Diaconal Conference: A Farewell and a New Beginning

The National Diaconal Conference of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC), has been active since 1985 including its predecessor organization, convened for its final meeting in Bern on November 15. The conference will become part of a national “Swiss Diaconal Conference”, which will be founded in 2017 under the aegis of the FSPC.

“Faith and the Protection of Refugees” was the topic of the conference, which took place at the Salvation Army headquarters in Bern. The event was attended by some 60 delegates from the member churches and the FSPC as well as from diaconal organizations and institutions. Anja Klug, Head of the UNHCR Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, spoke at the conference from an international perspective. Simon Röthlisberger, Migration Affairs Officer at the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, reported on domestic concerns. Group discussions were held on how vocal the church should be on the issue of refugees and in what way asylum law should take religion into account in the first place.

The afternoon event also involved a farewell to the Diaconal Conference, while also marking its 50th session. A panel discussion included former conference presidents Silvia Michel (1994-98), Christoph Sigrist (2004-08), and Konrad Meyer (2008-14), as well as current president Urs Woodtli, and touched on the farewell and new beginning. Representatives of diaconal agencies and of member churches met for the first time in 1985 as part of the predecessor to the National Diaconal Conference, which was constituted formally in 1994, and which continued its work through its dissolution with today’s event.

By mid-2017, the new national Swiss Diaconal Conference will include the National Diaconal Conference, the Swiss German Diaconal Conference, and the diakonie.ch Internet project, all under the aegis of the FSPC. As FSPC Council Member Daniel Reuter expressed in his address, the process will have a trailblazing character, adding: “They will be pioneers when it comes to joining forces and finding new, more efficient means of cooperating.” Hella Hoppe, Director of the FSPC Secretariat, recognized the Diaconal Conference as a pioneer in topics such as societal change, migration and undocumented people, and issues involving families and partnerships. She added that the conference was always marked by true bilingualism.

The Swiss Diaconal Conference will promote an exchange of information with diaconal projects at the parish level and will support the dialogue with diaconal research and with diaconal networks. The goal is to provide diaconal work all from a single source. As Synod Councilor Claudia Hubacher of the Reformed Churches of Bern-Jura-Solothurn put it: “We are needed to fill this new institution with life. It is our task to give it meaning and form.”