This year's new challenge of teaching German to Middle School students has taken me down a few unexpected paths, but certainly down some fun ones such as the exploration of German websites. On one of those journeys I came across Concordat Watch, a site dedicated to achieving the separation of Church and State as a means toward ensuring (equal) human rights for all people. Interestingly, one piece claims that "the first centralized German church charity was established by the Protestants as a response to the threat posed by the socialist workers' movement."
Among a variety of articles delivered from purely secular points of view, Concordat Watch contains (biased) information about the origin and development of deaconess work in Germany, as well as the current delivery of "Protestant" diaconal services through the organization known as Kiakonisches Werk.
Diakonisches Werk is described as presenting itself, "not as a huge state-funded corporation, but as a soup-kitchen run by deaconesses, or Protestant nuns."
These women "worked in hospitals, kindergartens, and homes for the aged. However, today the Diakonisches Werk is no longer staffed by deaconesses, any more than Caritas [the comparable Catholic charity] is by nuns."
In another entry regarding modern times we read:
The Protestant church charity, Diakonisches Werk
"The Protestant Diakonisches Werk is organized geographically into 24 state associations and thematically into 90 professional associations. It includes the diaconical institutions of nine different Protestant churches (Mennonites, Salvation Army, Independent Protestant-Lutheran Church, Methodists, Moravian Brethren, Old Catholics, Association of Free Evangelical Churches (Baptists/Bretheren), Evangelical Old-Reformed Church). ...
"In 1989 Communist rule ended in East Germany, which united with West Germany. The eastern part of the country was traditionally Protestant and it is not surprising that soon the size of the Diakonisches Werk increased significantly. Between 1978 to 1998, (a period which includes the addition of the eastern German states) the number of employees increased 70 percent (from 17,800 to 30,100) and the number of places or beds increased 51 percent, (from 713,000 to 1.08 million), while the number of full-time employees almost doubled (from 215,000 to 420,000). After this expansion into the new eastern states, consolidation set in and from 1998 to 2000 the Diakonisches Werk actually contracted slightly. The reduction in the number of facilities and services was 13 percent, employees 5 percent and places or beds 3 percent. Only the small sections concerned with “special help” and “training” showed any growth. Then from 2000 to 2002 all the key numbers rose in terms of the number of facilities and the beds or places, however, they did so only by 1.4 percent and 4 percent respectively, while the number of employees rose by 13 percent through the addition of 51,764 new positions. ...
"What is going on here? Two facts are suggestive. One is that during its quick expansion into the former East Germany, the Diakonisches Werk was obliged to hire people with no church affiliation. The second is that a decade later it was finally in a position to begin insisting on church membership and, as an official of the Diakonisches Werk admitted, to offer these employees a permanent job only when and if they joined the church."
Concordat Watch is certainly worth a look for those who might be interested in exploring cooperation between church and state in the delivery of diaconal service!