Diaconia: Coordinating social work
Significantly, the period of revival in church life has coincided with the period of severe economic upheavals in Russia, which have put millions on the verge of survival and aggravated the whole range of social problems. In this situation the social work of church organizations has proved especially relevant and helped to relieve the suffering of many thousands of people.
At the same time, as the social activity of the Church grows, problems decreasing the effectiveness of the work carried out by organizations involved in it become evident. Among these problems are isolation of church structures working in the same areas, poor coordination of their efforts, inadequate communication and informational support for social work.
The awareness of these problems has become increasingly acute recently, and church organizations have started seeking ways of their resolution. Much has already been done in this respect. Some dioceses have set up departments for charity and social service or appointed staff responsible for this work. Many deaneries have also appointed those responsible for various areas of social work. Some dioceses have formed unions of sisterhoods. Sometimes sisterhoods and brotherhoods have been established at several parishes. In this case, they can be regarded as one form of coordinating and uniting efforts in charitable work. Conferences and workshops have been held to consider various problems of social service. Representatives of brotherhoods and sisterhoods from all over Russia attend them. Periodicals on church charity have been published.
Of great importance is cooperation with state structures responsible for social work. Among various forms practiced in interaction between church and state is contract work by brotherhood and sisterhood members in state-run institutions such as hospitals, orphanages, boarding schools, etc. It enables church organizations to use the facilities of state-run institutions and to receive funds from the budget for implementing social programs. State-run institutions, on their part, have benefited much from the Church's participation in dealing with social problems.
In this issue of the Newsletter we publish materials highlighting the problems of coordinating social work in the Church and the experience gained in settling them.
For the last decade almost all the dioceses have seen the appearance of parishes, brotherhoods and sisterhoods, which took up a particular social task. They emerged as a living response of Christians to human pain, misery and poverty. In some place a church discovered a hospital close to it, while in other - a prison, an orphanage, a house for the elderly, etc. And everywhere there is need for a priest who, summoned by the administration or residents, discovers an acute need for Christian mercy and material aid. Then the priest makes an appeal to his parishioners; a small group of enthusiasts is formed; modest funds are allocated from the parish's treasury; clothes and foodstuffs are collected; local or foreign sponsors are sought out; and a certain system of cooperation with the administration establishes itself.
Less common are the Church's own charities, such as soup kitchens, hospitals, poor-houses, orphanages, rehabilitation centers, etc. as facilities, plots of land and considerable and stable financial and material resources are required to open them. In cities, especially large ones, it is easier to obtain money, while in villages it is easier to obtain or build a house and to create jobs. More often than not, the Church's own initiatives are prompted by a failure experienced in cooperating with state-run institutions and the desire to distance herself from them as much as possible and to do everything in her own, Christian, way. On the other hand, ministry in prisons, hospitals, orphanages and other governmental institutions makes us face the problem of continuing our care of the converts after they come out of the state's wardship. To solve it the Church has founded rehabilitation centers and nursing services or simply tries to provide for a former inmate an abode and a job at a parish or monastery.
The city of St. Petersburg is unable to cope with growing social problems today. Many families have found themselves on the verge of physical survival. Great is the number of the jobless. Migration seems to be the only source for increasing the able-bodied population. The depopulation has led to a decline in the role St. Petersburg used to play in the country's structure. The city is "getting old". Sociologists admit that society has been captured by hedonism. Social orphanage has become something customary. The growing number of crimes committed by minors together with adults indicates that criminal experience is handed over to the younger generation. As consequences of these developments we see the loneliness of the elders, the spiritual and moral poverty, degradation and desocialization of the population. The city administration shows concern for cooperation with the Church, appealing for assistance, involving clergy in discussions on social problems and asking for help in those cases when the city cannot cope with serious social problems. Among these problems is the rehabilitation of drug-addicts after treatment in state-run hospitals, of juvenile offenders and former convicts and many other problems. There are diverse forms of help, such as providing meals, nursing at home, Sunday kindergartens, leisure arrangement for schoolchildren, assistance to the old and sick people, assistance in care of children, social support for families.
The building of a system of social security in the new situation in Russia is not completed yet. Amendments made to the Russian legislation have changed considerably the structure of the social security system. St. Petersburg as a subject region of the Russian Federation is given powers to define its own social policy in its territory. Substantial functions have been handed over to municipal councils and the local self-government bodies. The new Laws on Charity and Non-Profit Organizations have enabled church charities to occupy their own place in this system, though its legal foundation has not been clarified yet. This is precisely why His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II has signed a series of agreements with executive bodies, on the level of ministers, on cooperation in all social spheres. In the diocese of St. Petersburg, such agreements have been concluded locally with the city and region governments. In our experience, these agreements have been helpful in consolidating the status of church charities operating within state institutions. On the basis of these framework agreements, contracts are concluded for common work with particular institutions, such as hospitals, a medical college, orphanages, psycho-neurological boarding schools, houses for the elderly, social service centers, etc.
Today the work of church charities in St. Petersburg has become so noticeable that the city administration has issued for its units a reference book on religious charities of which the Orthodox ones comprise over 60%. The charity department of the St. Petersburg diocese collects information about the social work of Orthodox organizations in the territory of the diocese.
As experience has shown, in the first stage of the charitable work a serving community does not feel any need for coming into contact with other similar church groups. The period of isolation and concern for only its own problems and ideas, however, gives way to a period of more intensive contacts, exchange of experience and cooperation both with one another and state authorities. After two major workshops we held in 1999 on church care for neglected children and Christian medical ministry, we were sincerely thanked by participants from all over Russia and representative of the city administration for the opportunity to meet and exchange experience.
There are real problems dictating that we should plan and coordinate our actions. A particular charitable initiative represents, as a rule, just a link in a network enabling real aid to be given to a person. Coordination of actions among church charities specializing in a particular form of aid and consolidation of links and cooperation among them and with state social security and medical institutions has become an urgent task. It is insufficient to help an inmate, as often he needs greater support precisely after his release from prison. It is insufficient to help a drug-addict to go through the abstention syndrome. Moreover he needs to be placed at a rehabilitation center where he will be able to find a new meaning of life - to be inchurched as it is understood by an Orthodox center - to learn to work systematically and to find a new circle of acquaintances. But even after 3 or 6 months in a rehabilitation center it would be better for such a person not to return to his previous milieu, but rather to live and work long enough at a distant parish or monastery. Many hospitalized elderly people need nursing for a long time, while others need to be placed at a poor-house. Young people who came out of orphanages and orphan-asylums, too, require various aid and support for a long time. Today it is very important to consider and build these chains of rendering aid to various categories of the needy, such as old people, the poor, the sick, the disabled, children, the neglected, refugees, the homeless, drug-addicts, etc. The falling out of essential links in a network of actions aimed to help those in need may lead to unpleasant enough consequences. As is known, a great number of those who fell out of normal life because of alcoholism and drug-addiction live at our monasteries. Their weaknesses lie as a great burden on the monastery, which cannot and should not specialize in narcological problems. But if such a person has stayed at a church rehabilitation center for several months, was inchurched there and showed stable remission, he can live and work at a monastery or a parish with a benefit both for himself and for them. Recently the charity department of the St. Petersburg diocese issued an appeal to rectors of village parishes and superiors of monasteries to accept graduates of diocesan rehabilitation centers as workers.
Aid should be not only openhearted, but also legally and professionally competent. It would be good for each parish to have a social worker versed in the particulars of the present legislation, capable of working with people and responsible for social aid given by his parish. Today we can arrange for them to be trained in the basics of social work, using the knowledge and professional expertise of specialists ready for cooperation with the Orthodox Church and of Orthodox people working for state structures. To enhance interaction and competence the mass media should be involved as much as possible. The newly created diocesan periodicals - a newspaper with 22 thousand copies and two journals - plan to publish materials on charity on a regular basis.
Serious long-term church charity projects require steady and reliable financing. This financing is provided to by state all over the world. In our country, long-term support is given only to governmental organizations; the experience of long-term support for church organizations is absent. In our diocese there are institutions, which openly cooperate with the Church and enjoy support from the state. These are Medical College No. 6, which trains nurses, the House of Mercy for minors with an asylum for homeless children, the doss-house at Tikhvin, children's summer camps and others. This experience has been highly appraised by the city administration. Functionaries have begun realizing today that the state monopoly on social aid is not effective. Moreover, huge hostels for the disabled, children and old people not only create anti-humane conditions for those who find themselves there, they are also unjustifiably costly. Therefore, governmental bodies have begun to involve non-governmental organizations in implementing particular social programs. Church charities can participate in municipal contests of aid projects targeted at family and children, the disabled and people with limited abilities, at organizing summer camps, etc. Participation in city programs is a new stage in church-state cooperation. By financing church organizations the state recognizes the social significance of the projects carried out by the Church as well as the quality of aid given by them. Projects, which passed the contest, may in the long run receive more stable support from the state budget.
The field for social service is vast. Today's situation in our city demands that all the healthy forces should intensify their efforts to overcome the economic and moral crisis in society. Therefore we plan to hold a seminar in May with the participation of all parishes in the diocese and church and state organizations working in the social field. The primary task of the seminar is to inform parishes about the new opportunities for their cooperation with municipal bodies and new areas of social service and to coordinate efforts in giving aid to those in need. We will also discuss problems we encounter in working with children and families at their places of residence, in organizing aid through parishes and church organizations, organizing volunteers' work, informational support, attracting funds from governmental and non-governmental sources, training for social work and other problems arising in this new stage of social service in the diocese.
Rev. Alexander Stepanov
Feeding the homeless is a priority social service. Indeed, a person cannot survive without food. To fulfill this task many parishes have opened free soup kitchens. The numbers of those who are fed in them vary, depending on the facilities available to respective services and, of course, the financial situation of a parish. Soup kitchens at St. Vladimir's in Mytischi and the church of the Dormition in Krasnogorsk can be held up as examples. We try to broaden this form of service and to oblige every parish without exception to feed the homeless.
Another, no less important form of social service, is care for orphans. One can see them everywhere: at railway stations, at subway crossings, at market places and in churches, of course. There is a small group of homeless children at almost every church. These children's "freedom community" requires more attention than homeless adults. As a rule, these children are completely unaccustomed to work and do not want to study. Many of them are given to grave, sometimes almost ineradicable vices. The homeless with criminal records often use them for their selfish ends.
Priority in this form of service is given to the arrangement of special asylums for children at churches and monasteries. There are such asylums today at St. Vladimir's in Mytischi, Pavlov Posad and in other towns of the region. Some churches, which have no separate facilities for asylum, have allocated rooms for homeless children.
At the initial stage of the revival of church charity in the early 90s, social service was mainly of occasional and spontaneous nature. In recent years the need has arisen to coordinate social work throughout the Moscow diocese. With the blessing of Metropolitan Juvenaly, a post of the staff worker responsible for social work in the Moscow diocese was introduced. It was dictated by the growing scope of social service carried out in the diocese and therefore the need to coordinate this service.
The main task of the staff member responsible for social service is to find out what resources a particular parish has for giving aid to socially unprotected people and to encourage parishes which are not engaged in social work to undertake it, pointing to the positive experience of other parishes.
Much has been done in this regard, and the credit of it should be given primarily to His Eminence Metropolitan Juvenaly who continuously calls the clergy at diocesan gatherings to broaden various social services at their parishes.
Recently, efforts to develop and coordinate particular thrusts in social work have begun also on the level of deaneries. Nowadays every deanery has staff responsible for work with prisoners and people given to such vices as drug-addiction and alcoholism.
A qualitative result of this coordination of social work lies in the fact that all parishes have addressed this problem and sought to solve it according to their resources.
Hegumen Alexander Agrikov
Sisters spoke in detail about the work of their organizations, noting their achievements and failures. In summing up, they pointed to the need to unite forces in diakonical service, because almost all sisterhoods needed medicines, foodstuffs and clothes and transportation means to deliver them to their poor charges. It was also stressed that the aid that sisters of mercy gave to their charges should be competent and timely. Therefore, to do it they have to train people and obtain financial and material support.
These and other problems could and should be solved together. Therefore it was decided to form a Union of Sisterhoods of Mercy of the Minsk diocese (USM) uniting all the sisterhoods in Minsk and to incorporate subsequently representatives of the existing and newly-formed sisterhoods in Minsk and other dioceses, who want to participate in common work.
It was agreed that the leading body of the USM would be the general meeting of senior sisters of the member sisterhoods of mercy. The USM working body, the Council of Sisterhoods, was elected, consisting of five senior sisters from the most experienced sisterhoods in Minsk and a secretary.
It was agreed that the Union should be represented in the Board and Office of the Round Table for Interchurch Aid in the Republic of Belarus in the person of the USM secretary. Every project presented by the Minsk sisterhoods to the Round Table should be considered by the Council of Sisterhoods to set priorities in diakonical work.
Today the USM unites 31 sisterhoods of the Belarus Exarchate's parishes, 12 in Minsk, 7 in the Minsk region and 12 in Lida, Gomel, Vitebsk, Brest, Polotsk and other cities.
The Minsk sisterhoods patronize 9 hospitals in Minsk, among them such complicated units as the hospice for children with cancers and the republican mental hospital. Sisters are also engaged in visiting 6 boarding-schools and orphanages. They take care of over 1000 disable and old people and large families at their homes. For two years, the St. Sophia of Slutsk Society of Mercy has accepted lonely handicapped and old people to its Little House of Mercy to stay in it from May to October. At two parishes, workshops have been set up through the efforts of sisterhoods to help people with limited mental and physical abilities. Measures have been taken to help rehabilitate the disabled children and adults. In Molodechno, Gomel and Grodno, diakonical stations have been initiated to take care of poor elderly people and to give them all possible medical aid.
The USM keeps receiving letters and telephone calls asking for spiritual support and material aid for the disabled, the elderly, orphans and the poor. Some of these requests are handed over directly to the sisterhoods at areas where these people live. Other requests are met with the help of parish schoolchildren from the Church of Our Lady "Joy to All the Afflicted" at the Women's Non-governmental Institute "Envil" in Minsk. This parish has given considerable assistance in securing wheelchairs, devices for the disabled and second-hand clothes.
Meeting requests for medicines and means for nursing bed-patients and for foodstuffs is possible thanks to the financial support given through the Round Table for Interchurch Aid in Belarus.
Thus, in the period of 1997-1998, two projects were carried out to provide sisterhoods with medicines, portable diagnostic devices and means of nursing the disabled, since to function normally sisterhoods need continuous support with medicines and such things for nursing seriously ill persons as rubber gloves, nappies, bandages, cotton wool, ointments and chemicals for treating wounds and bedsores, etc. As the prices for medicines have grown and the living standards of many disabled and old people have remained low, there is also the need to buy vitally important medicines and preparations for them. But unfortunately, sisterhoods often do not have money to buy the elementary equipment for nursing patients, medicines to give first aid, tonometers, thermometers, etc., portable diagnostic instruments to identify the most effective way to help a patient.
During the implementation of this project the following work was carried out: information about the demand for medicines, medical equipment and nursing aids in each sisterhood was collected and systematized; medicines and medical equipment was purchased; first aid kits were acquired; sisters were trained to use this medical equipment. The project covered over 24 sisterhoods, parish charity groups and church organizations.
The work on the projects also helped to establish many useful contacts with firms and enterprises engaged in the production and sale of medicines and medical equipment. Efforts in this field promise to be effective with regard to a more rational use of funds invested and more efficient solution of problems involved in providing sisterhoods and their charges with medicines.
It should be noted that the implementation of these projects became possible thanks only to joint efforts of sisterhoods united in the USM.
To organize the feeding of the disabled, old people and children from low-income families the USM member sisterhoods have implemented a number of projects carried out by:
It should be noted that though the sisterhoods are doing many good and necessary things, still they couldn't reach all those in need. Representatives of several sisterhoods attended the practical conference on Nursing at Home and at Hospital, which took place from July 24 to August 7, 1999, at the St. Dimitry's Nursing School in Moscow, Russia. The final resolution of the conference reflected the need to intensify actions to form more sisterhoods of mercy, to train sisters for nursing patients and to give competent and timely aid to those in need.
Unfortunately, our sisterhoods and parishes are disunited; their social work is often reduced to distribution of humanitarian aid - the flow of which is increasingly weakening - among their parishes. The present economic situation in the country requires new forms and methods of social work. This implies certain professionalism both in taking care of those in need and in organizing various activities aimed to intensify the sisterhoods' efforts, as well as certain skills in both searching for financial means and in using rationally the already available human and material resources.
Therefore the USM has set itself an important task of giving informational, consultative and methodological assistance to parish sisterhoods in their social work. Special attention is given to the sisterhoods in formation and young sisterhoods which have neither practical experience of diakonical work, nor organizational structure and which are still in the stage of developing and determining the forms and methods of their work.
To fulfill this task the USM is engaged in the following concerns:
The two-year-long experience has shown that the database needs to be continuously renewed to include data on the new professional skills acquired by sisters of mercy so that the sisterhoods' potential may be used more rationally; educational institutions, both secular and ecclesiastical, which train nurses and social workers, public and church organizations engaged for social work; and people patronized by sisterhoods so that the problem of "professional beggars" already encountered in the short experience of project work at the three of our parishes could be avoided.
The information available on various social initiatives makes it possible to give the necessary aid in good time. For instance, the clothes and donations collected by the faculty and students of the Envil Women's Non-Government Institute was handed over to the poor members of a new parish in one of the residential areas of the city. Remarkably, the institute and the parish appealed to the USM independently of each other, one to give while the other to ask for help, and the USM made this charitable action possible. A large consignment of humanitarian aid in the form of multifunctional hospital beds was channeled to the Parish of Our Lady "Joy to All the Afflicted", thus meeting more than sufficiently the need of the parish's diakonical station in this equipment. Thanks to the information available on sisterhoods, the spare beds were sent to another two parishes in the Minsk region, which take care of postoperative patients in local hospitals. A group of children from low-income families in Minsk had an opportunity for resting in the summer camp organized by the sisterhood and the Sunday school of the cathedral in Grodno.
These are only a few examples of sisterhoods working in common. In fact the benefit of cooperation is much greater and beyond any statistical evaluation. The flow of useful information keeps coming to promote mutual assistance. Valuable contacts with experts, businessmen and even state-run structures are handed over from one project to another. Joint actions are taken to buy and distribute foodstuffs. Sometimes a telephone call is sufficient to hand over experience accumulated, as everybody is familiar with one another through the USM network.
Not everything is smooth and nice, of course. There are more than enough difficulties. They are created, first of all, by the isolation of some parishes and sisterhoods and misunderstanding concerning the new methods and forms of the sisterhoods' diakonical work. In this respect, we plan to take up several educational programs for sisters of mercy. At present we are preparing for a General Meeting of senior sisters in the Byelorussian Exarchate who have been either in contact with the USM or mentioned in the diocesan reports. It will be held at the House of Mercy of the Memorial Church of All Saints and Innocent Victims in our Fatherland. The choice of place and time are not accidental, for concurrently there will be an International Fare of Social Projects in which governmental, public and religious organizations will participate. We hope that cooperation with them will help develop patterns of joint diakonical work.
Initially the sisterhood had neither a statute, nor a clear organizational structure. Some sisters, when in Moscow, visited the Sisterhood of St. Prince Dimitry and were introduced to its organizational structure, statute and training programs at St. Dimitry's Nursing School. The spiritual director of the sisterhood, Father Arkady Shatov, and the senior sisters shared experience, explained their work and difficulties and ways of overcoming them. This was an invaluable help for the most difficult, organizational, stage in establishing the sisterhood. The statute of St. Dimitry's community was assumed as a basis of our statute, adjusted to our experience, tasks and conditions. In drafting the medical programs of education and the Spiritual Foundations of Charity program, we built on the similar programs of St. Dimitry's School. In 1994, our sisterhood was registered legally. At the same time the nursing course was granted the status of a branch of the Third State Medical College in Novosibirsk, which allowed the graduates to receive the state-recognized certificate of junior nurse. We trained nurses not only for our own sisterhood, but also for the parish at the Koltsovo village near Novosibirsk, for the Brotherhood of St. Alexander Nevsky in Novosibirsk and for the parish in Berdsk. At present, the 10th enrolment also includes parishioners from St. Nicholas's at the Lugovoye village near Novosibirsk. Our graduates comprise the core of the sisterhoods in formation and the already functioning sisterhoods of other parishes.
In May 1994, the first national seminar on social service in the Church was held in Moscow. Among the participants were also our sisters. The seminar heard and summarized the organizational and functional experience of various sisterhoods and brotherhoods at various parishes in Russia. Thanks to the seminar, we enriched our experience and deepened our spiritual contacts. We got acquainted with the Sisterhood of St. Princess Elizabeth at the church of St. Mitrophan of Voronezh in Moscow, with sisters from the sisterhood of the same name at the hospice in St. Petersburg and with sisters from the Brotherhood of the Protomartyr Anastasia the Chain-Breaker, also from St. Petersburg.
In 1995, with the blessing of Bishop Tikhon and together with sisters from St. Alexander Nevsky's Brotherhood, we started working in defense of unborn life at the diocesan Holy Protomartyr and Healer Panteleimon's Charity Center. The Life center at the Sisterhood of the Protomartyr Elizabeth in Moscow helped us greatly with background information. This work is continued today by sisters from the St. Alexander Nevsky's Brotherhood in Novosibirsk, while our sisterhood has concentrated on such activities as training nurses at the nursing course, care for lonely old people and chronic patients under the Home-Nursing program, providing the poor patients with medicines under the Humanitarian Chemist's Shop program, providing the lonely and the weak with hot meals under the Soup-Kitchen on Wheels program, missionary work in district hospitals including standing on duty at chapels, rounds of various wards, preparing patients for Baptism and Communion, assistance to priests in administering sacraments, and nursing the seriously ill in two hospitals.
In August 1999, our sisters and physicians as well as the dean of the nursing department of the Third State Medical College in Novosibirsk attended the conference on the Role of Sisterhoods in Organizing Home-Nursing Services. It was organized by St. Dimitry's Nursing School with the support of the Diakonisches Werk of the Evangelical Church in Germany. At the conference, we shared our experience of home-nursing, discussed the need for getting license for medical work and the desirability of cooperation with state-run medical institutions. We witnessed a growth in the number of Orthodox sisterhoods and in the scale and diversity of their work. The conference was a real school in home-nursing as its included visiting various social and medical institutions. We also managed to broaden and deepen our contacts.
In October 1999, an international conference on Christian Organizations in Hospitals was held in St. Petersburg. It was organized by the charity department of the St. Petersburg diocese. Our sisters took part in the discussion on the problems of Christian medical education, cooperation with state-run and private medical institutions and shared experience of service in hospitals. The spiritual father and the director of the sisterhood also attended. We were introduced to new organizational forms and methods of sisterhoods' service in hospitals.
It is evident from the above-mentioned that the exchange of experience and joint efforts with other sisterhoods enabled us to increase the efficiency of our work to a considerable degree and to give support to our partners in the development of their social work.
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