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Paul Hüster {*}

Rediscovering the Mission

About Corporate Culture in Social Institutions of the Church


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 4/2011, P. 200-205
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Institutions such as hospitals or nursing homes supported by the Church need a corporate culture that is shaped by Christianity. Employees and "customers" rightly expect an additional value of the houses that were formerly shaped by religious orders. The social institutions of the church need not re-invent their profile, but discover anew their mission.


According to the Charitas Association of the Catholic Church in Germany, nationwide more than 24.000 charities and services are joined there. They employ more than 500.000 employees. Many of these charitable institutions are now managed as modern social enterprises. The nine largest members of the Catholic Hospital Association of Germany (KKVD) alone employ over 60.000 employees in about 100 hospitals (Prognos, Kirchliche Krankenhäuser wertorientiert, innovativ, wettbewerbsstark. Studie zu Beitrag und Bedeutung kirchlicher Krankenhäuser im Gesundheitswesen in Deutschland, Basel 2009, 11). All these giants originate from religious orders that are no longer able to maintain the management and corporate culture of their social institutions by members of their community.

The religious orders have admittedly excellently mastered the mergers of the hospitals. But they had then massively to withdraw from the work with the patients, in order to secure the provider structures. They themselves put the key question, "Who will guarantee in the future the Christian corporate culture in the Church's social institutions?"


A Mission Statement Alone does not Prevent Breaking with Ttradition

If one understands corporate culture as the usual and traditional way of thinking and acting, then especially the charitable religious communities have for a long time secured a very stable religious character of church hospitals and social institutions. But already the Joint Synod of the German dioceses in Würzburg has about 40 years ago clearly analyzed the end of this heyday.



It made the recommendation [page 18] to the religious communities that were in possession of charitable institutions. "With the increasing shortage of their members and increased demands on their professional qualifications, the overwork has more and more disastrous effects with all the negative consequences for human behaviour and spirituality, especially when a certain ghetto mentality complicates the cooperation with non-own staff. It is not acceptable that one wants to religiously gloss over the extended working times, the lack of auxiliary means, and the small chance for one's survival. Anyway, the question is allowed, whether in some cases the goal of a religious community would be better achieved and a modern witness better realized if the entire institution is not maintained by the religious order. Its members should rather work there but not be in charge of the institution."

The Würzburg Synod had expected that after a change in the trusteeship the fundamental Christian orientation of the respective work would naturally be preserved. Meanwhile, the religious communities have nationwide merged their institutions, handed their hospitals and nursing homes over to value-based ecclesial providers, or set up new foundations. The religious orders involved are hoping to embed the concerns of their foundation and their spirituality as a special value profile in the mission statements of the new institutions.

However, the decline in the number of religious sisters in hospitals is experienced and deplored as a profile loss of the churchly institution - both by patients and physicians. A mission statement alone does not prevent breaking with the tradition, and does not secure the desired corporate culture. A tangible business culture essentially results from the sum of the basic premises of staff (see Edgar H. Schein, Organisationskultur, German edition: Edition Humanistische Psychologie, 3rd edition, 2003, 35).

The decline in the number of members of religious orders is not the sole reason for breaking with tradition and loss of identity in church institutions. After the members of the religious orders also the Christian employees become scarce. In the context of an informative study of the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Nordrhein-Westfalen/Köln about the Christian profile of church institutions in the field of education, Joachim Windolph describes a challenge to the churchly welfare work (Unpublished report on the research project in the winter semester 2004/05: Christliches Profil kirchlicher Einrichtungen der Erziehungshilfe). In the context of the providers of his research group, the proportion of Catholic staff was 79 percent. Only 47.9 percent of them described themselves as religious. Thus, within the social institutions maintained by the church, those become scarce who, on the basis of their religious and churchly life, want to participate offensively in forming a corporate culture shaped by Christianity.

But Windolph's research report bothers in another point. Employees who due to their orientation towards Christian values are deeply committed to those who are entrusted to them in a church institution, do not mark with a cross that they do it within the church. Is only the house with the bell tower a church? Charity in the context of gainful employment is not associated with churchly commitment and therefore not interpreted as participation in the mission of the Church.

Maybe we follow the negative tradition of self-disparagement within the church. The social work of the members of religious orders was interpreted as the exemplary Christian devotion of one's life in the discipleship of Christ, whereas the same practical service to sick people by the "secular" nurses never saw this grandeur and appreciation as exemplary practice of Christian charity.

The fixation on the "special" vocation of the members of religious orders has thus too long obscured our view of the universal Christian vocation to serve our fellow men in the context of normal gainful employment. In church institutions, the appropriate understanding of the professional service as a churchly life-stile in the sense of corporate culture has demonstrably not become formative. That's why only few employees are able to find their role as "witnessing" bearer and guarantor of a Christian culture. They must first be authorized and encouraged to do so.


Representatives without Spiritual Aura with New Tasks

The spiritual representatives of the institutions have been replaced by the managers with business skills as "secular" leaders. Also the label "secular" is here equal to self-disparagement. When today the managers as representatives of their traditional corporate culture want to present the Christian background of values, they cannot resort to the nimbus of an ecclesial office or to clothes and the lifeform of religious orders. But in the present situation these managers attend despite the high workload additional theological training and advanced education about the self-conception of Caritas and church. They learn to talk about and to represent the specific Christian values.



In the context of such leadership seminars and advanced training, in many places the self-image of churchly providers is sophisticatedly reflected and developed together with the managers. Even though the managing director with core competence in business administration is first occupied with the economic management of the social enterprise, he must nevertheless also credibly represent the spiritual profile of the mission statement. In his leadership role he represents the continuation of the fundamental Christian orientation, expected by the Würzburg Synod. Many of these executives with large areas of responsibility and thousands of employees the young church would have ordained as deacons, and possibly as deaconesses. With it the link between operational managerial responsibilities and the mission of the church would at least be produced in an easily understood way.


A New Conception of the Customer

In the new mission statements of church institutions, the ethos of the helping professions, the careful handling and solidarity with the people are often interpreted as economic bartering relations, as "customer relationship with a specific service quality." The characteristic of love for God and one's neighbour in the service to fellow humans is increasingly replaced by the business figure of thought of the so-called "win-win" relationship in the form of customer-oriented services.

If the understanding of social services is deduced from the key concept of economic customer relation, then the connectivity with the Christian conception of man is lost, because the economic customer relation and the relation of personal attendance are on different levels, as the social ethicist Richard Geisen describes it for managers of hospitals. "The business relation with 'those who are entrusted to them' must be strictly distinguished from the performance of personal services (medical treatment, nursing, care, therapy, education, etc.). Here it is primarily about a comprehensive personal encounter and not about the limited perspective of the business relationship. But in Christian institutions, personal relationships of assistance are also indispensable for the simple reason that only the willingness to take up a personal relationship does justice to the nature of man. The biblical texts and the foundations of Christian social ethics encourage to appreciate human beings as persons, and accordingly approach them. The Christian social teaching requires a priority attention to the poor and marginalized people who do no longer find access to social services via customer autonomy and purchasing power."

Currently, the respective self-conception of nursing staff, doctors and economists presumably diverge widely. The doctor does not see himself as a modern service provider and insists on medical ethics, the nurse rightly demands more time and attention to the patient, and in the context of his tasks the manager pays attention to the development of the costs, in order to secure the survival of the institution.



In the resulting conflicts, the moral requirements and the values of the mission statement are balanced with cash values and profitability. In this conflict scenario, the manager who wants to show the Christian corporate culture to its best advantage is seemingly always on the "wrong" side.

It is not easy to handle and solve such institutional paradoxes. The much-needed agreement about the motivation of the various occupational groups in a church institution can turn out to be the basis of a new jointly developed corporate culture. If these roles are not clarified, the managers as role models of a welfare and social "added value" are their own worst enemies due to the supposed preferential option for profitability.


The Corporate Culture is Based on the Mission

Despite the loss of profile, the "customers" continue expecting an added-value of a church institution. If the Church's mission would be what a large part of the employees and managers clearly motivates, then from this shared awareness and self-understanding a strong corporate culture would arise. Some economically well-positioned social enterprises have buried this talent of "creating sense". But the good stewards in the biblical parable makes the most of his talents.

The Caritas Association seems superficially to realize its services above all according to the public task to provide care and treatment, in the framework of which it is refinanced. Only the financial volume of this public service mission enables church providers to engage more than 500.000 employees. But the German health care system works subsidiarily with a pluralistic healthcare provider landscape, so that the implementation of the respective public service mission is characterized by a strong background of values. Even though services and expenses of the church providers are publicly reimbursed one hundred percent, the church's mission is not cancelled with it. Society rightly expects that the services financed by it are provided in the context of a strong value culture that is devoted to people.


Fellow humans, not Customers

By means of ten different "talent cards" such a Christian-influenced value- and corporate culture in social institutions of the Church can be represented in concrete terms - from the "option for those at the margins" up to "subsidiarity and the diversity of providers".

The prevailing idea of service relies on customer relations. The diaconal commitment discovered also those at the margins who are no longer able to assert customers' interests. A church provider offers e.g. free medical care for the homeless, although they have no health insurance.

Recipients of services are people with their life stories. To appreciate them as persons means to make them feel attentiveness within the context of the services, and to offer them personal encounter - as far as the strength of the employees is not overtaxed. For the people in church institutions are first neither customers nor kings but fellow human beings. How this high aspiration can be realized is e.g. shown by volunteers in a parish. They accompany excursions of a residential group in a facility in the neighborhood. This brings about lasting friendships with people with disabilities.

In the biblical tradition the talking about God is, according to the theologian Johann Baptist Metz, spelled out in remembrance of the suffering of foreign people. The orientation towards the model and fate of Jesus strengthens the compassion potential, hence the willingness to accept tangible suffering as question, and the power of sympathy, companionship, and pity. Committed women in an old people's home do no longer accept that mortally ill people in the final stage are "moved" to a hospital, because of the medical care. They have repeatedly seen how older people lose their orientation when they move from the familiar context to hospital care. The fear is increasing; the social death begins. With an elaborate training in palliative care, they acquire the medically necessary conditions to accompany the dying until the end.


The Employer Supports the Interpretation of the Profession as a Vocation

Against the societal repression of suffering and death, many churchly institutions succeed in accompanying dying and grieving people. Without regard to her duty roster, an experienced nun is ready to accompany relatives to the mortuary in the hospital basement, to be there, and to comfort them. And this example is only a detail of the comprehensive culture of the care for dying and grieving people, which should distinguish the churchly institutions.

In addition to assistance and support, religious institutions can also embrace through the solidarity of prayer those who are entrusted to them. Once a year, for example, in a divine service the deceased of the hospice are commemorated. Names are read out and candles lit. The relatives are invited to prayer and encounter.



Even though the social work in church institutions is primarily sought with regard to employment, through a Christian-shaped corporate culture the employer nevertheless estimates and increases the interpretation of the profession as a vocation, and helps to keep this aspect of meaning alive during their professional biography, in order to protect the employees against the "burn out". For instance, despite the bottlenecks in the roster, the head nurse of a nursing service gladly released the nurses from work for retreat days. For these days promise the participants the rediscovery of the roots and sources of their service to people.

Institutions maintained by the church created for many employees access to the Gospel message and points of contact to the Church's life. They are places of learning the faith. A Catholic college e.g. successfully offers managers of social institutions a basic course in theology, in order to reflect theologically on matters of faith, without being exposed to the demand to deepen one's personal faith. Experience shows that particularly employees who have not been shaped or hurt by the church are open-minded for the Christian core message - due to their practical social work in a church institution.

The church provider has an ethical profile, which he lastingly contributes, via the churches, to society's discourse on the values, in order to form people's consciences and to protect human life in extreme situations. This service to society is e.g. done in an old people's home of the church. It offers advice, so that the persons affected and their relatives are able to compile a living will, and to find answers to their ethical questions.

The benefit to the public is initially not the reason for a tax advantage but a fundamental value for a humane society, to which Christians through their "Jesuanic" solidarity can make a contribution within the framework of non-profit social institutions. In Germany, nonprofit and commercial hospitals directly compete with each other. The Prognos Study shows that church institutions do not only participate more effectively in the education of young people but in the important field of nursing they also reach higher scores regarding the satisfaction of their patients.

Due to diversity of providers in a subsidiarily secured social care, the Church does not defended the power of market shares. In the context of gainful employment, Christians have rather the opportunity to set an exemple of the traditions of their values, and to develop a noticeable philanthropic culture in the church institutions.

Of course, many other aspects and everyday areas of the hospitals can be shaped by Christian values. If the whole is more than the sum of its parts, then out of the sum of the possible cultural traits a surprisingly striking and sustainable image of the provider can be generated.


The Church's Mission Remains as an Order

In the time after the religious orders, church-maintained institutions are in need of self-confident carriers of culture. In institutions that were formerly shaped by religious orders emerge currently workable models, for here the level of suffering due to the threatening loss of culture is highest. The Brothers of Mercy (Trier) have opened the post of superior for theologians outside their community and they revise the job profile. The superior of the house belongs permanently to the hospital management and is responsible for the Christian character of the hospital.

One of the largest churchly providers, the Marienhaus GmbH Waldbreitbach has for the first time employed suitable women as matrons, and qualifies with a lot of effort its managers so that they are able to set self-confidently and credibly an example of the spiritual orientation.

In the development of a corporate culture that is comprehensively shaped by Christianity, the young Health Care Group of St. Augustine-Kliniken Neuss is supported by two separate staff posts for "spiritual foundations and communication." In the field of assistance to the disabled, the Caritas in Cologne assigns trained employees to the task of "helpers in the pastoral care". In addition to their respective work, they are employed to an agreed extent in the field of pastoral care by their employer. These examples show that churchly providers have realized that a Christian corporate culture is no longer automatically guaranteed.

Both the employees and the people entrusted to them benefit from the Christian-influenced culture in charitable institutions. It does not come overnight and cannot be prescribed. Employees and managers are reminded and authorized to realize self-confidently the Jesuanic mission of the Church in the context of their gainful employment. The social institutions of the Church do not need to reinvent their profile but they must rediscover their mission. The participation in the Church's mission is also shaped by staff and managers. They are trained for this task within the institution. The management secures this cultural work as an ongoing process.



The Christian-influenced corporate culture becomes thus a necessary management task, through which a broad-based, diaconal profile can be produced. The mission statement can then be only a first step. The glossy brochure with statements on the Christian values and the Internet presence alone do not create a culture. That's why analysis, conception and control of the practical design of a Christian-influenced corporate culture belong to the periodic items on the agenda of the executive boards of a church institution. The Christian profile occurs as the sum of strong cultural characteristics.

In 1968 in the USA 770 Catholic hospitals were led and supported by religious orders. After the sharp decline in the number of nuns and monks, now, with the exception of twelve houses, all 600 Catholic hospitals are led by specialists outside the religious orders. In order to preserve the Catholic identity, the St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, has developed a Catholic Identity Matrix (CIM) as an instrument of self-evaluation. On the basis of this analysis instrument, education and training programs are agreed with the hospitals. In October 2010 in the Catholic Academy Schwerte, experts from American and German hospitals have for the first time exchanged views on developing the identity of church institutions. The American models are not directly transferable, but they point to a task that must still be solved in the German provider landscape of church hospitals. They must merge their separated approaches and models into a Christian corporate culture that is realized and recognizable in social institutions of the Church.


    {*} Paul Hüster (born in 1958) is a theologian and public relations consultant. He works as special adviser on communications and spiritual foundations for the St. Augustine Clinics, a large Catholic healthcare provider at the Lower Rhine. In the context of the Rotthaus Academy, Cologne, he offers short seminars on the "added value" of church providers. Currently, he is building a network for relevantly interested and committed people. Contact:


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