two people hugging each otherThis week we had the opportunity to gather many of our members together to reflect on the past year – and what a year it has been. Our members have faced what at first seemed like insurmountable challenges to ensure continuity of services and care to some of the most vulnerable in their societies. COVID disrupted everything – both personally and professionally.

Many diaconal organisations saw immediate reductions in income, staff shortages, volunteer shortages, and a lack of protective equipment. They also saw new needs emerge as a result of the pandemic – digital exclusion, increased isolation and loneliness, greater in-work poverty and housing insecurity as well as a greater need for basic assistance such as food support. But how they have responded has been amazing.

Our members told us of new partnerships developed, greater support and recognition from the general public for their work, an increase in new volunteers coming forward, and agile use of the resources available to them. In some countries, support for this diversification and innovation was received from governmental authorities, in others, it had to be self-funded from voluntary sources. Yet in some countries, the economic situation just has not allowed for society to pick up the bill for new ways of work and some services have had to stop. Members also told us of how they have been focused on filling the gaps in public provision of services and counter-acting the effects of short-time working or low levels of social protection. We cannot let these precarious situations continue in 2021 and we recommitted ourselves to our engagement at EU level and at national level to ensure that no one is left behind for any reason.

We were also reminded in our meeting that Diaconia has in its basic understanding the need for relationship and gathering people together to mutually reinforce each other. We cannot simply provide charity, we must also enable relationship, empowerment, transformation, and autonomy. What I saw from our members was that maintaining relationships with the people they serve had been at the forefront of their work this year. Seeing ourselves as part of the great whole rather than seeing ourselves as an island (as the poet John Dunne spoke of) has been the critical guiding principle this year. If we lose the relationship, we lose the essence of our humanity – whatever our belief system should be. I am so proud to be part of a network that puts relationships first and works innovatively and doggedly to ensure that any breaking of relationships is prevented.

For those who follow Christianity, the relationship is at the heart of the Christmas message – the relationship between God and humankind, the relationship of hope and humanity, the re-building of broken relationships through the birth of a baby to migrant parents forced to live in extreme poverty. But whatever you believe, in this holiday and Christmas period, we can all focus on relationships, looking to see who needs more relationship at this time and look for those who we do not often pay attention to. No virus, no disruption can take away the basic human understanding of love and solidarity, relationship and reciprocity – so I wish you a holiday period that brings those to you and those you love in abundance.

Have a good weekend,