The Inner Mission (Innere Mission) was a lay social movement within the nineteenth century German evangelical protestant church. It was one of a number of national points of origin of contemporary urban missions, which are a form of the particular religious, charitable outreach generally known in the U.S. in connection with the phrase social gospel. This popular groundswell sought to find an appropriate way for Christians to respond personally to the problems of the urban poor in the German speaking world. It was a fundamentally meliorist response, located between the indifference of clergy in the established Prussian protestant church toward the poor and the growing revolutionary sensibilities of the time.
In German, as in English, the phrase inner mission has numerous simultaneous and overlapping connotations, both religious and secular. It refers at one and the same time to mission as purpose and to missions as organizations, to action within the established church, and to action “at home” within the local community (as opposed, for example, to foreign missions), to mission work in the inner city, and to missionary activity as a personal act of conscience.
Innere Mission (Inner Mission) in Germany arose in response to ‘the social question’. Although the first indications of a widespread movement actually arose somewhat earlier in several cities, the official start of the movement is usually attributed to an address by Johann Hinrich Wichern to a church conference in Wittenburg during the revolutionary year of 1848, and the subsequent formation of a national committee. Theodor Lohmann was president of the Central Committee of the German Innere Mission from 1878 to 1898.
The German Innere Mission was among the earliest of a group of similar national nineteenth Christian social gospel movements, including similar developments in England, Scotland and the United States. It was a pioneer in religious recognition of and social action to deal with the social misery associated with early industrialization and urbanization. In Germany, as elsewhere led to major reconsideration of appropriate Christian religious (Entchristlichung) responses to the urban poor and disadvantaged, not only among German protestants but throughout the Christian church. Members of the Inner Mission set out to fashion a total life style change (Gesamtlebensgefüge) for Christians - one built upon a connection between personal salvation and concern for the well-being of others. The fundamental principle was “the saving power of love” (rettende Liebe). The Inner Mission sought both the alleviation of external conditions and revival of the Christian and church concern for those at risk, or already alienated members of the community. While its concerns were not new to the Christian Church, in earlier centuries such concerns were primarily of interest to the clergy. Inner Mission, by contrast, was primarily a concern of the laity.
In the late 18th century Age of Reason (especially from 1750 to around 1820) popular participation in Christian religion in Germany declined and motivation for individuals to lead a Christian life was low. Concern for religious social service among the poor and disadvantaged had declined among agents of the official church in Germany following the Reformation (der Erweckungsbewegung) and the subsequent wars of liberation (Während der Befreiungskriege). In the larger cities and trade-rich areas the growing population of poor were at the same time alienated from the church. In a unique response to the local needs in Germany the inner mission movement sought to confront both of those developments simultaneously.
The first tentative steps of the movement have been linked to the establishment by Johannes Daniel Falk of a youth shelter, the Rettungshäusern für die verwahrloste Jugend in Weimar in 1813 and similar facilities in Overdyk and Düsselthal by Adalbert von der Recke-Volmerstein. Also important was the establishment in 1820 of a school for elementary school teachers, die Stiftung der Bildungsanstalt für Armenschullehrer at Schloss Beuggen near Basel. The schloss had been used as a military hospital for two years during the wars of liberation, and as a children’s home during the 18th and 19th centuries. Today it is a conference center.
The summary label of “inner mission” was first applied to all of these diverse activities as well as other health services and missionary work among Jews by the Göttingen theologian, Friedrich Lücke (1791-1855). Frederick Wilhelm IV, ruler of Prussia, became a major patron of inner mission activities in 1840.
In the course of the social modifications under influence of the developments of the Massenpauperismus in the revolution year 1848. Rev. Hinrich’s speech at the Wittenberg conference in that year attracted much attention among middle class German-speaking Protestants and led to the establishment of the Central Committee for the Inner Mission of the German protestant church (Central-Ausschusses für die Innere Mission der deutschen evangelischen Kirche).
“City Mission (Stadtmission)“
In addition to the shelters for orphan, abused and neglected children already mentioned, Inner Mission volunteers were responsible for a wide variety of organizations and establishments like the deacon eating houses for poor (Diakonissenhäusern), nursing services (Krankenpflege) and infant nurseries (Kleinkinderschulen). The inner mission also established specialized associations and institutes for young men and girl (für einzeln stehende Jünglinge und Mädchen) young man associations ((Jünglingsvereine), farm worker lodgings (Mägdeherbergen), lodgings to the homeland (Herbergen zur Heimat), (Marthastifte), prison associations (Gefängnisvereine), particularly for dismissed convicts, Worker colonies for shelter and unemployed person (Arbeiterkolonien), Magdalenenhäuser for “fallen women” and others.
In larger cities with numerous organizations and establishments such as Berlin, Hamburg and Breslau these diverse efforts were coordinated by city-wide organizations called city missions (stadtmissionen).
Social work and politics
Often the Inner Mission touched upon national social policy interests such as in the cases of worker colonies and food supply stations for vagrants, and prisoner reformers like Wickern, the most active in north Germany since 1852, who was appointed an official advisor to the Prussian Prison Ministry in 1858. Unlike other nineteenth century protestant reform movements in social work, the extensive involvement of the Inner Mission with the secular world did not result in the gradual secularization of its activity which continued in harmony and did not gradually lose its religious character.