The diakonia™ Program was started by the Rev. 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 the diakonia™ Program to train lay people to be servants of the Lord. As he has frequently said, "to take the message of the font and the table (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 seminary." To maintain the grassroots 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 area 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 Program National Board continues to be engaged in expansion and publicity efforts in a number of additional ELCA Synods.
In the first 28 years more than 800 persons have completed the diakonia Program course of study. At the present time, there are Locations in the following Synods:
New Jersey Synod – 1982
Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod – 1998
Metropolitan Chicago Synod – 1999
Metropolitan New York - 1977
Northern Illinois Synod – 2003
Greater Milwaukee Synod – 2006
Indiana-Kentucky Synod 2008