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Equipping the saints for diakonia; building up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12)

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If you’ve been in our Greater Milwaukee Synod for much time at all, chances are you have encountered Diakonia. Even if you’re not quite sure what Diakonia is, you likely have run into at least one or two of the 118 graduates in the synod – or the 65 pastors and other rostered leaders who have taught Diakonia courses.

Diakonia is a lay education program offered in 11 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The program came to the Greater Milwaukee Synod in 2006, and you can find its graduates across our synod – and beyond. They lead Bible studies and teach Sunday school; they serve in worship and on congregation councils; they work as parish administrators and youth ministers; and they work and serve around southeastern Wisconsin, inside and outside their congregations. Some of them preach sermons. A few have followed God’s call to seminary. One helped establish the newest Diakonia program – in Wisconsin’s South-Central Synod.

Pastors from around the synod – even retired Bishop Jeff Barrow – have taught Diakonia classes, including Old Testament, New Testament, Daily Life of a Christian, Lutheran Creeds and Confessions, Visitation, Early Church History, and others. The two-year program helps lay people deepen their knowledge, discern their spiritual gifts, and better understand their call to ministry in daily life.

“I began Diakonia classes knowing something was stirring inside me, but I truly had no idea how to find out what that was about. Rather than take a wait-and- see approach, I decided to wait actively and spend time learning what this whole Lutheran thing is about,” says Danette Braun, a Diakonia graduate who now serves as parish administrator at Kingo Lutheran Church in Shorewood. “The classes challenged me to consider how believing in Jesus Christ intersected with my daily life. One thing led to another; the work I do now is reflective of my spiritual gifts and how those gifts align with building God’s community. Diakonia helped bring all of that into focus.”

Graduate Michael Jackson belongs to a Pentecostal congregation, but he learned about Diakonia through another program at one of our synod’s congregations.

“[Diakonia] helped me to find out, in the search, what I wanted to be and what I could be,” Jackson says.

He now helps lead the weekly Wednesday Prayer Service at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. He also stands in for Pastor Patrick Keen when needed. The Wednesday Prayer Service is a short service of Word and Prayer that invites those present to share their experiences of daily life, hear a message of Good News, and pray together as a community.

“Michael’s presence is a blessing to this gathering,” says Penny Schwid, the parish administrator at Our Savior’s and another Diakonia graduate. Graduate Diane Roznowski calls Diakonia “confirmation for adults – but without camp or the sleepovers! It’s two years of intentional Christian study with a supportive small group and knowledgeable instructors.”

Roznowski graduated with our synod’s first Diakonia class, in 2008. She now serves as chairwoman of the Greater Milwaukee Synod Diakonia Steering Committee. This spring, Diakonia will celebrate its 10th graduation in the Greater Milwaukee Synod, with an expected 10 more graduates. The Rev. Stephen Bouman, who founded Diakonia in 1977 in New York, will preach at this year’s graduation, which is on June 10 at St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church in Greendale.

“If you are a layperson looking for an opportunity to ​explore your faith in a deeper way in a safe, caring, and open Christian environment – or if you are a rostered leader with a heart to help others grow in understanding and faith as an instructor – Diakonia may be just the right place for you,” Roznowski says.

The Diakonia program includes 12 courses over two academic years, each of which meets weekly for five sessions. Students work at their own level, and instructors take into consideration that students are also busy at work, in their congregations, and with their families. Tuition is $360 per year, and books cost $25-$30 per course; however, financial aid is available through Diakonia, and many congregations also assist their students.

In our synod, classes are offered at four sites: Our Savior’s in Milwaukee, which meets Tuesday evenings; St. John’s in Brookfield, which meets Saturday mornings; Lord of Life in Kenosha, which meets Monday evenings; and Christ the King in Port Washington – a new site added this year – which meets Tuesday evenings.

Once a year, graduates, students, and instructors get together for a one-day retreat. This year’s topic is “Children of Abraham: Christians and Muslims in the World Together.” Opportunities for ongoing faith formation also continue in Diakonia classrooms, as graduates are eligible to audit any classes at any site. Because the instructors change from year to year, each class presents a new opportunity to grow.

“Since graduating in 2011, being a part of the Diakonia community has enriched my life in ways I never thought possible,” Sean Heinritz says. “I have led worship, prayed over the sick, and my conversations with my religious brothers and sisters have been deeper and more meaningful. My sense of call has been enhanced, and my love of God is continuing to grow.”

For More Information

To learn more about Diakonia, click here. If you’d like someone to come to your congregation or group meeting to offer a temple talk, adult forum, or other presentation about Diakonia, contact Diane Roznowski at 414-807- 7451 or diane.roznowski@gmail.com.

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