There’s nothing we love more than to see the Bonhoeffer House filled with friends--so imagine how delighted we were to welcome more than 100 students, faculty and friends for the Celebrate! event on Sept. 16. With the generous help of a great host committee, board members, and student volunteers, we celebrated 12 years of the Bonhoeffer House and the warm community that God has created here.
Remarks by Karen Wright Marsh, executive director:
This place was a dream once. It was named before we even saw it: the Bonhoeffer House. We were inspired by the heroic German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who called Christians to live their faith at the center of the world. Bonhoeffer embodied a very personal witness to God’s grace and truth, as “Christ for others” and in his life he showed us how powerful, how beautiful life in community can be.
Charles and I were living in Baltimore, where he was teaching at Loyola. The two of us had founded Theological Horizons ten years before and begun the lifelong work of encouraging Christians in academia. Charles, ever the visionary, began talking about this Bonhoeffer House and we wondered what this dream might become.
When Charles accepted the faculty position at the University of Virginia in 1999, we searched Charlottesville for a “Bonhoeffer House”, this dream on our hearts.
We were looking for a place where faculty could talk about how their faith connected to their intellectual work and their teaching;
We were looking for a center of support the promising professors of tomorrow---graduate students following God’s call into academia;
We were looking for a home for our own family where we bring along students on their spiritual journeys, welcoming their questions and speaking God’s truth;
We hoping to create a mentoring community within the university--a Bonhoeffer House which would be “a welcoming home for engaging faith, thought and life”.
With the board of directors of Theological Horizons, Charles and I affirmed something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself said once: “I believe that God is about to accomplish something that we can only receive with the greatest wonder and awe.”
When we walked through the door at 1841 University Circle that autumn morning, we knew we’d found it. A place for community. A place for conversation, peace and friendship. A place for Christians and for seekers, too, inviting questions about spirit and life at the heart of the University. It was crystal clear—with its red tile roof and stucco walls it even looked like the Bonhoeffer home in Berlin-- which had us saying, “Wow! This IS a God thing!” We knew we were standing in the Bonhoeffer House.
Our family put in all we had to make this vision reality. The Theological Horizons board of directors and many partners invested generously, too. Together we claimed this Bonhoeffer House and put that plaque on the door, confident that God would provide for the future of the house.
Over the past 12 years, thousands of others have walked through this Bonhoeffer House door and stepped into God’s grace. While there’s nothing uncommon about the cooking here-- the theological insights we offer echo what Christians have believed through the century, there’s the welcoming fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:20) Every time we offer up this space, we have truly opened the door for Christ.
And this happens often—just take the past four days. God was present on Thursday night when summer interns, community friends and graduate students discussed experiences of theology lived out in Kenya and Richmond. On Friday, Christ ministered among 35 college students reading C.S. Lewis over lunch in the living and then as a pack of middle school girls came for a Bible study. Yesterday, 5 friends arrived with armloads of flowers and tablecloths to create a welcome for you today. And so it goes.
It is our hope that all who come receive a spirit-filled embrace that Christ gives so generously. Even while the Bonhoeffer House echoes with the everyday sounds of our family and the barking dog, the antisocial cat, it has become something far more: the Bonhoeffer House is one small response to God’s call to be “Christ for others”.
You friends have been and continue to be critical to keeping the doors of the Bonhoeffer House open. Your friendship and your involvement sustain Theological Horizons, with its heart at the Bonhoeffer House and its programs reaching lives far beyond these walls. Today we thank you—and we offer gratitude for many partners who have walked with us all along the way-- for your prayers, for living this dream with us, in making this welcome for Christ over the past 12 years.
Sometimes when the roof is leaking, lunch is overcooked or resources are tight, we ask if we’re making a difference in the midst of the American university?
The writer Andy Crouch has an answer I love. He tells us to look to the fruit of our work. “Do we see a divine multiplication after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”