Many hands, one “Church”
I came to work for Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries a little more than nine years ago, after having served a total of 30 years in three Lutheran congregations. I was, one might say, “experienced” in the ways of the church.
But not really.
What I discovered when I arrived at Diakon was somehow not what I expected. My 30 years in the parish had neither prepared me for fully appreciating the ministry of a social ministry organization such as Diakon, nor fully understanding the width and depth of what we call “church.”
In I Corinthians 12, St. Paul describes the church as a body. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
My parish experience had inadvertently led me to see and understand the truth of St. Paul’s words through the lens of a congregation. It was as if I read those words as referring to a congregation, and the life of a congregation, as opposed to understanding those words as a picture of the Church …the whole Church with a capital C.
My parish sense of vision was expanded when I moved to Reading and interacted with local Diakon ministries. Through that experience, I came to learn much about The Lutheran Home at Topton and Diakon Family Life Services – Northeastern Pennsylvania. And yet I had come to know only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
When I joined Diakon as vice president for Church Relations in 2005, a position from which I will shortly retire, I experienced a lot more—adoption and foster care, the wilderness center and youth services, community services for older adults, HUD rental assistance housing, other senior living communities, Diakon Kathryn’s Kloset—far more than I had know about or appreciated.
We believe that God is always teaching us new things, and giving us new angles of vision to see enduring truths in a new way.
My time at Diakon has significantly expanded my view of the Church, a Church consisting of congregations, colleges, outdoor ministries, social ministry organizations, seminaries, synods, denominations….
As we know, the Church is a body. But I have come to a deeper appreciation of that image and its different manifestations.
Yes, the parts of the body do work together in congregational life. But the same image captures the way in which congregations work together in the life of a synod … or the way a social ministry organization works as an expression of the Church … or even how different denominations work together as an expression of the whole Church.
Always, the whole of the Church is more than the sum of the parts. And perhaps that is exactly the point that St. Paul was making.
The Rev. Dr. John Richter
The Rev. Dr. Richter served as Vice President, Church Relations, for Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries from 2005 through May 31, 2014.
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