A Healthy Mind in a Healthy
Diaconal work in the Finnish Lutheran Church
has a long tradition. Its purpose is to help and support
parishioners, empower them, and increase their community spirit.
Human beings are individuals created by God, unique and
valuable in themselves. Each encounter is important, because
as a diaconal worker we not only confront the human being, but God
within him. These encounters are not always easy: the client
may be violent, intoxicated or criminal. Often the diaconal
worker is comforted by the thought that the client is some mother’s
child. A human being’s overall wellbeing depends on many
things. The gospel alone is not enough for a hungry
parishioner; he/she needs soup, soap and pastoral counselling.
As a result of the economic recession of the
1990s, the role of the church in Finnish society has grown, as has
that of many charity organizations. Because of the content of
diaconal work, it operates at the interface of society’s public and
third sectors. The diaconal worker, deaconess and deacon have
a professional errand of mercy, the purpose of which is to respond
to parishioners’ personal needs. We try to keep the threshold
for seeking help low so anyone can easily come to us. For
example, we do not ask whether the seeker of help belongs to the
church or not, but offer assistance to anyone who needs it.
Diaconal work provides spiritual, mental, physical and social
support, societal influencing, education, and it supports the
parishioner’s accountability and voluntary ability to function.
Diaconal aid extends to people in mental health rehabilitation,
substance abusers, prisoners, disabled people, immigrants, the sick
and their relatives, grieving individuals, the elderly, and
individuals and families of limited means. The diaconal
client process begins when the parishioner him/herself feels the
need for assistance.
The purpose of this article is to describe the
comprehensive encounters in diaconal work. The diaconal
worker comprehensively considers the human being’s physical,
emotional, spiritual and social dimensions. Diaconal workers
meet people at both office appointments and home visits, in various
groups, during excursions, and at camps.
As diaconal workers we pay attention to the
person’s health and wellbeing. We make observations about the
people we encounter before we have even exchanged words. In
discussions we go through the person’s life situation and state of
health: how they sleep, how they eat, whether they are on
medication, whether they use intoxicating substances, and whether
they are in control of the use of these substances. As a
basis for these discussions we can use pre-formulated
questionnaires. Often ordinary, open and honest discussion is
enough to clarify the situation. The most important thing is
that the person is heard, received and welcomed, and that we are
interested in them.
During the encounter, mental and spiritual
support is given through listening, touching, being present,
sharing, and praying. In diaconal work, we can also use music
and spiritual literature, for example, in peer support groups.
Spiritual support can, in practice, be given through
participation in services or spiritual events, or by giving the
person the opportunity to attend such events. The nature of
the mental and spiritual support within diaconal work clearly
includes the strengthening of faith and one’s relationship with
God, and discovering the aspect of hope in everyday life. The
practice of mental and spiritual support may also include finding a
support person for a lonely senior citizen; strengthening resources
through conversation and interaction, health-related advice and
information; grief support; support for those caring for close
relatives; and collaboration with other health and social
professionals, with the permission of the client. In
addition, various groups, excursions and camps can support and
strengthen the parishioner’s own resources.
As diaconal workers, we see that the need for
social support may arise from mental, spiritual, financial or
social difficulties, or threats to one’s health. In close
interaction with the client, we guide, teach and advise them to
find their own resources. Social support also guides the
person to different public and third-sector services such as social
work, social welfare for the disabled, and different organizations.
The meaning of the congregation for social wellbeing may be
of the utmost importance. Faith and values bring people
together and create a community that provides strength in difficult
times. For senior citizens in particular, regular gatherings
and the interactions and experiences these provide, may be more
beneficial for wellbeing than medication.
Working time regulations do not apply to
diaconal work. Thus, diaconal workers can themselves arrange
their working hours and have more time to make home visits.
For example, a lonely elderly person may need someone to talk
to, someone who has time to listen and go through their life
history. By talking about and reliving their memories,
elderly people may find positive aspects to the lives they have
lived. Listening to the stories and reinforcing positive
memories is part of diaconal work, and fosters hope within the
client. In this very situation, diaconal work is at its best:
a comprehensive encounter, listening and enabling hope.
Volunteers, trained by deaconesses/deacons of the
congregation, are also important participants in diaconal work.
When we as diaconal workers listen and support
people in their financial difficulties, we pay attention to the
connections between unemployment and illness, and the impairment of
mental wellbeing due to financial problems. Rather than
focusing on concrete treatments, health-related assistance in
diaconal work concentrates on mental and social support and
guidance. As diaconal workers, we help clients cope with
their illness, provide guidance in the use of services, give them
conversation assistance, enable peer support, and defend their
rights to services.
Mirva Kuikka, Deaconess, Executive
Kirsi Karppinen, Deaconess, MHSc
Karppinen Kirsi. 2011. Professional skills and
knowledge in diaconal worker’s everyday life in rural areas.
University of Oulu Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Hhealth
Sciences, Nursing Science. Master’s thesis.
Helena Kotisalo & Lea Rättyä. 2014.
Deaconesses as Health Promoters. Diaconia University of Applied
Rättyä Lea. 2009. Diaconal work as individual
and social aid in the social change. Kupio University
Publiations E. Social Sciences 179.2009.203 p.