“The invitation to a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has presented a new opportunity for reorienting our understanding of diakonia, and to join together ecumenically in our diaconal work,” said Rev. Dr Kjell Nordstokke, speaking to the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee on 16 June.
As the chief governing body of the WCC is currently gathered in Geneva, Nordstokke presented the joint WCC, Lutheran World Federation and ACT Alliance document, “Called to Transformative Action, Ecumenical Diakonia”.
Nordstokke emphasized the central role that diakonia plays for churches’ understanding “both of who we are, and what we do”.
“The point of this document,” said Nordstokke, is to hold together the two aspects of diakonia as based both on Biblical, theological principles, and on how churches are engaged in action”.
“We stress in this document how ecumenical diakonia can combine faith and rights-based action, claiming that there is no contradiction between the two. Instead, they mutually affirm each other,” Nordstokke added.
Speaking from the perspective of a diaconal agency, the ACT Alliance general secretary Rudelmar Bueno de Faria spoke on the crisis of values currently visible in many societies around the world.
“Looking ahead, we have a new moment for ecumenical diakonia, not only because the WCC and ACT need to coordinate our actions on global processes like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but because we as ACT need to live out our Christian values, and let our identity strengthen our work,” de Faria said.
Zeroing in on SDG 3, on promoting healthy lives and wellbeing for all, the plenary then received an address from World Health Organization director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Health is the central and main pillar of SDGs. If you are healthy, you can wish for anything. But if you are not healthy, you just wish for your health,” Tedros reflected.
“Health and healing, as you know, were central to the life and work of Jesus,” Tedros continued, “and I believe the time is right for a new memorandum of understanding to mobilize faith-based organizations (FBOs) for universal health coverage.”
“We know that churches and other FBOs can play a vital role in promoting health services, and that they sometimes even carry a voice louder than that of governments,” Dr Tedros concluded.
WCC president for the Pacific, Rev. Dr Mele’ana Puloka brought forth the WCC’s work on a new Global Ecumenical Health Strategy, noting also that the year of 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the former Christian Medical Commission.
“On the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, we need all hands on deck, to ensure health for all, to support and advocate for the poor, and see how we as churches can embody the healing ministry of Jesus Christ today,” Puloka said.