[Thursday 1 August] Friedensau University is in the midst of nowhere, in a forest, just over 30 kilometers from Magdeburg. Until some twenty years ago this region was part of the DDR (East-Germany). Some rusty watchtowers and other remnants of the terrible separation between East and West are, as you travel on the highway towards Berlin, a vivid reminder of this period.
Friedensau University was founded by the German Adventists in 1899. Ever since, Friedensau has served as a theological school. In the DDR-era the school received university status, which remained in force also after ‘die Wende’ (the turning point). Since the German unification Friedensau is the theological center for the entire German Adventist church. I visited Friedensau a number of times in the past and had the consistent impression that it is the church institution in Europe that is more ‘academic’ in character than any other.
It is a pleasure to return to the beautiful campus of Friedensau. For the first time I saw the magnificent, new library building, as well as another recent addition: a small café. Since Tuesday I am, together with my wife, a guest for a summer activity, for which a few hundred church members from all over Germany have gathered. They have come for a few very full days of lectures and a spread of 4-5 hour workshops. I am presenting a workshop on the theme of ‘Adventists and Other Christians.’ And I am invited to be the speaker during the festive service on Sabbath, the high point of this event.
The over-all theme of this ‘Friedensauer Sommerakademie’ is: Adventist Sein in 21. Jahrhundert. (Being an Adventist in the 21st Century). Some other congresses and meetings which I have attended in Germany in the past few years have given my the feeling that many Adventists in Germany find it rather challenging to speak about their faith, and to live their faith, in their rapidly changing society. And many are not sure what to think about some trends in the worldwide Adventist Church. These past few days I sensed further confirmation of this.
In his opening speech on Tuesday evening the president of the Adventist Church in Northern Germany (Johannes Naether) told the audience about some of the challenges the German church is facing. He underlined the necessity of a re-evaluation of the term ‘freedom’. The German church wants to be loyal to the world church, yet, he argued, the church in a given region of the world must have a definite freedom to put its own accents. And the church members must have freedom to develop and express their own thinking. I can only agree most strongly.
There is, in visiting such a meeting as this, often the unexpected bonus to meet special people. One of the participants in my workshop is Manfred Böttcher. He does not look his 87 years. I had not heard about him for a long time. For over 14 years Böttcher was the leader of the Adventist church in Germany in the DDR-time. His was the difficult task to steer the church through those difficult years. I was delighted to meet him and to hear him tell of his experiences. Yesterday he gave me a copy of the book he wrote about the relationships between Adventists and other Christians during the Communist period.
Today my wife and I spent a few hours in Magdeburg, the historic city where Martin Luther in 1487 spent some time at the school of the ‘Brethern of the Common Life’ and where later, in 1524, he would preach and kick off the reformation movement in this area. From my elementary school time I remember how Magdeburg was mentioned as the place of the famous Magdeburger Halbkugeln experiment to demonstrate atmospheric pressure. But today we were mostly interested in the magnificent Dom church and in the adjacent Green Citadel—the complex of small shops, restaurants and apartments, that was to be the last project of the famous Austrian/New Zealand architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (2005). With its capricious lines and its range of colors it is truly spectacular and worth a special trip.
However, this stay at Friedensau will also enter my memory as the time and place where, on August 3, my wife celebrated her seventieth birthday!