More than 140 faculty, staff, and students from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School gathered in Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel on Sept.15, for the 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).
“From the beginning of Beeson Divinity School Bonhoeffer and his experiment in theological education, centered at Finkenwalde, has been an important paradigm for us,” said Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School dean. “So, this semester we are giving a whole semester to looking at aspects of Bonhoeffer and his vision of theological education. … To my knowledge this is the first time any theological school has actually tried to live out a whole day in the Finkenwalde seminary that Bonhoeffer was leading.”
The day was designed around themes, such as silence, meditation, and recreation, which Bonhoeffer thought were essential for the building of Christian community and ones that he outlined in his book, “Life Together,” which he wrote during his time as a seminary director.
“He thought all this (prayer, meditation, silence, worship, Scripture reading, recreation, eating a meal together) was really important for formation of ministers of the gospel,” George said. “It was an effort to enter into the spirit of theological formation that was at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s vision. We thought we would actually not just study about it, read about it, think about it, but actually do it for a whole day. And we did.”
The day began with morning prayer and worship based on Psalm 119:1-24, followed by two lectures from divinity faculty: Piotr Malysz, “Being the Church in God’s World,” and Frank Thielman, “Justification and Ministry.” The traditional time of student mentoring groups provided an opportunity for more personal reflection and prayer.
The 11 a.m. weekly chapel service included a message, “Vision Over Visibility,” based on Hebrews 4:1-4, by Professor of divinity Doug Webster, communion, the singing of African-American spirituals – a favorite of Bonhoeffer -- and a benediction sung in Hebrew of the Aaronic Benediction found in Numbers 6:22-26 by Rob Willis, divinity media and technology manager.
“As the day unfolded, I watched in awe at how God touched many different people to assist, serve, and share in the body of Christ,” said Victoria Gaston, Hodges Chapel curator and organizer of the day. “To focus on a day in the life of a seminary far from us, in a different time, brought forth the appreciation of the unique position Beeson Divinity School holds in the church as a seminary that is both evangelical and ecumenical.”
The majority of the afternoon was spent doing recreational activities. The Beeson community came together by playing board games, outdoor games, walking, singing and making music, or watching a film.
“During the recreation portion of our day, I came across a group of students playing and singing worship music in the chapel,” said co-organizer Christy Harper, Hodges Chapel assistant curator and coordinator of alumni relations. “While they sounded amazing, even more special was seeing them share together in creating music and discovering talents about their classmates and friends that they never had seen or heard before.”
The day concluded with a worship service led by Professor of Divinity Robert Smith Jr. and the congregational singing of the well-known spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
“The experience of Finkenwalde Day, by walking in the daily shoes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's seminary students, enabled me to see what true community looks like within the context of doing life together,” said Hunter Upton, Beeson first-year student from Wilsonville, Alabama. “Through our time of prayer, solitude and worship, lunch with the whole Beeson family, mentor group meetings, and recreation, I better understand what it means to live a balanced life in ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Church.”
Kristen Padilla is communications coordinator for Beeson Divinity School.