"I’m kind of thinking about leaving the church."
"I have no idea what the church is supposed to bring me. I can also save the money."
This or something similar is the course of more and more conversations in the closer and more distant circle of friends. While going to church on Sundays and having a Bible on the nightstand was a given for most of our grandparents, it’s a different story for our generation. I myself am a Catholic, wrote in this article already about my (very nice) relationship with the church – but also pointed out that today in our faster-further-higher-better society, not very many people, especially young people, can relate to a centuries-old institution anymore. And yet countless of them want to get married in church or become godparents, for example.
So what to do with the Dilemma between leaving and remaining part of the church? Does it make sense to pay church tax if you haven’t seen the inside of a church in 5 years?? What happens with these funds in the first place? What is denied to you if you decide to resign? And, first and foremost, quite flatly: What is the point of being part of this institution at all??
This text should help you if you are currently facing these questions. And beforehand: In my personal Life may not miss the church, nevertheless I am not missionary on the way here. Faith is individual and inviolable, but sometimes you just find yourself in a bit of a crisis. As part of the research for the article, I spoke with a church representative, whose answers you will receive in the best case in your Decision (whatever it turns out to be) reinforce can.
The current resignation figures of the church
In fact, the trend of Church resignations in Germany currently rising, as we heard from Martin Innemann, Stv. Press spokesman of the Archdiocese of Hamburg and the Archdiocesan General Vicariate, experienced.
Evaluations show that in the previous year 2019 just under 273.000 Catholics have decided to turn their backs on the institution of the church. Above all in the federal states Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia with in each case approx. 78.000 and. 68.000 people leave the church – although these countries also have the highest number of Catholics, at 6-7 million each. These are (and this is only a very rough figure, which also varies greatly from state to state) approximately 15 % more than still in 2018.
Only about 5.300 have decided to rejoin in 2019 after previous withdrawal. So all in all, there are living in the country summa summarum 22.6 million Catholics – However, only 9.1% of them attend church services on average. 22.6 million are still just under a quarter of the German population, but the statistics on departures speak for themselves (more here). Where does the whole thing still lead? Will the tendency continue to be: away from the church?
Questions that many of you are asking
For my interview, I invited myself Christina Innemann a. The 39-year-old studied Catholic theology on diploma and then did a I trained as a pastoral counselor within the church. She’s not a priest, of course – because, as we know, there are no priests in the Catholic Church. For that it is moreover Chaplain at the University of Rostock, which as such has two main tasks: First, it is the point of contact for students of all religions and origins. In her office sit young people with questions of faith or financial bottlenecks, but also simply those who z.B. just a breakup keeps me busy. On the other hand, she takes care of matters in a parish where u.a. ecumenical cooperation between the Catholic and Protestant churches in the Rostock district is discussed.
Although faith and the church play a central role in their lives, it is still opposed to some aspects Critical and questioning opposite, as it quickly turns out. Read for yourself.
TC: Mrs. Innemann, do I need the church to believe??
Faith without community (in this case through the institution of the church) does not work in my eyes. Example: I have a good friend who is incredibly important to me, but I never meet her, don’t make time for her, and don’t call on her birthday, then at some point this friendship is no longer sustainable. Faith is first and foremost a relationship with God. It would be difficult to find a group outside the church with whom I can discuss this relationship. Man needs a certain structure. I don’t know anyone whose faith has become stronger by turning their back on the church. We are relational beings.
The church is becoming less and less popular v.a. among young people. Will it still play a noticeable role in the future??
I hope very much! It is true that the reputation of the church has changed a lot and it is no longer for young people what it was for people 30, 40 years ago. Especially in Germany, it is neither modern nor "chic" to belong to the church. I also feel in the professional context and as a private person that there is much need for improvement and that this construct is more cumbersome than I would like it to be. Nevertheless, I believe that the church has been declared dead for longer than it actually is.
But if you turn your gaze away from Germany and look at how religion is practiced around the world, it is still the vast majority. The institution will certainly always have a certain relevance!
To what extent can the church be asked to modernize at all??
Personally, I don’t believe that the task of the Catholic Church is to completely adapt to society. Then it would lose an important characteristic of it. But that’s no excuse for not changing at all. There is, for example, the Synodal Way (click here), where Christians in Germany consult the bishops about what changes to make in the future. I can z.B. say: We women want to get away from honorary office, more leadership positions, to be perceived more strongly, we want a more women-friendly language and more right to participate! The other day in Hamburg z.B. a lecture by a theologian on the role of women in the church took place. Some time ago such an event would have been unthinkable. So the church is already moving, even if the main part may not immediately perceive this movement as such.
What to do if you’re having a crisis of faith right now? How to get out of it?
The one thing that is most difficult for believers to endure is that there are no concrete answers to some questions. Faith and God-relationship are not a quick fix, Christianity offers no protection from hurt and fallout – the Church cannot fulfill this expectation, nothing in the world can do that. I, too, would sometimes like a voice to sound from heaven, like in the movie, and provide me with the answers to my questions. In crises I recommend not to fall into a complete speechlessness, to exchange ideas with other believers and even to scold God sometimes. Maybe you sit down in church, find peace there or you pray – there you can also vent your frustration. And then, in the long run, faith can become a source of strength and hope again.
Corona means a lot of pain and suffering for people around the world right now.
How does the church offer support in these times?
Like all other institutions, we were initially quite taken by surprise. For a few weeks we first had to find ways and means to be there for our members despite governmental requirements and prohibitions. Of course, we could not simply say "Come anyway just all in the service!". 70% of the congregational life also outside the church broke away. So we switched to livestream services as quickly as possible and sent weekly audio messages to families who lacked direct contact with the church. We also continued to expand visiting services and telephone counselling, and chaplains visited old people’s homes during the church closures to hold small services in the open air in accordance with the rules.
As a church, we are designed to meet people directly, face-to-face is especially important to us – if that is eliminated by a pandemic, it is difficult for all of us, but we still try to be as good a contact point as possible and show presence.
One will see after the corona crisis, which offers and concepts will perhaps survive in the future and can be established and which not.
What do we pay the church tax for?
Church resignations are a growing issue, largely because of the high tax that brings in billions annually. How do you perceive this?
There are people who believe in God, but not in the church. The main reason for leaving the church is clearly the church tax. It is indeed a lot of money! And if someone has no personal connection at all to any parish or other catholic association, the question rightly arises why this someone should pay money. On the other hand, these people are probably often not aware of where it is going.
Feel free to explain what happens to the church tax.
To give an example from my own work in the church: I used to work as a volunteer in refugee assistance. There were Syrian refugees who lacked the financial means to bring their wives and children to Germany. We then applied for the funds and the tickets for the family members were immediately paid from the treasury of the catholic church. Here it was a question of Christians, the same we would have z.B. but also done for Muslims. Also schools resp. Students of any denomination are subsidized to enjoy a good education. This use of church money and donations is without any service – no one has to go to church or live the Christian faith afterwards.
In addition, there are large institutions such as Caritas, social counseling, debt counseling, help for the disabled, nursing homes – this is where large portions of the church tax flow in and most people do not have this in mind. Also again to Corona: During the pandemic we distributed money to students who had lost their part-time jobs Especially to those from non-EU countries who get neither Bafog nor any other special state aid. These students came to my office out of necessity and got money – without me saying, "But now come to Mass first!"
The biggest misconception is that the tax is mainly used for the organization of masses and the payment of priests, but this is only a fraction! By the way, Hartz 4 recipients, pensioners, trainees and students do not pay church tax. By the way, each federal state can look at the exact distribution for its diocese – Hamburg z.B. here.
No more holy sacraments after leaving the church
What are the consequences if one decides to leave the church??
The most important point for many is the wedding. If you leave and your partner is not a Christian either, they cannot be married in the church. (Side note: In Germany, you have to be part of the church to be officially considered a Christian – this is not the case for free church members or in other countries z.B. differently.) Many feel this is "unfair", but in my eyes "romance" should not be the primary motivation for making a marriage covenant before God. The other sacraments also fall away after leaving: confession, receiving Holy Communion, First Communion, Confirmation and anointing of the sick.
As far as funerals are concerned: Here a catholic funeral service (led by a clergyman) can be refused, but of course you are not denied a place in the cemetery because of that!
Also you cannot take over the office of a godfather anymore (only baptismal witness).
What arguments do you suggest to people to stay in the church??
As I alluded to at the beginning, the most beautiful thing about church is the community. I think of it like personal relationships – so if I want to put my relationship with God on a good footing structurally and have a network at the same time, our institution is the right platform – perhaps also to get to the bottom of existential questions of life together with other Christians. As a church member, I too go through ups and downs, it’s not like I wake up every morning and think: "How great, I’m a Christian, so the day can only be good"!" I also sometimes find it difficult to answer my children’s questions about God and faith. But it pays to keep at it. And it’s nice to know that I belong to a worldwide network – no matter where I am in the world, I can meet like-minded people. I could z.B. simply walk into a mass in Chicago.
I want to emphasize here again: Just because I live in the Catholic Church, I don’t have to think everything is good. I don’t shed my critical spirit by doing this, saying things like "it’s great that there is no woman priest here". The most frequently asked question by people who are no longer very close to the church is: "How can you be part of this institution when so many things are going wrong??"I say: It is always easier to complain from the outside than to bring about change from the inside!
But the bottom line is that I find being a member of the church to be a healing creation source of strength and hope that always accompanies me a bit in my everyday life – and I know that as part of this community I am never alone. Maybe this thought will help you, too, if you don’t know whether to stay or to leave.
In the end, of course, the decision is left up to each person – and Faith should not be a constraint, it is (Thank God&) also not. I thank you very much for this sincere dialogue, which even me still further enriching food for thought given. And hopefully you too! &&