Dr Walter Altmann delivering the keynote address at the WCC conference on theology of diakonia and Bishop Julio Murray, moderating the session in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dr Walter Altmann delivering the keynote address at the WCC conference on theology of diakonia and Bishop Julio Murray, moderating the session in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“Diakonia is an alternative form of power which consists precisely in serving. If we transfer this insight into the social and political realm, the question is then to what extent structures of power can be permeated by the spirit of service,” said Dr Walter Altmann, moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee.

Altmann was delivering a keynote address at a WCC conference on “The Theology of Diakonia for the 21st Century” in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 2 June 2012.  

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”.

While underlining the biblical imperative “It shall not be so among you”, Altmann went on to emphasize the importance of new forms and understanding of partnerships in diakonia.

“Smaller churches with little material resources have learned that the diaconal ministry is not a privilege of rich churches, because it is not primarily a matter of investing financial resources, but of persons placing themselves alongside those who need their service of solidarity, compassion and love,” said Altmann.

He called on churches to work together in addressing poverty and hunger, which seem to  be on the rise due to the effects of the present globalized economy. 

Dr Liz Vuadi Vibila, a theologian from the Democratic Republic of Congo, reflected on the beginnings of diaconal ministries in the church and on meeting the needs of those neglected. In her presentation she said, “Diakonia is proposing solutions and methods of solving problems of injustice and discrimination, helping those who are in distress, proposing a right sharing of resources.”

Emphasizing the need for diakonia within the churches, Vibila shed light on the reality that rampant violence against women is significant for the churches. She said that churches often do not talk about rape and abuse of women. She insisted that the churches cannot make any claims about diakonia while tolerating abuse and injustice within.

The conference brought together over fifty participants from around the world to reflect theologically on diakonia from the vantage points of marginalized people and the geo-political South. The discussions also included perspectives from local congregations stressing the conviction that diakonia is an inevitable ecclesial expression which cannot be outsourced, nor done only in the context of some limited forms and orientations.  

The conference was hosted by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka and organized by the WCC programmes for Justice, diakonia and responsibility for creation, Just and inclusive communities and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

The conference aims to work toward a theological affirmation to enrich the reflections on the theme of diakonia at the 10th Assembly of the WCC in Busan, Korea in the autumn of 2013.

Read also:

Prophetic diakonia is an important tool of transformation (WCC press release of 28 November 2011)

Article on “Diakonia” from the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement