The Call to Community: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Life Together

by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt - Professor of Theology and Social Ethics, Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, NY

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is well known for his theology, ethics, and resistance to the Nazi State. His prophetic struggle to emancipate the church from the influences and subsequent collusion with an evil government led to his eventual demise in a prison yard only a month before the surrender of Germany. Due to these overwhelming challenges, a strong theme throughout Bonhoeffer’s life and writings was on the critical necessity of community, both for the well-being of the church, and the life and mission of a people.

Bonhoeffer knew that it was critical to support new leaders for a church in crisis. Leaders that would speak truth to power, support their communities to join in solidarity with the persecuted, and actively resist evil. After the gestapo closed his seminary in Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer had time to reflect on the essential nature of Christian fellowship. Life Together was published in 1939 and has become a classic text on the life of the church.

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer discusses the need for both solitude and community. In fact, one without the other is detrimental to one’s life with Christ. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.” We must engage in prayer, struggle, and be able to be before God alone. However, “let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Bonhoeffer argues that we are all called into community, and we cannot serve others without relationships. Indeed, to emphasize this necessity for fellowship he argues that if we reject others then we “reject the call of Christ!” In solitude we recognize our need for community, and within community we also recognize the gifts of solitude.

We need each other, because it is through each other that we encounter Christ. Our encounters, including the life of the community, enable us to receive the gifts that God desires for us. Bonhoeffer writes: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it is a brief, single encounter or daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” These gifts enable us to serve others from a place of renewed life, and hope. Service without encountering Christ through fellowship often leads to a deep tiredness, and perhaps despair, from attempting to serve from our own abilities and energy. “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer,” Bonhoeffer maintains. Both solitude and community are necessary to have life in Christ. Finally, Bonhoeffer reminds us that “Jesus Christ alone is our unity. He is our peace. Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.”

The church of Germany was encountering a crisis of identity in the face of evil. Bonhoeffer knew that those called to serve during that perilous time needed lessons on the critical importance of community in order to live out God’s call and mission. Life Together offers a powerful description of God’s gift of community. We too need these reminders during our time of increased isolation, and challenge. It is through Christ encountered in fellowship that we find our identity, and lasting hope.

Prayer, Christian Community, and the Presence of God

by: Norm Wetterau , M.D. - FMHF President

Recently my wife had two aneurysms clipped. The fact that they were discovered without having them rupture was a miracle in itself. Her recuperation has not been rapid but I am learning a lot through this. I know that many of you have had similar experiences. So many people said they would pray. They prayed that the operation would be a success and prayed for her recovery. I was frightened and praying that Christ would be present with Nancy in the operating room and with both of us in her rehab and recovery process.

As her recovery became longer, people continued to pray. The number praying was large: our family, church, friends, and even prisoners in the Maximum Security Prison, Attica. She had spoken at a retreat there and shared about her coming surgery. In all of this I realized that God does not answer these prayers just through her healing but that in a sense God showed His presence through these people’s prayers . God is present through our Christian friends and community .

So many people in our church, friends and family are praying. Community is very important and a manifestation of Christ in the world. That community included guys in prison, Nancy was in an Attica prison retreat a month ago. Attica is a famous maximum security prison and many men spend the rest of their lives there and die there, but for some Jesus walks with them. At a retreat there she gave a talk : “Confidence in Christ.” In this she talks a lot about her illness and ends up: I have been amazed at the PEACE I have felt for the last 15 months. I know many people have been PRAYING for me and God is right beside me.

The prisoners prayed for her and promised to pray for the surgery. So I sat next to her in the hospital knowing that church friends, other friends and family are praying but also prisoners in this notorious maximum security prison. God is here because of these prayers but He is also here because he is where one prays prayer makes one aware He is here. What I have discovered is that God is also present in a praying Christian community. Many times Jesus shows himself in other people and here is an example: Regardless of what happens God is here and also his Body, the praying community of faith which is the church and includes those in Attica which are also part of that community. God shows himself through others I knew that and knew that in some cases God has shown himself through me, but this is even better, seeing God respond to our needs through others. Community is something that God can create if we let Him.

Navigating Loneliness in the Era of Virtual Care


The January 24, 2019 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine had an opinion article titled, Navigating Loneliness in the Era of Virtual Care. This esteemed journal has had several articles on physician burnout and this article addresses an aspect of that theme. The Article below is based on this article, plus additional ideas from the newsletter’s editor in paragraph 2 and 4, Norman Wetterau.

Doctors used to make hospital rounds and discuss cases on the floor or in the doctor’s lounge. Doctors belonged to medical societies. They ate lunch and at times dinner together. Today they communicate with the front desk via the EMR, so they may not see any fellow doctors or staff during their day in the office. They see patients with their face in the EMR. There is much written about burnout, and this opinion article addresses what may be part of it. In addition to what this article says, there is the subject of social cohesiveness in the younger generation. They are not joiners of medical organizations, other groups or churches. My grandson, who rarely gets together with his friends after school argues that they are more connected due to social media. There may be some truth to this, but not for all teens, and certainly not for doctors who spend 60 hours a week on the electronic medical record and no longer see medical or other friends.

Once burnout begins, some people become more isolated. The workload is so great that there is no time to talk to someone at lunch or to share an evening together. A feeling of hopelessness comes on. This same process happens in other areas of one’s life. When things go bad, hide out. The article proposes some solutions, including face to face time with other health professionals. Some of this time is in non-medical activates and large medical groups can help felicitate this. Another way is through discussion about certain themes of medicine and of life. What he describes sounds a little like our retreats. As members of the Free Methodist Health Fellowship, let us see our own churches, and even our fellowship as a solution to loneliness. God made us to be connected. Being involved in a church is part of this and being connected to a group like the Free Methodist Healthcare Fellowship cannot hurt.

Let’s invite other: MDs, NPs, PAs, RNs, and others. Our theme for September’s Conference is: Serving God Throughout our Professional Lives, will bring us together to explore this, whether one is just starting out or is in retirement. The speaker, Dr. Bill Morehouse, also brought doctors and medical students together through the University of Rochester Christian Fellowship. One good way to prevent or address burnout is to share time and one’s life with others, including those Christians in our profession. A weekend of physical, social, and spiritual refreshment is a good way to find joy and prevent burnout. Share this article and invite a friend to come along too.