Once again I am spending a few days at Friedensau. It is a special place for European Adventism. Almost 120 years ago the German pioneers of the Adventist Church decided to establish at this spot a church center with a health institution and a school. The first educational activities date from 1899. During the era of the East-German isolation Friedensau continued to function as an institution for higher learning, with, among other things, a training course for pastors. In that time Friedensau even acquired full university status. After the Wende, when the two Germany’s were reunited, Friedensau became the university for all of Adventist Germany. The university status was maintained—a privilege that continues to demand a high academic level.
This week Friedensau University hosts a symposium. A group of academics and other interested persons, listens to, and discusses, some twenty different academic papers about aspects of the Reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century. This is most appropriate as very soon it will be 500 years since Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door the Castle Church of Wittenberg—an event that is generally regarded as the starting point of the Reformation. With a paper about ‘the influences of the various currents in the Reformation on Adventist ecclesiology’ (the doctrine of the church). I also have an active role in the proceedings.
The Friedensau University is a special place. One has the sensation of being deep in the forest, far away from the inhabited world. Without a car a person feels rather isolated, even though this time I chanced to see a local bus a few times. Yet, the highway between Hannover and Berlin runs barely at two miles distance from the campus. That one does not notice this is due to the fact that the narrow road through the woods to the campus runs over a bridge across the highway, which one passes without getting a view of the autobahn.
The Friedensau University exudes more of an academic atmosphere than any of the other Adventist institutions of higher learning in Europe that I have visited. This is for instance also apparent in details, as in names of persons and places. The leaders carry the academic titles usually employed in a university (the president is the ‘rektor’) and the restaurant is not a ‘cafeteria’ but the ‘mensa.’
Friedensau has gone with the times. The standard of technology is excellent. Yet, the campus and its buildings exude a very distinct continuity with the Adventist past. The huge text of one of the walls of the historic academy building—Der Herr Kommt (the Lord is coming) provides an impressive example.
When the ‘pioneers’ entertained the idea of building a church center in this area, a group of leaders gathered at the place where the university is now located. A the time there was just an old mill. Ludwig Richard Conradi (1856-1939), the legendary leaders of European Adventism in that period, chaired the meeting. The ‘brethren’ reached the consensus that the plan to build a substantial building was too risky and could not be implemented. At that point Conradi invited all participants at the meeting to step outside, He took them to a particular spot at announced: ‘And here is the spot where our institution is going to be!’ It was indeed built and we may still be thankful for Conradi’s courage. Today some of Conradi’s methods would be regarded as even more dubious than they already were in his days. But one thing remains true: Conradi was a man was extraordinary vision.
At this point I want to establish a link with my previous blog. Las week I emphasized the point that important decisions require the participation of a number of people with various skills and opinions. I would not take back one word of what I said. But, at the same time, it is essential to have leaders with extraordinary vision, who dare to think outside of the box and excite others with their zeal and enthusiasm. Conradi was such a person. Regrettably, today we see a dearth of that kind of vision in the highest echelons of the church. But the word of the prophet is as valid as ever: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish!’ (Proverbs 29:18 KJV).