History of Diakonia

Where It All Began

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

— Romans 15:4 NIV

375The Diakonia program was started by the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bouman in 1977 when he was pastor at Atonement Lutheran Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY. Atonement, along with a church in Connecticut (First Church in Stamford) and a church in Harlem (Central Methodist) received a grant from Union Theological Seminary for a one-year study to determine what each needed to do to reach out to the community.

As a result, Pastor Bouman developed Diakonia to take the message of the font and the altar out the front door of the church into the community. This would be a program of spiritual formation and theological education of the breadth, but not depth, of theological education pastors receive in seminary. To maintain the grassroots emphasis of the program, local parish pastors were invited to teach the courses, and the courses were offered locally. The first classes were held in Queens, New York and 6 students completed the two-year program of study in 1980.

Over the years, additional locations in the Metro New York Synod were opened (and sometimes closed) based on need. When Pastor Bouman received a call to be pastor in New Jersey, he took the program with him across the Hudson River and over the years an additional seven locations were planted in the New Jersey Synod. In 1994, with a grant from the Metropolitan New York Synod, a Latino location was developed, and since then Latino locations have been meeting in the Metro New York area.

Through the efforts of graduates who have relocated, Diakonia has been planted in other ELCA Synods. The Diakonia National Board continues to be engaged in expansion and publicity efforts in a number of additional ELCA Synods.