Involvement in the Church
Elisabeth Schmitz was a member of the German chapter of the “World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches” from 1928 onward. The World Alliance was the first ecumenical peace organization and was especially committed to disarmament and minority issues during the 1920s. Presumably, Schmitz had found her way to the World Alliance through her acquaintanceship with its co-founder, the theologian and social educator Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze.
The liberal Protestant cared little about the institutional church at first during her years in Berlin. She felt very much a stranger in it. In her opinion, the church only had room for Christians of a politically conservative or German National bent; it denigrated Social Democracy and excused anti-Semitism.
The religion class she taught as a high school teacher brought her nearer to the church again. Rather than orienting herself toward the parish principle, she always sought each of her congregations herself She was a member of the church council at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church as of the summer of 1933. She joined the Confessing Church in 1934 and was a member of the Confessing Church group around Pastor Gerhard Jacobi. She did not play an active role in the “church struggle” for dominance in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
She kept close contact with the Confessing Church pastors in Dahlem, Franz Hildebrandt and Helmut Gollwitzer. She was a member of Gollwitzer’s Dahlem Dogmatics Study Group which read and discussed Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. She was a member of the circle around the “non-Aryan“ social educator Anna von Gierke in Charlottenburg in which Protestants critical of Nazism met for Bible study and lectures and spoke about topics on the church and culture. The gatherings were prohibited at the end of 1942, however.
In 1940 to 1942, Schmitz took part in parish life at the Friedenau Confessing Church around Pastor Wilhelm Jannasch and was entrusted by the church with teaching the fundamentals of Christian dogma to Jews desiring baptism.
Her relationship with the Confessing Church was a critical one, however. After all, her appeal for solidarity with persecuted Jews went without any decisive response from it. She also had to answer the pressing question for her own situation on her own: May a Christian be a civil servant? Worried about her church, she wrote Charlotte von Kirschbaum already in 1938: And sometimes one is seized with such fierce anxiety about – not the internal, but about the internal existence of church and of us all.
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- © Karl-Barth-Archiv, Basel