College Ministry: Bonhoffer on Pastoral Care

This post is part of the College Ministry: Conversations and Context series. For more information, click here.

An active church member, who has become like family to us and especially to Ellis, approached me on Sunday with a copy of this letter from Bonhoffer in one of his books (emphasis mine):

Essay: Pastoral Care for Protestant Students at the Technical College

The average student today is alienated from the church. Everyone knows this. The reasons too are known, the real ones and those that are bandied about; even the church knows them. In fact, the church now is reflcting on this phenomenon more seriously than one might think. How successfully is the second question, and that does not depend on the church alone. In any case, the present situation is that groups with the most diverse worldviews have once again drawn attention to what is happening in the church. What the church needs now, hoever, nothing less than observers and nothing more than coworkers. And for this reason it is appealing to students as strongly as it can. Whoever looks at these things seriuosly cannot avoid the fact that the shape of the future church and the shape of the future German are essentially interconnected. Yet the church demands that even students take a position and become engaged, not for the sake of something else but rather because the church is the church.

But the church ultimately is taking seriously not itself but rather that task that was given it from the very beginning. The church believes in all seriousness, in a time of the deepest ideological division, that it can and may stand where ideologies reach their end and something new and ultimate begins. The church will proudly preserve that which it has and not market like false good, perhaps under deceptive names. For the church knows that nothing is greater than to be there where people really want the church to be, to help with all the resources that it has. This is what the is church telling the student body when it assigns a student chaplain to work with them.

Today whoever still believes that he can live life alone is living in an illusion. Things have become too difficult to do so. No one knows that better, perhaps than today’s Protestant pastor. The student also knows this in a special way. And this realization connects them. Where people are questioning together, why shouldn’t they struggle together for an answer?

Pastor Lic. Dietrich Bonhoffer, Lecturer at Berlin University, Berlin-Grunewald, Wangenheimstrasse 14.

Published in Die technische hochschule: Akademische Zeitschrift der Technischen hochshule charlottenburg 10 no. 9 (February 1932): 200-201.

I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that caring for young people has always been a growing edge for the church. It seems like an “area of ministry” that’s constantly marginalized and viewed as unimportant. But I would go so far to say that it seems like the way we reach out to these younger generations is the one of the very best indications of our priorities. Besides doing mission or compassion-oriented work, I can think of few ways to be the church than “to be there where people really want the church to be,” ie in the midst of schools.