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German Churches call for protection of work-free Sundays

12 March 2021

Digitisation, online shopping, and growing work-life imbalances compromising rest day


Covid-19 hygiene posters seen in a shop window in Wertheim, Germany, on Tuesday

Covid-19 hygiene posters seen in a shop window in Wertheim, Germany, on Tuesday

CHURCHES in Germany have urged the protection of work-free Sundays in the face of digitisation, online shopping, and growing work-life imbalances, on the 1700th anniversary of the official designation of Sunday as a day of rest by the Emperor Constantine.

“The coronavirus pandemic has again made us aware of how much people need a time structure: Sunday visits to relatives in nursing homes could not take place, the daughter’s football team was not allowed to play, while church services were possible, if at all, only under strict conditions,” the joint appeal said.

It was co-signed by the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm; the Bishop of Limburg and president of the German RC Bishops’ Conference, the Rt Revd Georg Bätzing; and the Orthodox chairman of Germany’s Working Group of Christian Churches, Archpriest Radu Miron.

“We have had to say goodbye to what is familiar, valued, and sometimes necessary, while the important rhythm between work and leisure time is becoming increasingly blurred due to home and mobile working and asynchronous hours. Digital transformation will not only change how we work, it will also change the togetherness and common celebration of Sunday — and possibly us, too.”

The appeal, published in Bonn and Hanover, said that Constantine the Great, who ruled from 306 to 337, had established the “dies solis” as a protected holiday on 3 March 321, and Sunday was a legal guarantee enshrined for “rest and spiritual elevation” under Germany’s Basic Law.

It was, however, already a normal working day for those maintaining basic services and meeting urgent needs in hospitals, care homes, transport, and power facilities, as well as in food, leisure, and culture, and looked set to be further eroded by advancing technology and changing work-patterns.

“People who are active despite Sunday deserve our appreciation and special compensation,” the Churches’ appeal said. “Just as the state is called on to protect work-free Sundays and prevent their erosion, so we are all called to ensure that, in striving for supposed freedom, we do not give up our actual freedom.”

Calls for the preservation of free Sundays have increased over the past decade across Europe, where family and worker organisations launched a Brussels-based European Sunday Alliance in 2012, with support from the Conference of European Churches and Roman Catholic organisations, as well as the Solidarity union in Poland, Force Ouvrière in France, and other groups.

In a statement accompanying the latest church appeal, Germany’s Alliance for Free Sundays said that economic lobby groups had continually pressed for Sunday to be made a “normal working day”, and were now using the Covid-19 crisis “as an opportunity to weaken, even demand, the abolition of Sunday protection in retail and other industries”.

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