL APPROACH: using the tools of consensus

The World Deacons Executive changes to consensus

This guest post on change to consensus is from Rev (Deacon) Sandy Boyce of the Uniting Church in Australia. Sandy is President of the DIAKONIA World Federation – http://www.diakonia-world.org

The change to consensus by the Executive of the DIAKONIA World Federation has been a huge positive. Change from a traditional meeting format to using the tools of consensus processes has increased inclusion, strengthened the group and empowered the leadership of all the members. There is no going back after the change to consensus!

Why change?

‘Slow down – please!’

‘Please stop using English colloquial expressions!’

‘Please – give us some time to catch up’.

Such were the pleas from people for whom English is a second or third language. When working together on a world committee comprised of people from many countries, cultures and language groups the way we communicate together is very important.

The World Executive (2013-17) was comprised of people from North America, Australia, England, Tanzania, Switzerland, Germany, Norway and the Philippines. In 2018 we begin with a new committee that will again draw people together from many countries and languages. All share a common desire to work towards a common purpose through the DIAKONIA World Federation.

We only meet face to face once a year, so relationship building is especially key to a successful meeting. When we spend so much time in a business meeting the quality of our fellowship at that time is significant to the quality of our relationships as a group.

How the change was introduced

When elected as President, DIAKONIA World Federation, one of my responsibilities was to organise and chair the annual meeting.  In the meeting are elected representatives from diaconal associations around the world. English is the medium for our meetings.

I had been keen to introduce the consensus decision making process into our meetings. Interestingly, some members had seen the cards in use and were not keen to use them. I was shocked to discover that the way they had seen the cards being used simply replicated a traditional ‘voting’ system. There people held their cards aloft and the cards were counted to see who was ‘for’ (orange) and who was ‘against’ (blue). So, the introduction of the consensus decision making process had to address the previous experience of the misuse of the cards and process. In addition it needed to capture the essence and energy of shared discernment and the consensus decision making process.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the consensus decision making process would be embraced so quickly. In a multi-lingual context it provided an opportunity for people to express in non-verbal ways their response to matters being discussed. They could also visually see how others were responding. The change to using consensus building processes in our meeting enabled discussion and discernment to continue in an informed way. People better understood what was happening compared to the way they had to quickly come to a decision in a typical ‘business’ meeting. It transcended language in a way that enabled more fulsome participation in decision making.

Additional tools used to help the change

I introduced the yellow ‘question’ card. This proved invaluable, especially for those for whom English was not their first language. For some on our World Executive, English was only one of a cluster of languages they spoke. Having to listen and speak in English while internally processing their thinking in another language presents special challenges.

The yellow card ‘democratised’ the process, in that all members of the committee could feel free to ask questions. Having shown the yellow card, a member could take all the time they needed to frame their question and speak to it.

Others would be especially attentive to understand the gist of the question, and any further comments, and to discern the implications for the discussion at hand. The card gave people confidence to participate more fully. Our meetings have been enriched as a consequence. The privilege accorded to native English in meetings was (in part) addressed by this opportunity . This change strengthened the strategies for intentionally making space to listen well to questions and comments that is inherent in a consensus approach.

Then, I sensed the need for a further card.  The orange and blue cards remained the colours related to the consensus decision making process itself. But this purple card served another purpose. It is used by people who experienced (and expressed) a constant frustration at the speed that native speakers of English spoke during meetings.

Those listening could not keep up with the internal process that was required to convert English to their own language. People need to think and process, and then consider a response, before converting back to English. Everyone wants to, and should be able to offer, a response to the committee. However when they were ready the discussion may have moved on and they missed an opportunity to contribute. All of this internal processing activity happened silently. Such silence from non-English speakers could easily be construed as agreement. In fact it often signaled active internal processing of language.

Native speakers of English from different countries speak with such a wide diversity of accents. This requires a different way of listening. Unwittingly using colloquial expressions that did not translate easily even for speakers of English happens a lot. Hence the pleas of those who were not native speakers of English for people to ‘slow down’, ‘stop using colloquial expressions’, and to create some space for processing what they have heard.

The purple card had the specific purpose of providing a visual clue to the person speaking – slow down. They needed to be more attentive to the process of speaking and listening. The exasperation and frustration gave way to a greater sense of inclusion and participation.

Was the change worth it?

Our DIAKONIA World Executive meetings have been enriched by the consensus decision making process, and the use of the blue and orange cards. The use of the two additional cards that have been integrated into the process have enabled more fulsome participation and understanding across the breadth of the membership of the DIAKONIA World Executive.

The experience has been a very positive one for the Executive members. I strongly commend that groups take seriously how to involve people from different language groups and cultures. Consensus processes and tool are the key to making an effective change.



Eight new United Methodist deacons were ordained last month in the denomination’s East Africa Conference. Photos taken by Rev. Jerioth Wangeci.

A reminder of our ecumenical, worldwide vocation and ministry.

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You can keep up to date with Diakonia World Federation on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/262487100432637/?fref=gs&dti=262487100432637&hc_location=group_dialog

Here is the DWF December prayer, written by Sister Elly Urio:

The Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Lord, I am so very grateful that You are constant and unchanging. Thank you that Your Spirit in me is
constant and unchanging too. Thank you that, where Your Spirit is, there is liberty. Whenever I look to
You, I am being transformed by Your Spirit into Your image from glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Help me to
always reflect Your beauty. Keep me from looking at anything that would take away from Your glory in
Help me to value Your presence in my life more than I value anything else. I don’t ever want to do
anything to hinder the transforming work You want to do in me. When I look in the mirror I want to see
You reflected back. When other people look at me, I want them to see Your radiance too. Thank You
that you have the power to set me free from anything in my life that would keep me from all You have
for me.
In Jesus’ name I pray.



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To see the presentations, go to the Diakonia website:  http://www.diakonia-world.org/





DIAKONIA Prayer letter July 2017

These last few days, more than 400 deacons and deaconesses have gathered in Chicago for the 22nd World DIAKONIA Assembly, exploring the theme, ‘Shaken by the Wind’. There have been many highlights: making new friends, learning together, singing, dancing, sharing in worship, tuning our ears to languages and accents not our own, celebrating the 70th anniversary of DIAKONIA. It has been a time to re-collect ourselves in prayer, to re-imagine how the world might be, to re-connect with each other. What a great community this has been. Truly memorable. Photos will be uploaded to the DIAKONIA website and the DIAKONIA World Federation Facebook page – you may be able to see for yourself how wonderful this week has been.

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Fijian deacons lead morning prayer

And in the midst of this, we have dared to name some of the chaos ‘out there’ – policies and practices in the political and business realm that deny human dignity and worth, that diminish the integrity of the earth and care for the environment, that enslave, imprison and denigrate people, that force people to struggle just to survive – rather than flourish. Jesus said, I have come to give you life and life in all its abundance. But, not all leaders make decisions shaped by the values of God’s reign. Our speakers have taken us on a journey that speaks truth to power and invites us to tell a different narrative to that of fear, fear which has trumped hope. (You can read their presentations on the DIAKONIA website, http://www.diakonia-world.org, and click on Chicago Assembly on the right)

The caring community that has been created this week has drawn us together in ways that contrast with much of what is happening in the world, where division and suspicion are normal. And so we have treasured our time together, for we have experienced some of the richness and diversity and joy of our global Christian community. We want to hang on to that!

At the same time, we are disciples of Christ, those who are ‘sent’. The ministry of diakonia beckons us out into the world where God already is, to be in the world of human concerns and needs, and to be in service in solidarity with others in ways which reflect the special concern of Jesus for them. Our world needs to hear a different story other than fear, retribution, division, hate, violence and chaos, and to know the gospel practices of love, hospitality, peace, joy, generosity are not only possible, but are the only hope for the future.

“The holiest thing we have to offer the world is a ‘broken-open’ heart, emptied of fear and vengeance, filled with forgiveness and a willingness to take the risks of love”. (Parker Palmer in his book, The Politics of the Brokenhearted).

We can feel overwhelmed by a world of fear and chaos. Or, we can be open to hearing the message of Jesus who says the reign of God has come into our midst – where peace and justice meet, with the promise of a whole new future for our world graced and animated by the Holy Spirit.

Wherever you are in the world, may the peace of Christ be yours.

Rev (Deac) Sandy Boyce President, DIAKONIA World Federation

Facebook Link::  https://www.facebook.com/groups/262487100432637/

Website:  http://www.diakonia-world.org/


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