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The Flensburg deaconess Käthe Haken

A deaconess (feminine form of ancient Greek διάκονος diákonos servant, servant; modern Greek διάκονος deacon, διακόνισσα deaconess; late Greek διακονίσσα diakonia ; formerly church- gospel , also serving as an evangelical diaconia , in an evangelical church, serving as a religious diaconissa ) and service community (sister community). The male counterpart is the diaconal brother .

Features and peculiarities of the deaconess service

In deaconess communities "people have come together who understand their ministry as the commission of Jesus Christ and want to fulfill it in a binding community". They are active in the church's diaconal tasks in a variety of ways: in parishes, hospitals, old people's and nursing homes, kindergartens, after-school care centers and children's homes, in open youth work, in training centers and other diaconal areas.

Deaconesses in cooperative form

In the traditional form - today called "deaconesses in cooperative form" - deaconesses usually live in a deaconess house or a deaconess institution, from which they are assigned a task or are sent to a service. You commit to simple lifestyle, celibacy, and obedience . The respective order of the community is decisive for this maxim. The deaconesses are blessed in a consecration service with the laying on of hands . They usually wear a nurse's costume, which usually consists of a dark blue, gray or black dress, an apron and a white hood or a white veil .

Individual sororities currently regulate the question of costume differently. Some sisters only wear the costume on sisterhood occasions or at church festivals. The regulation of the cohabitation has also been relaxed. Some deaconesses receive a regular salary for their service and also have the right to their own apartment.

Deaconesses in cooperative form remain connected to their mother house (deaconess house) throughout their lives. With the exception of a monthly pocket money, they make their income available to a joint fund. For this purpose, mutual nursing care for the sick and the elderly is ensured in the parent companies if necessary.

Deaconesses in a new form

A new form of belonging has emerged in numerous diaconal communities in recent decades. These deaconesses form a community of faith and work, but not a life community. This means that they live independently, can marry, start a family and usually no longer wear traditional costume as a sign of identification, but often a brooch or necklace. They have their own income and their own responsibility for providing for them. The women, some of them also men, assume an office in which they are blessed by the regional church . This usually includes part-time diaconal-theological training. You work in traditional diaconal fields, but you can also have non-diaconal professions. "Today men and women are united in the Diaconal Communities who consciously follow Jesus and want to serve people in need in his name," says the Kaiserswerther Association of German Deaconess Mother Houses .


Deaconesses distributing
Inner Mission care packages

The office of deaconess is traced back to the biblical example of the Phoibe of Kenchreä , who was in the service of the early Christian community of Kenchreä ( Rom 16.1  EU ).

Theodor Fliedner reactivated after contacts with the Dutch Mennonites and the British health care reformer Elizabeth Fry in Kaiserswerth in 1836 the service of deaconess based on the early Christian model. In order to protect the deaconesses from attacks and to emphasize their lifestyle, he gave them a costume and set up guidelines that were to structure and regulate the daily routine of the deaconesses. The living conditions of women and the motivation of young women to work independently in the context of charity were a major concern for Fliedner. In the 19th century, in addition to spiritual motivation, securing a livelihood was a motive for many women to enter the deaconess service. However, with the development of employment among women, this motivation took a back seat.

With the gradual development and professionalization of the health care system, especially at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a stronger demarcation and definition of the deaconess service. The foundation of the Kaiserswerther Association in 1916 and the publication of a magazine, Die Diakonisse , between 1926 and 1941 document this development. During this time, the deaconess service was defined as "biblically based devotion" that could not be grasped with rational terms and legislation. After 1945 the question of theological qualification moved more into focus.

The Kaiserswerther Association has around 70 member institutions with around 50,000 employees, including around 1,600 deaconesses and 3,000 deacon sisters and brothers.

The Kaiserswerth deaconess and nursing historian Anna Sticker dealt with the history of deaconesses and built up the Theodor Fliedner Archive in Kaiserswerth, which today belongs to the Fliedner Cultural Foundation Kaiserswerth.


  • Paul Philippi : The preliminary stages of the modern deaconess office (1789–1848) as elements for its understanding and criticism. An investigation into the history of the motif on the nature of the motherhouse diakonia, habilitation thesis Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg 1963, Neukirchen – Vluyn 1966.
  • Herbert Krimm , Hans von Lehndorff , Gerd Heinz-Mohr : The importance of the motherhouse diakonia for the world of tomorrow. On the Sense of Mercy in the Modern World, Bethel Publishing House, Bethel 1979.
  • Gerta Scharffenorth : Sisters. Life and Work of Evangelical Sisters. In: Mark , Volume 10. Burckhardthaus, Offenbach am Main 1984, ISBN 3-7664-0111-4 .
  • Sebastian Kranich , Peggy Renger-Berka, Klaus Tanner (Eds.): Deaconesses - Entrepreneurs - Pastors. Social Protestantism in Central Germany in the 19th Century. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2009, ISBN 978-3-374-02686-9 .
  • Ute Gause, Cordula Lissner (ed.): Kosmos Diakonissenmutterhaus. History and memory of a Protestant women's community. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2nd edition, Leipzig 2005, ISBN 3-374-02267-7 .
  • Anne Kitsch: We are so free ... - biographical sketches of deaconesses. Bethel, Bielefeld 2001, ISBN 3-922463-98-3 .
  • Silke Köser: Because a deaconess cannot be an everyday person. Collective identities of Kaiserswerth deaconesses 1836–1914. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2006, ISBN 3-374-02232-4 .
  • Anne Stempel-de Fallois: From the beginning to the foundation of the Deaconess Mother House in Neuendettelsau (1826–1854). In: Diakoniewwissenschaft , Volume 2. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-17-016266-7 (also dissertation at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg 1998).
  • Jochen-Christoph Kaiser (Ed.): Servants of the Lord. Contributions to female diakonia in the 19th and 20th centuries, Evang. Publishing house 2010.
  • Daniela Schwegler, Susann Bosshard-Kälin: Under the hood - deaconesses talk about their lives. Huber, Zurich 2011, ISBN 978-3-7193-1567-2 .

Web links

Commons : Deaconess  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Gemoll : Greek-German school and hand dictionary . G. Freytag Verlag / Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, Munich, Vienna 1965.
  2. Deaconess . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 4, Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1885–1892, pp. 928–929.
  3. a b c Diaconal communities. Kaiserswerther Verband, accessed on November 12, 2018 .
  4. ↑ Becoming a deaconess: Life. Diakoniewerk RuhrWitten, accessed on November 12, 2018 .
  5. Christine R. Auer: History of the nursing professions as a subject. The curriculum development in nursing education and training. Dissertation Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg , Heidelberg 2008, pp. 118-133.
  6. Norbert Friedrich 100 years of the Kaiserswerther Association - a historical memory . In: Kaiserswerther Verband (Ed.): You put my feet in a wide space . Verlag Berlin Brandenburg 2016, p. 17 ff.