On September 15, Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., hosted its first and only Finkenwalde Day. Finkenwalde Day came a month into Beeson Divinity’s fall semester theme, “Finkenwalde: In the School of Bonhoeffer,” a focus on German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of theological education. Finkenwalde was a town in Nazi Germany that is most associated with Bonhoeffer’s seminary. It was home to the seminary longer than any other location (1935-37).

This day was an attempt to recreate a typical day in the life of Bonhoeffer’s seminary. The following is a reflection of the day from a first-year student, David Dockery.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the value of taking time to pause. In ministry, just as in study, a pause allows one time to process, to appreciate, and to be still. Finkenwalde Day was such a pause for me. In the midst of a busy, difficult semester, it was good to pause and rest.

It was good to pause and consider community. It was good to be a community at worship, the community sharing in praise of our God and Savior. As a community, we paused to share and celebrate communion, remembering how Christ shared himself with humanity. We took time to consider not just our own community here at Beeson but also the larger community of faith – the community of witnesses that have lived the life of faith before us. It was a time to pause and consider the community as Christ. For me, that consideration meant that just as I need Christ, I also need community. The beauty of Bonhoeffer’s vision for community is the community as the visible body of Christ. This concept of community is not the “wish-dream” of men, as Bonhoeffer calls it, which demands an expression of community fitted to ideals belonging to men. In such cases “God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.”[1] The root of the community Bonhoeffer has in mind “is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ,” and its expression is selfless submission and service to one another.[2]

It was good to pause and converse. It was good to learn to converse in silence with our Lord, listening to his Word without distraction. Taking time to stop and converse with one another—students, staff, and faculty— around the table, during recreation, and in mentor groups, allowed an opportunity to get to know one another better and view ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ. Pausing afforded us the opportunity to talk together about the example of Bonhoeffer and his experiment at Finkenwalde.

It was good to pause and explore. For some, it was an opportunity to go on a walk of the campus and explore our school’s history and surroundings. It was a chance to explore the life and theology of Bonhoeffer in our lecture time. It was an opportunity to explore the depths of silent meditation on God’s Word.

The value of a pause is evident in Bonhoeffer’s life in the priority he gave to meditation and solitude — pausing to be alone with God and to enjoy his Word — and recreation and table fellowship — pausing to be actively nourished by company, conversation, and food. In his discussion of Bonhoeffer’s daily routine, Dr. Paul House writes that Bonhoeffer himself “took time for recreation and asked his students to do the same.”[3]

The day taught me the value of taking time to pause — not pausing for the sake of pausing for just any pursuit, but pausing in the pursuit of balance. We were seeking the balance between diligence and overwork, relaxation and laziness, reliance on God and reliance on self, time alone and time together. There is a need to pause from solitude and share time with others. Even for a master of the art of solitude, too much time alone led to depression for Bonhoeffer in prison.[4] I am learning a similar lesson, though in far different circumstances. Too much time alone studying is not helpful. Of course, neither is too much time socializing. But I need both.

Finkenwalde Day taught me to pause in my studies and ministry in order to pursue balance, seek community, listen to God’s Word, and explore silence. I think that was Bonhoeffer’s goal for the seminary at Finkenwalde.  I think that is a major part of the goal of theological education. Like Bonhoeffer’s students, we learn how to study the biblical languages and how to meditate on the same Word of God in order to be formed spiritually as good ministers of Christ.  

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. by John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1954), 26-27.

[2] Ibid, 31-32.

[3] Paul R. House, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision, (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2015), 51-52.

[4] Mark Devine, Bonhoeffer Speaks Today, (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2005), 95.

Topics: Christian Life and Spirituality
David Dockery




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