Photo: Halberstadt 1957

The idea of the re-construction camps: How it all began
The Swiss Pierre Cérésole, who founded the Service Civil International (SCI) in 1920, is regarded as the founder of the re-construction camp idea. In the winter of 1920/21, the first international camp took place in the village of Esnes near Verdun with 8 participants. A few years earlier, the village had been the largest battlefield of the First World War.

Similar to the Service Civil International, the idea of ecumenical re-construction camps arose out of a post-war situation (World War II). Youth work after 1945 was difficult and found a special form in the ecumenical re-construction camps. Consciously ecumenically oriented, these international camps were an offer in which young people could come closer together through joint volunteer work and prayer, through bible study and through social and political discussions.

The goals of all organizations that have been or are active in the field of international youth work like re-construction volunteer camps can be summarized as follows:

  • Pedagogical goals: Personal development of the participants, contact and living together with strangers and promotion of self-responsibility and social commitment.
  • Political goals: Promotion of international understanding and reconciliation.
  • Social-ethical goals: To raise awareness of full responsibility and the will to help each other.
  • Peace as a goal: To promote world peace through mutual respect between nations, solidarity among peoples, and cooperation between all people for common progress.

Further general information can be found in the brochure on the history of “100 Years of Workcamps“.

In addition to the term re-construction camp, youth service, youth community service and youth social service, there is the English-language term work camp. The term was mainly created in US group education in the period after the Second World War and is a reflection of the efforts to provide a democratic education for the young generation after fascism. Despite its ambiguity, the term has established itself in international youth work and is still used today.

Chronology of the Ecumenical Youth Services

After the Second World War, the re-construction camp movement (today called youth community and youth social services or workcamps) spread throughout the world. With the support of the UNESCO, the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service was established in Paris in 1945.
The formation of the Ecumenical Reconstruction Camps/Youth Services was related to the youth department of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which was still in the process of formation at that time. The Ecumenical Youth Services were offered from different countries for a long time. In the meantime, there is only one country in Europe (Germany) which still organises Ecumenical Youth Services under this name and in the tradition of the WCC.

Years in RED: Events in the GDR
Years in BLACK: Events at the European-Ecumenical level
Years in GREEN: Events after the reunification of both German states

1946 Official formation of a Church Youth Chamber in the GDR by the 4th Eastern Church Conference of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) – Berliner Stelle
1947 The Youth Department of the World Council of Churches (WCC) organizes the 1st European Youth Planning Conference near Geneva and is the patron of the 1st Ecumenical International Building-up Camp in France.
In 1949, the WCC Youth Division organized 16 ecumenical international re-construction camps in Europe and Asia.
1954 The Gossner Mission in the GDR looks for new concepts for its work and takes up the idea of ecumenical re-construction camps. An employee of the Gossner Mission (Dietrich Gutsch) collects experiences as leader of an ecumenical re-construction camp in Mainz.
1955 In summer the Gossner Mission in the GDR organizes the first re-construction camp in Berlin-Karlshorst at the church “Zur Frohen Botschaft”.
1956 The 1st ecumenical international re-construction camp in the GDR is organized by the Gossner Mission and the Youth Department of the World Council of Churches and the National Development Agency.
1957 The Protestant Youth Chamber East takes over the re-construction camps as a specialised area and assumes responsibility for the camps as a major focus of their work. The Ecumenical Working Group of the Protestant Youth in the GDR is founded. Parallel to the working group regional circles are formed within the GDR, FRG, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Scandinavia.
1958 Start of the annual Easter Conference of young people from Eastern and Western Europe, prepared by the regional circles of various countries.
1967 Due to extended activities and tasks a renaming of “Ecumenical Re-construction Camps” into “Ecumenical Youth Services” takes place.
The East Chamber of Youth establishes an Ecumenical Unit with an associated office: “Ecumenical Youth Service” because of the expanded work on the re-construction camps. Dietrich Gutsch was the director of the Ecumenical Youth Service until 1981.
The Ecumenical Youth Service assumes a variety of tasks for the promotion of ecumenism in the national and international framework. There are the following areas of work:

  • Ecumenical Youth Services (volunteer camps): The international volunteer camps are the starting point and central element of the “Ecumenical Youth Service” office. Each year 8-10 camps are held with about 120 – 150 participants. About 30 – 50% of the participants do not come from the GDR.
  • International Relations
  • The INFORMATION (Journal)
  • Conferences and Seminars

Until 1968, the WCC Youth Division is responsible for relations with the youth work of European churches, for conferences and for the programme of Ecumenical Youth Services in the various countries. In October 1968 the decision was taken in Leuenberg to create the Ecumencal Youth Councel Europe (EYCE). This will regionalise the work of the WCC Youth Division. Delegates now represent national youth councils in the EYCE. Through the national structures, the WCC Youth Division seeks to establish contacts with ecumenically committed staff.
In October 1969 the 1st Assembly, the supreme body of the EYCE, meets in Bastad (Sweden) . A 7-member Executive Committee chairs the EYCE.
From 1972-1978 Dietrich Gutsch was chairman of the executive committee.
From 1972, the EYCE, like the WCC’s Youth Division before, has been organizing Ecumenical Youth Services throughout Europe.
In 1978, the X. Assembly decided to fully integrate the “Ecumenical Youth Services” programme into the EYCE. In addition, there is now a full-time General Secretary. 1st General Secretary of the EYCE is Giselher Hickel (1978-82). The office is moved from Grenoble to East Berlin (GDR).
From 1981-1988 Giselher Hickel was head of the office “Ecumenical Youth Service”.

1989 After the reunification of both German states, the “Ecumenical Youth Service” with its various areas of work is dissolved. Despite of the dissolution, EYS volunteer camps take place in 1990, which are supported for the first time by the Children and Youth Plan of the Federal Government.
1991 The volunteer camp work of the Ecumenical Youth Service becomes a unique area of work of the aej (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Evangelischen Jugend in Deutschland e.V.). Reason for the assumption of the sponsorship: “The volunteer camps will also in the future represent important fields of learning for the experience of ecumenical community, intercultural training and practical charitable work… .”
1995-1997 Due to structural changes in the central Protestant Youth Work at the national level, the aej establishes a project office in Berlin in cooperation with the former office for Protestant Youth Work to continue the volunteer camp programme “Ecumenical Youth Services”.
1998 The office for Protestant Child and Youth Work in Berlin and Brandenburg is the exclusive responsible body for the volunteer camp programme. The organized camps are to be understood as an offer for all regional churches in Germany.
2004 Through the merger of the regional churches Berlin-Brandenburg and Schlesische Oberlausitz, the office for Protestant Child and Youth Work Berlin-Brandenburg-Schlesische Oberlausitz is the new responsible body for the Ecumenical Youth Services volunteer camp programme.
From spring 2006 onwards, the office for Church Services of the Protestant Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Schlesische Oberlausitz will be the responsible body for the Ecumenical Youth Services, regulated by a cooperation agreement.
2020 Foundation of the Support Association for the Ecumenical Youth Services. Why was the support association founded? Today there is only one provider of Ecumenical Youth Services in Europe, and that is in Germany. This provider is the follow-up organisation of the Youth Service that was so active in the GDR. As the only remaining organisation of EYS, it is important to promote and develop it.

The annual Ecumenical Youth Services have been supported since 1990 through the Children and Youth Plan of the Federal Government. The Federal Youth Plan was announced on 18 December 1950 and has supported work camps in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1954.