On Saturday, November 18th, churches from across Classis Chatham gathered to answer one burning question: Was it time to retire or revitalize their Diaconal Conference. The learning event was titled “The Deacon’s Role: Moving from Standard Version to Revised Standard Version”. A group of about 60 participants gathered at Grace CRC in Chatham to listen, learn and give their input.
Some of you may be asking, “What is a Diaconal Conference anyway?” Article 75b of the CRCNA’s Church Order states: “The Classis shall, whenever necessary, assist the churches in their ministry of mercy. The Classis themselves may perform this ministry when it is beyond the scope and resources of the local churches. To administer this task each classes shall have a classical diaconal committee.” Though not as common as it once was, a Diaconal Conference is an association of diaconates who represent churches within a classis (a group of churches within a geographical area). They gather together to promote and build the church’s ministry of mercy. A diaconal conference would normally take part in:
• promoting mutual learning opportunities for the diaconates within a classis
• providing training for new deacons and leadership roles for deacons in the church
• stimulating support for existing community ministries, especially Operation Manna’s partners
• encouraging diaconates to search for new ministry opportunities
• promoting international relief and development work of World Renew
• communicating with classis on a regular basis where and when possible
So now you may be wondering, ‘But isn’t that what Diaconal Ministries Canada is already doing?!’ Well, yes, we are! DMC was organized by deacons, for deacons, so that the ministry and leadership role that oversees the ministry of the church could be thoughtfully equipped and supported, and resources shared. Much time and effort has been put into listening to deacons and developing a wide range of materials and events to help them fulfill their callings as leaders in the church. Most of this work is done primarily through our Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMDs) who are experienced in diaconal work and are available to help deacons, as encouragers AND coaches.
Something that has impacted our work was a significant change that took place at Synod 2015 when some important principles for diaconal ministry in the 21st century were approved. That 2015 Task Report addressed the role of deacons in congregations and communities as well as the role of elders. Read the full report here. (For more information on the importance of what happened there, check out our blog post from September 2015 here.)
So this is why we gathered in Chatham. The Diaconal Conference of Classis Chatham has begun to wrestle with the implications of this report on their leadership role and their churches. And they are not alone. Conversations are happening all across Canada and also south of the border. Here at DMC, we hope to help YOU shape the answers to this question.
During our morning together, we looked at the history and role of DMC as well as the role of our Diaconal Ministry Developers. We shared what was happening within the churches and their surrounding communities to find common through-lines and themes. All of these stories and ideas and insights were put up against the mandate of the Classis Chatham Diaconal Conference to help the group discover if the mandate was still relevant and could adequately address the needs of the Classis.
By the end of the day, we had covered a lot of ground, met some new friends, and learned a lot of new things. While it would be wonderful to say everything was accomplished in this one, half-day gathering, it was realized that more work was yet to be done. The proposal moving forward was for Classis Chatham Diaconal Conference to host a smaller follow-up meeting in January or February, 2018, to discuss the information shared and collected on November 18th. Once again, DMC will help to facilitate that discussion, with the goal of formulating some longer term plans.
For those of us who have read a bulletin announcement or been handed a pamphlet about an upcoming seminar or training event, we can probably agree they are easy to dismiss and/or ignore. Life is full and one more day away from home, especially early on a Saturday morning, can be unappealing and almost dreaded. So DMC Staff were delighted to hear positive feedback from those in attendance. Many were appreciative of the gathering and commented that “the day was great even in just being together” and that the “interacting was rich” and “engaged the participants”. They saw much value in exchanging ideas and hearing what was working in the various churches/diaconates. One complaint we received was that it should have been a full-day meeting(!).
So, what about YOU?
Would your church or Classis see value in holding a similar gathering? Do you have some ‘hot topics’ you’d like to discuss? Are you wrestling with the value and purpose of a Diaconal Conference? Do your deacons need training on some specific matters like finding your church’s or Classis’ passion or making benevolence policies or orientating new deacons? Let us know how we can support you along in this journey at Classis or at your local church.