In Germany, anyone who wishes to pursue official ministry (whether as a lay person or a deacon) must FIRST complete either a degree in Theology or, if that’s not possible, a nationally-approved certificate program in Theology (approved by the German Bishops’ Conference). The theory is simple: theology is the language of ministry, and all who would minister in any capacity is expected to be competent in it. Then, after the degree or certificate is completed, there is a discernment process to see who should be invited to the diaconate, and who might be called to some form of lay ecclesial ministry.
Those who go into diaconate formation then go through a four year or so program, much like the US. However, the big difference is that it is usually divided into three stages. First is the “diaconal stage”; more about that later. Second is the “homiletic stage”, in which all deacon candidates must attain competence as preachers; the same standards are used for deacons as for priests; outside of the US, I find very little reluctance over deacons preaching: since we are clerics, we preach. End of story. Third, there is the “sacramental stage” in which the candidates practice how to do baptisms, weddings, prayer services, and the like. Again, remember that there’s no need to spend a lot of time on the theological basis for all of this since they’ve already completed a theology degree/certificate; so the formation is very practical in nature.
Now, back to the “diaconal stage”. Here, each candidate is sent back to his home town (note: NOT just to his home parish, but to his home town/city). There, he is to identify a need that is currently not being met and do whatever it takes to meet it. This is not a hypothetical project: the candidate is expect actually to DO it.
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