A tale of two Deacons: Deacon Suzie

Hello everyone!

I was asked to share with you what ‘teamwork’ means to me. Immediately, my thoughts go to the amazing group of people, lay and ordained, who are involved in diaconal ministry in this Circuit. And here is my first point: it’s not ‘my’ ministry… it could never be! I don’t have all the skills required nor the desire to embark on a ‘one-woman’ mission.

You see, teamwork is not a programme or even a choice for me. It’s a way of life. It encompasses not only church ministry and mission in the community, but also the way I see marriage life, family life and relationships in general.

I am not sure if one is born with this teamwork ‘mentality’, but I am aware that being raised in a community characterised by interdependency and mutuality helped. I was told from a very early age that we needed each other, whether we were the parent or the child, the elderly or the teenager. We needed the neighbours and they needed us. The skills of newcomers and strangers were as important as mine. Actually, skills only mattered if they were being used for the common good. Life in community was all I knew.

Little by little, this sense of interdependency started to disappear, in Brazil and also here, I was told. Suddenly, society was screaming from different angles the importance of independency, the ‘individual’, or ‘my family matters the most’.

Our educational system embraced this new thinking very quickly and demanded that kids would have to know a bit of everything (whether they had the skills for it or not), ‘producing’ generations trained to seek independency and face stiff competition in the work market.

Church structure was also affected. We became ‘congregationalists’ - what matters is if our church has the resources (building, people and money) … why would we want to share with other churches?! No wonder the understanding of Connexionalism within Methodism is so alien for our people. Our churches find it hard to share with the ‘Circuit’, even more with the rest of the country! (And don’t tell me this is not true!!)

You may think I’m deviating from the subject, but I’m not. As I said before, teamwork is a way of life. It starts with the understanding that God has created us and equipped each one of us differently, with different spiritual gifts, backgrounds, talents, personalities, and abilities (1 Corinthians:12) so that we complemented each other. All that stuff about ‘unity in diversity’ that we hear so much and go ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’, but find it hard to put into practice on a daily basis.

Working as part of a team requires self-knowledge, it requires clear recognition of our limitations and our abilities. For some of us, saying out loud ‘I can’t do this’ comes much easier than ‘I’m good at this, can I try?’ or even ‘I know nothing about this but I’m willing to learn!’. Teamwork usually leads us to discover the latent and often unsuspected talents, ours and of others. It makes us vulnerable, but also courageous. We learn soon that mistakes will be made and it’s ok. Mistakes teach us what doesn’t work. If we are not making any mistakes, it probably means we are playing it safe and not trying anything new.

Working as part of a team requires a change from a power-based relationship to an empowering relationship. Years of experience, a diploma, or a clerical collar do not make anyone more important and distinct. Youth, stamina and fresh ideas do not ‘buy’ a position or influence. A gap in someone’s CV, an experience of homelessness, or a battle with physical and mental illness, do not disqualify or diminish a person for another chance to use their skills. If there is any power, it is solely in the integration of all those abilities and talents to achieve a goal, to journey together towards the vision established by the team.

Working as part of a team requires a new understanding of accountability. We are not there to simply check on each other’s performance. It’s about checking ourselves as members of a team, asking questions such as: ‘am I taking over?’, ‘Am I detaching myself from the team?’, ‘Are we creating space for the other to flourish?’, ‘Am I withholding skills, information, trying to protect myself?’ Within teamwork, the responsibility is ‘ours’. If a team-member wasn’t able to fulfil their potential, we look at the team - the mistakes and successes are ‘ours’. On a team, no one is a ‘star’ - we don’t excel each other, we depend on each other.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says that “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” The point is that if two are better than one, if it can help in our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and add up to our strengths, then how much better to have three or four or even more working together on the team. The word ‘broken’ in the bible verse brings two dimensions for me: broken as separated, isolated and broken as at the brink of exhaustion.

Teamwork gives a sense of belonging and inclusion as well as protection against burnout and frustration: it paves the way for a balanced life!

Finally, teamwork is a journey where members start with different levels of understanding of what working in a team really means. It takes time and effort to build a strong team, but it’s worth it!

It’s a journey of learning and transformation. It is also a very counter cultural approach - a call for us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world (work-alcoholism, individualism, competition and hierarchy) but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, and in doing so transform also the environment in our homes, work and churches into places where ‘team members’ feel loved, supported and free to develop their gifts and abilities.

(Deacon Suzie is a member of the Circuit Team who works, principally, with Bournemouth Methodists)

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