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Johannes Perthel – September 9th, 1888 – July 20th, 1944

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Gail Ritscher

September 9th, 1888 Leukersdorf/Erzgebirge – July 20th, 1944 Friedrichshafen/Lake Constance

According to all his friends, Johannes Perthel was taken far too early from his life and work for The Christian Community. In a strange twist of fate, he lost his life in a bombing raid on Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, where he had traveled for a vacation.

Despite a kind of cloud hanging over his destiny, those in his circle, particularly his colleagues, treasured the radiant humanness that he had wrested from his life.

The way he himself described it, ever since childhood he had always experienced himself if not quite like an outsider, then still as different, and he therefore kept to himself.

Born on September 6, I888, in Leukersdorf/Erzgebirge, he grew up in a very strict and traditional parish house. He disliked school and had no friends there. Already in elementary school, he wrote in an essay about wanting to become a pastor, and after graduating high school he studied liberal theology. He literally had to wrangle permission from this traditional father to spend the semester in “liberal” Marburg.

During semester breaks at home, he and his father quarreled constantly. His mother said nothing. Johannes became increasingly withdrawn. New forces needed to be extracted from family tradition.

Although he became a member of the national, anti-Semitic “German Student Association,” at 22 he wrote a positive review of a lecture by the Jewish Social Democrat Bernstein for the association’s magazine. Once again, he had shocked his friends.

Johannes Perthel passed his theology exam before the First World War and he fulfilled his one- year mandatory military service. During that time, however, an inner struggle caused him to withdraw from an officer candidate’s course after the first 6 months. Once again, he was totally misunderstood.

After the war began, an inner sense of duty—he had just become a pastor—made him encourage his colleagues in Saxony to take up arms for the fatherland. His best friend answered this call and fell shortly thereafter. Johannes Perthel himself was not called up and was used as a field chaplain only for the last year and a half of the war. He found this task extremely difficult both inwardly and outwardly, but he gained a great deal of important insight into the destinies of soldiers.

In May 1915, Johannes Perthel married Mechthild Grohmann, the sister of the famous Goethean botanist Gerbert Grohmann. The couple had three children.

In typical Perthel style, after his time as auxiliary pastor he chose a pastorate that required a pioneer spirit. The small Saxon mining town of Oberwürschnitz, between Zwickau and Chemnitz, had just become an independent parish. There was neither church, nor community room, nor parish house, nor congregation. Perthel reported humorously about how he managed to acquire a parish house and community room. The congregation, however, just would not coalesce. The locals were largely taciturn, hard-working miners.

Johannes Perthel now attempted to bridge the gulf between his work-world and the church. He became a member of the Social Democratic Party, again shocking his colleagues, friends, and family. Even harder to swallow, however, was the realization that the gap between workers and church was not bridgeable, even though the Saxon workers now often invited the Social Democratic pastor to give lectures.

The most valuable experience in all this was the complete inner freedom from all previous obligations, for in his social class, a Social Democratic pastor was treated like a leper.

It was under these circumstances that a friend introduced him to a young man from the youth movement, presenting him as the representative of a new world view (Weltanschauung). It was the spring of 1920, the same time that the very first request went to Rudolf Steiner for a new religious practice.

Johannes Perthel and his wife purchased Rudolf Steiner’s “Basic Issues of the Social Question” and “How to Know Higher Worlds.” Understanding what was written there came only gradually, but it was inspirational. Later, Johannes Perthel would suffer a severe shock to the system from this first introduction to anthroposophy, but for now the first step had been made. He met Rudolf Steiner in Chemnitz and learned about the preparations for religious renewal.

From this moment on, Johannes Perthel knew that he wanted to join in the work. It was soon very obvious to him that the renewals Rudolf Steiner had proposed to the founder circle would find no place in the existing church. He wished to set to work establishing independent congregations in the Ore Mountains. This became clear to him during an inner struggle in the fall of 1921, when he was attending the theological course in Dornach. According to his own account, it was thanks to his wife, who was with him in Dornach, and to the construction of the first Goetheanum that he was able to overcome “the intellect man” (Kopfmensch), as he called it. The sense impression of the large columns of the Goetheanum hall, each different and yet emerging from and connected with one another, was a decisive help.

Perthel gave up his parish in 1922 and was present in Breitbrunn. During the actual founding deeds in 1922, Rudolf Steiner had himself suggested a lenker position for Perthel. And so, on September 16, 1922, he was ordained as a priest by Friedrich Rittelmeyer during the first Act of Consecration of the Human Being.

He then established the congregation in Leipzig with Rudolf Frieling, and from there he supervised as lenker the founding of congregations in Saxony, Thüringen, and Silesia. He worked in Breslau from 1926 through the 30s, and up until the ban of The Christian Community in 1941. He was part of The Circle of Seven from the very beginning and, as such, he played a significant role in building up and initially forming The Christian Community until it was banned.

On June 9, 1941, as the ban was coming into effect, Perthel participated in the lenker meeting in Erlangen. His two daughters in Breslau came under intense pressure from the Gestapo. They were forbidden to inform their brother in the field. Perthel lived through the time of the ban as a bookkeeper for the company of a Breslau congregation member.

Although Perthel is not known for writing anything of great length, from year one of the magazine first called “Tatchristentum” his articles and reports appeared every year, as well as in the “messages” for the member, which he issued as of 1936.

Perthel worked as a lecturer, particularly during the large conferences that took place then throughout Germany, often several times a year. But it was primarily his humanity, won through much suffering, that earned him great respect and gratitude in the priest circle and among all members.

In the summer of 1944, Johannes Perthel was staying in Oberstaufen in the Allgäu visiting Elfriede Straub, the renowned community helper from first Breslau then Stuttgart. From there, he went to visit his sister-in-law, the wife of Gerbert Grohmann, as well as Marta Heimeran in Horn on Lake Constance. As the train pulled into the station at Friedrichshafen on July 20, 1944, there was an air raid alarm. All the passengers were forced to exit the train for a nearby above ground air raid shelter. It received a direct hit. There were no survivors. Days later, Elfriede Straub searched for her missing guest in Friedrichshafen. She found Perthel’s passport, riddled with holes, in a laundry basket at the police station. His memorial stone is located in a large communal burial site. He was ripped from his life not knowing that his son had preceded him, falling in the field in Russia on July 13.


Oberwürschnitz, February 21, 1922

It seems clear to me from recent experiences that bringing about religious renewal in the church in the sense we mean will be impossible. To remain viable in the present, and faced with inner emptiness, the church is forced to shift more and more into outer forms. In the process, it must enclose itself in a protective shell that will render it impenetrable to all new impulses coming from outside. Furthermore, the people we need to reach today are not to be found in church. On the contrary, one gets the impression that we are not benefitting the people who come to church today if we let the new spiritual impulse flow into the sermon. As people who still somehow draw strength from the past, they also want to be uplifted by the past. So, in the long run, we ultimately do ourselves and them no favors by chaining ourselves together.

Once we have recognized this, the moment must come sooner or later when the inner impossibility becomes an outer impossibility, and if the kind of religious activity we intend is still to have any value, it must take place outside the church in the formation of independent congregations.

Because of the enormous responsibility involved, it will no doubt be tempting to postpone this decision and to wait for stronger outer relationships and greater inner readiness, but the decision must nevertheless be made at some point. Therefore, because there will have to be a decision and because the times require something, it would be good for this decision to be made today.

I thus declare myself ready to give up my parish when the time is right and help form independent congregations. My only request is that I be allowed to bring everything to some kind of conclusion by Easter.

When I think about where to work, I think I should be able to work my way into the local mining community from neighboring Oelnitz, the center of the local suburbs. These people are finished with the past and do not yet have anything new. It would just be a matter of shaking them out of their apathy. They might be able to trust someone whom they just recently knew as a pastor.

I would be most grateful if Dr. Steiner could make the effort to unite us once again for an immediate introductory course.

Johannes Perthel





Hugo Schuster—Priest July 2, 1876 – April 1, 1925

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Gail Ritscher

A few months after Hugo Schuster’s death, when recalling how anthroposophical work in Switzerland had developed, Marie Steiner wrote, “The late Hugo Schuster was there at the very beginning, with his drive, his charm, and his lively initiative. He died as a priest of the Old Catholic Church, prefiguring, in a way, what was destined to appear later in The Christian Community.”1 From the age of 28, Hugo Schuster was a pioneer of anthroposophy, and he served it with full awareness and great devotion. As fate would have it, after turning 42 he also became a pioneer of The Christian Community, unintentionally and for him almost unconsciously.

He was born on February 7, 1876, in St. Gallen, the fourth in a gaggle of six siblings, all brothers except for one younger sister. His father was a successful carpet dealer, a business Hugo was initially meant to join, and to that end he went through business management training in Vevey, Bradford, Stuttgart, and Basel. This line of work, however, was not at all to his liking.

Already as a child, it was clear that his life lay in an entirely different direction. As his sister wrote after his death, his life was marked by certain special characteristics: “Despite the sunny home in Schönbühl, Hugo was a delicate little boy requiring unusual care and concern. Extremely sensitive in both body and soul, he happily avoided loud games, preferring to spend his time with books and paints while his siblings roughhoused outside. […] His propensity toward the mystical showed up early in his games. His deep religious feeling and his yearning to be of service was revealed in his burning desire to be a missionary, one who could carry light into the heathen world. Unfortunately, his physical frailty dashed any hopes of fulfilling this desire.”2

When Schuster returned to St. Gallen at around 27, he joined a small theosophical working group that had already been meeting for many years under the leadership of Otto Rietmann. At that time, insufficient notice had been taken of the fresh new wind beginning to blow through the Theosophical Society because of the work of the German Section. Schuster now put maximum effort into forming connections with this section, which had just been founded (1902) by Rudolf Steiner and was being led by him. He turned first to Marie Steiner (then still von Sievers), with the goal of inviting Rudolf Steiner to lecture in Switzerland. This finally came about on September 8 and 9, 1905, in St. Gallen, where Rudolf Steiner gave two talks, one public (Tasks for the Present—the Message of Theosophy) and one to a more intimate circle (About our Planetary System). On September 9, Schuster became a member of the German Section of the Theosophical Society, and this started a process in St. Gallen that led relatively quickly to the founding of the Ekkehard Branch on January 1, 1906 (still under the leadership of Otto Rietmann). Schuster was similarly active in Basel and Bern, where branches were also established. In Basel, he was among the founding members of the Paracelsus Branch, along with Rudolf and Elisabeth Geering-Christ, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. He lived with them for many years—at least from 1909 to 1913—in their house named “Im Wiesengrund” (In the Valley Meadow). It is noteworthy that Rudolf Steiner’s reflections on the gospels, which had begun in Germany with the Gospel of John, continued in these new branches in Switzerland: In Basel in 1909 and 1912 with the Gospels of Luke and Mark, respectively, and in Bern in 1910 with the Gospel of Mathew. Schuster was no doubt present for these cycles, as well as many other lectures by Rudolf Steiner during these years in Switzerland. Where possible, he also helped to initiate and, at least in Basel, to lay the groundwork for them.

1913 saw a major shift in his life. He was 37 years old and was standing in the second moon node of his biography. He quit his job and, relatively late in life, decided to study theology. In the winter semester of 1913, he began his studies in the Christian Catholic Department of the University of Bern and sat for his theological exam in 1918. On July 23, 1918, he was ordained as a priest and spent a year as a vicar in Basel.

At this juncture, it is necessary to make a comment about the Old Catholic Church—in Switzerland, the Christian Catholic Church. It had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church in reaction to the First Vatican Council of 1869/70, during which the doctrine of papal infallibility was declared as dogma. It preserved the ritual, but in conjunction with great freedom, including on questions of faith. From the outset, the ritual was celebrated in the vernacular. Rudolf Steiner, at 21, once talked about this church to his friend Albrecht Löger, saying, “I have to admit, a short while ago when you talked about Old Catholicism and were working so hard on its behalf, I couldn’t see anything appropriate about it. Now everything is clear to me. I realize just as clearly why this precise religious form alone is appropriate for our folk.”3 When the “Catholic” ritual stream unites with the “Protestant” impulse for freedom, a new “religious form” is created which carries the future in it, “prefiguring, in a way, what was destined to appear later in The Christian Community” (Marie Steiner).

It was still during his time as vicar in Basel that Schuster was asked by Rudolf Hahn, the stenographer for many of Rudolf Steiner’s lectures, to perform the funeral rite for his wife, Marie. Hahn did not belong to the Christian Catholic church, nor had his wife, but, as an anthroposophist, he had asked Rudolf Steiner to speak at Marie’s funeral. Steiner had agreed, but on the condition that his words precede a religious funeral ceremony. Hahn thus turned to fellow anthroposophist Hugo Schuster, who performed the funeral—two months after his priest ordination—on September 22, 1918, in the presence of Rudolf Steiner. Hahn later reported that Steiner found the Christian Catholic ritual “rather too meager” after all; something brand new ought to be created. A few weeks later, an anthroposophist named Marie Leyh passed away. Schuster was again asked to perform the funeral, and it took place on January 14, 1919, in Arlesheim. This time, however, Schuster—as a Christian Catholic priest— used a completely new ritual imparted to him by Rudolf Steiner. In terms of humanity’s spiritual life, this was a vitally important moment. First, a portal was opened through which a stream of new and appropriate rituals began to flow. Although The Christian Community was founded only in 1922, Rudolf Steiner later said that the funeral rite shared in 1919 already “conformed with our Christian Community.”4 Second, this funeral rite addressed the human spirit—which enters the “light of spirit land” after death—as fully valid again for the first time since its nullification over 1,000 years prior. According to Rudolf Steiner, the 8th Ecumenical Council of 869 abolished the spirit as an independent member of the human being. Hugo Schuster is thus the first, before Herbert Hahn and Friedrich Rittelmeyer, to actively step into this new ritual stream in extremely tight collaboration with Rudolf Steiner and without discernable intention of his own. An unwitting pioneer! Steiner worked with Schuster two more times in a similar fashion for the funerals of Johanna Peelen on May 12 and Caroline Wilhelm on October 27, 1920. It is conceivable that Schuster held additional funerals within his community using the new ritual, but we have no further exact information. One thing of which we can be sure, incidentally, is that Schuster’s community was unaware of his anthroposophical background.

Somewhere around the time of the new funeral rite came Schuster’s request to Rudolf Steiner for a new translation of the mass. Steiner acquiesced and, on April 20, 1919, sent him the first part of the translation (gospel and offertory). He translated the additional parts (transubstantiation and communion) between June and October, 1921. This was by no means a full translation of the mass, but rather a translation of “the essence,” along with the explanation that the being of the mass was fourfold. It is pretty safe to conclude that Schuster did not use this rendering when he celebrated the mass. After all, compared to normal practice, it was incomplete. It is more likely that Schuster would have found the translation meaningful for his inner life. Philologically, it is far from always exact and it reveals new things, which makes it an important connector between the traditional mass and the Act of Consecration of the Human Being.

After completing his vicarship in Basel, Schuster received his own provisional pastorate in Magden, Aargau Canton. On August 31, 1919, he was voted in as acting priest. His style was impressive, full of deep sentiment (Gemüt), will forces, and missionary zeal. In a village that basically survived off of cherry orchards and liquor distilleries, he started a campaign against alcoholism with the support of the communist village teacher. The campaign was successful (thus ending the community’s custom of offering free beer to students after school outings!), even earning acknowledgment and support from some alcoholics. Naturally, however, there was also great opposition, and this created a deep rift in the community that persisted far beyond Schuster’s own active involvement. Even his opponents granted, however, that he was particularly good at dealing with children and young people, an area in which he achieved much, inaugurating practices that outlasted him.

Throughout his sojourn in Magden, despite being physically distant and extremely busy, Schuster stayed in touch with work at the Goetheanum by collaborating with Rudolf Steiner on, for example, the aforementioned funerals of anthroposophists. He also participated in the second theology course (“Autumn Course”) in Dornach, from September 26 to October 10.
Here, he encountered not only Rudolf Steiner’s completed translation of the four basic mass sections, with which he was already familiar, but also the truly new “mass text” of the Act of Consecration of the Human Being. What that meant to him, we do not know. However, when some of the 100 plus participants who were fully vested in getting involved with the movement for religious renewal signed a declaration of commitment, Schuster’s name was not among the 69 signatures. At that point, his tuberculosis forced him to go on vacation at a health resort in Davos from October, 1921, to the end of February, 1922 (according to the Christian Catholic Synod minutes). Work became difficult for him after his return. His temporary replacement had apparently been more tolerant in many areas and had given very good sermons, which was not Schuster’s forte. When the final vote for priest (Schuster had only been acting priest until then) was held on July 9, 1922, he lost reelection by one vote. Amazingly, the matter did not end there. Because Schuster also had many strong personal ties in his community, the Aargau Canton Synod on August 21 decided to schedule a second and final vote for October 1.

Parallel to these dramatic proceedings in Magden, the founding of The Christian Community took place in Dornach from September 6 to 22, and Schuster was asked if he would like to participate. At the beginning of September, 1922, he wrote to Rittelmeyer saying that he could not commit to that. He actually wrote this letter after July 9, when he was voted out of office, and before the revote on October 1. When the revote then took place, the result of July 9 was validated. “This blow broke the priest’s heart,” wrote Schuster’s anthroposophical friend and colleague, New Testament professor Ernst Gaugler. “Whoever saw him in those days could only admire the way he spoke about his community. The full depth of his love was now truly revealed. He was like a father losing his family. In his pain and sorrow, he said repeatedly, ‘How I have loved them!’ He had given himself completely and could not entirely disengage. Anyone who cared for the church with him during the days of severe illness that followed knows how faithful he was to his church.”5


Schuster never served as a community priest again. He sought to regain his health in Arosa and then for nearly a year in Lucarno. His sister writes about his time there, “He was still to experience bright joy. In Frieda Kuenzle, he found a faithful, loving companion, whom he married in May 1924 and who was ready to accompany him through the most difficult time of his life.” When Schuster had sent Rudolf Steiner his application to the “FM” (ritual department of the Esoteric School) on March 19, 1906, he had written in the cover letter, among other things: “…at this moment, I also imagine, of course, a loving wife and a few sweet children. That would also be so nice.” This was not granted to him until now, a few months before his death. For Pentecost, on June 8, 1924, he celebrated the mass in Magden for the last time. At the end of the year, he relocated to Davos, where he died on January 4, 1925, at the age of 48. He was laid to rest in St. Gallen on January 7 with a Christian Catholic ritual, which was “rather too meager” for Rudolf Steiner, as Hahn reported it. Hugo Schuster had received the new ritual from Rudolf Steiner and was the first to hold it for others, thus placing himself in the future stream of the ritual. The fact that he himself was not led across the threshold by this ritual could be an indication of what his sister described as his “enigmatic complexity.” When Rudolf Steiner learned about Schuster’s death from Elisabeth Geering-Christ, he wrote her back on January 14, 1925, two months before his own death, “I was deeply shaken by the departure from the physical plane of our dear friend Hugo Schuster. You may be certain that I will be with him in my thoughts. He was a true anthroposophist, and the beginnings of the movement in Switzerland are in large part, in very large part, due to him.”

Michael Debus
From: Die Christengemeinschaft 12/2002


1 “Was in der Anthroposophischen Gesellschaft vorgeht” (Happenings in the Anthroposophical Society), News for the members, Nr. 47, 22 November 1925.
2 “Der Katholik,” Nr. 4/1925, 24 January 1925.

3GA 38, p 150

4 GA 236, 27 June 1924.

5 “Christian Catholic Internal Diary” 1926.

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Herman Groh – 11 June 1894, Berlin – 14 December 1957

Herman Groh was a man of the world who broadened his education throughout his life. He spoke many languages and understood several more. Outwardly, Groh’s life took him first to Russia, Siberia, and Vladivostok during the First World War, and then (1928) to California for 6 months. In other words, he traveled from East to West before settling in the center, where he focused his energies. This also seems to correspond to the major inward gesture of his life.

Born into a Berlin merchant family in Berlin-Charlottenburg on 11 June 1894, Groh attended a grammar school in Cologne from Easter 1901 until his graduation at Easter 1912, receiving a comprehensive education with an emphasis on classical languages. Already at this age, he read philosophical books and Shakespeare during class. He exercised his lanky body with iron discipline and became the top athlete in his class. He went on long hikes with his comrades, becoming well-acquainted with the environs of Berlin and the Brandenburg region. Given the number of kilometers covered, they were really more like marches than hikes. His gym teacher, Döhring, not only took his boys out into nature, but in the evenings after the hikes also enthusiastically introduced them to the world of idealistic philosophy and classical literature.

Groh reportedly nearly drowned around this time while swimming in the Müggelsee (a lake outside Berlin). He saw his entire life up to that moment pass before him in full detail. During the same timeframe, while playing ice hockey on a frozen lake, he once saved the life of someone who had broken through the ice.

He passed his high school graduation exams at 18 and a half, later explaining that this was thanks to his A in gymnastics. Before the First World War broke out, he completed a voluntary one-year tour with the cavalry in Schleswig and began his studies in Freiburg/Breisgau, studying philosophy and political economics. He became particularly engrossed with Hegel.

Drafted at the outset of the war, he was a 21-year-old junior cavalry officer in Russia when he was captured in 1915 during a patrol in Courland. It was not until January 1921 that he returned home (via China) after a long Russian captivity.

His time as a prisoner-of-war in Siberia, and then ultimately as an able-bodied citizen under the “Reds” brought him many “opportunities”—for example as a lumberjack or as a librarian in Minussinsk—a calmer phase in a compound in Krasnoyarsk. He was able to continue his Hegel studies there, and this brought him into contact with the epistemological writings of Carl Unger and books by Rudolf Steiner. (The books had been sent to a comrade by a friend from Vienna). The book How to Know Higher Worlds impressed him the most, and it was after reading it that Groh decided to return to Germany to meet Rudolf Steiner, although he had actually intended to remain in Russia.

Even before this calmer chapter during the turmoil of revolutionary Russia, Groh had faced death a second time: Having escaped from a camp with a friend and walked 2,000 kms through Manchuria, he was captured in the last town before the Chinese border and imprisoned. The “Reds” released him shortly before he was shot: just before his execution the news of the tsar’s assassination arrived. Following his release from captivity in Vladivostok and his return to Europe by steamship, Groh met a group of students from Tübingen travelling for the anthroposophical First Class course in Stuttgart in 1921. Among them was Gerhard Klein, who later became his brother-in-law. His first question to them was reportedly about whether there was a real community here. He became one of the participants in the so-called Autumn Course, the second major round of teaching for the founding circle, to which Rudolf Steiner had invited people to Dornach.

Without finishing his studies or professional training, Groh committed himself to this common goal. In 1922, he reportedly made most of the journey from Berlin to Breitbrunn on foot, as simply driving to such an important event was out of the question. Unfortunately, he is missing from the Breitbrunn group picture. He then drove with the others to Dornach and was ordained by Emil Bock in the first Goetheanum on 16 September 1922 as the 21st member of the circle.

Herman Groh founded his first congregation in Essen-Mülheim. He chose this city because there were hardly any anthroposophists, thus also no branch of the Anthroposophical Society. He then worked in Vienna starting in 1929, setting up a small chapel in his home in Grinzing. During this time, he heard Dr. Roman Boos make serious attacks on The Christian Community, which shocked him deeply. Finally, as of 1935, he worked in the Dresden congregation for his third sending.

After participating in Rudolf Steiner’s last major lecture in Dornach in September 1924, he was married there on 26 September to his colleague Gerhard Klein’s sister Lilli. Alfred Heidenreich celebrated the marriage sacrament in the White Hall of the first Goetheanum. Gottfried Husemann and Marta Heimeran were witnesses and five other colleagues were present. The couple had six children.

In 1939 in Dresden, before The Christian Community was banned, Groh was drafted into the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the Second World War, even though he was already 45. Due to his excellent language skills, he was transferred on the recommendation of his brother-in-law Gerhard Klein from a veterinary hospital for horses to the large prison camp Mühlberg/Elbe as an interpreter for Russian, English, and French. He cultivated extensive connections with the captured Russians and Frenchmen. Instead of carrying a revolver for his personal security, he carried his sandwich with him when he had to accompany the prisoners. A prison chaplain later called him a “true Christian”; that is what he proved to be there. Johannes Lenz wrote about this time in more detail in the journal Die Christengemeinschaft, 2004, p. 579ff. When a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp and all the Germans decamped, he remained steadfastly at his post until he caught the disease himself.

As the person responsible for all church services in the camp, he worked closely with clergy of all denominations from a multitude of countries. With the help of a Russian clergyman who had been captured by the Germans while serving as a French soldier, Groh translated the Consecration of the Human Being into Russian.

After his recovery from typhus, he was released from service in 1944—again based on a recommendation—when his father fell seriously ill. Then he was obliged to manage his father’s chain of stores “Groh Brothers Milk and Cheese,” with all its products and dairies. While thus occupied, he experienced the collapse of the Third Reich in Berlin. The war had barely ended when Groh began to celebrate the Consecration of the Human Being again in the center of Berlin, where he lived on Brüderstraße in the Nikolai-Lessing House along with Anna Samweber. He brought his will to bear with particular intensity when celebrating. On long walks through the destroyed city, he regathered the members of his congregation. But as early as 1947, the leadership of The Christian Community suspended him from his parish duties because of his rigid attitude toward social and cultic matters, so from then on he no longer celebrated the sacraments. In 1952, Groh moved to his family in Gur Husum near Jever in East Frisia.

Herman Groh’s unconditional devotion to the absolute, to the spirit in thought and will, which he had learned from Hegel, had something exclusive, even one-sided about it. He was radical in this and used to demanding everything from himself and others. It testifies to his spiritual energy that he would read the entire Gospel of Mark standing up every day during Holy Week. He had divided it into 96 sections and he recited the Lord’s Prayer after each section. He remarked laconically that it only takes about four hours if done without stopping.

In addition to serious, faithful pastoral care, training his spiritual capabilities was important to him. He studied anthroposophy just as seriously. He vigorously and repeatedly worked through Rudolf Steiner’s four basic books according to the seasons of the year. He read the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. It is certainly a missed opportunity that he was not tasked with retranslating at least certain parts of it.

Although he burned whole stacks of manuscripts with translations, some things were saved. Groh’s life’s work can be seen in his work on the rhythms of the Old and New Testaments. He explored these rhythms in his daily polyglot studies. He always studied the Greek, Latin, English, French, and German texts in parallel, and in the case of the Old Testament he added the Hebrew text. He indicated his findings on the composition and rhythm of the texts with markings in his edition of the Bible; many people today use them as a study guide.

Groh studied the quality of time in general. He was convinced that one should be able to distinguish a Wednesday from a Thursday “atmospherically” at any time, even in a dark dungeon. Another leitmotif was the study of the Holy Scriptures over the course of the year. Additionally, he researched English and American literature for the occurrence of occult events. And finally, he always read as many international newspapers as possible.

He had thus been going along tirelessly engaged in learning until, after 63 active years, 12 of which he was forced to spend as a soldier and prisoner, a short, serious illness ended his life. This man of the world, who had come to know, understand, and love this earth and its peoples so fully, the priest, who had worked on himself so assiduously and was always available for people to talk to: now he was entering the world to which, after all his studying, praying, and meditating, he felt he belonged.


At this moment in time, I believe that those of us who experienced the new Christianity imparted to us last autumn through the rituals and the breviary by our teacher Dr. Rudolf Steiner should, considering the present situation, feel obligated to help establish this Christianity right now as an active and influential force. Furthermore, those of us who are willing and able to devote all our energy to this task alone and are ready to act immediately, should start making intensive preparations together. Forming such a community strikes me as the necessary step now, as only this kind of community would be able to grasp the impulses imparted by the spiritual leader of a movement for the renewal of religious life.

This prospective community must hold in its consciousness that the focal point of future congregational life must be communal prayer in accordance with Christian rituals. The community must be an open one, trusting that the performance of these rituals will be made possible through a new connection to the spiritual stream that began with the deed of Christ and continues with the living Christ, a new beginning that will be given to people in due time.

This community can become strong through a life in Christ.

This community will work out of the power of Christ to reorganize of all areas of life and to create new forms of living in community with a view toward the work in future congregations.

Many questions have arisen among us since the Dornach course. Many practical details are still missing, and much of what we do have needs further elaboration. We must ask Dr. Steiner to help us continue our preparations.

I am resolved and prepared to join forces with those who see their life’s task as spreading the new Christianity. I will leave all past commitments behind and am ready to start work immediately. I request to shoulder the karma of the community, and I hope my own is not too heavy for the community to bear.

Berlin, March 4, 1922 Hermann Groh


Martin Borchart

Martin Borchart
June 3, 1894, Berlin – December 19, 1971, Stuttgart


Martin Borchart, a philosophy student in Marburg, together with his wife Elisabeth, née Pappe, created the conditions for an initial inquiry to Rudolf Steiner in 1920, resulting in the founding of The Christian Community.

Martin Borchart was born in Berlin on June 3, 1894, the second son of his parents. His brother Walter was three years old at the time, and from his father’s first marriage, there was a stepsister twenty years older. His father, a principal at Berlin elementary schools, was the 39th schoolmaster of his relatives, who came from the Brandenburg area. Martin’s mother was also a teacher. She came from a Silesian estate.

Martin Borchart experienced his school days as dreary and hardly stimulating. But the buildings and schoolyards, including the school gardens, were the playground for him and his three cousins, with whom he was constantly together. His father’s school and official residence were located at Jannowitzbrücke, later at Schlesischer Bahnhof in eastern Berlin. Martin attended the Realgymnasium after elementary school. He received private lessons in Latin from a candidate of theology whom he had met in 1911 on the occasion of a summer stay on the North Sea island of Wangerooge. This was Rudolf Bultmann, the demythologizer of the Bible, who later became famous. He suggested that Martin Borchart study later in Marburg.

From his childhood, Martin Borchart reported a ‘waking dream’ in which demonic beings with frightening grimaces appeared and beset him, as he later found depicted on Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altar in Colmar in the picture of the Temptation of St. Anthony. In 1913 he passed the Abitur, which he attributed, among other things, to the fact that he had previously dreamed the subject of the German essay – “Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht” (“World History is the World Judgment”).

Although a third kind of dream was later to play an important role in his life, Martin Borchart was not a dreamer; rather, throughout his life, he maintained a particularly spiritual openness, with all alertness. His gentle humor and his fine smile were visible signs of this.

After graduating from high school, one year before the beginning of World War I, he studied theology for two semesters in Berlin. He caught up on the humanistic baccalaureate (with Greek and Hebrew). He then summed up his experience of these studies in the devastating verdict: when you become a pastor, “you take with you into practical work what you have already brought to the university in terms of religiousness, minus what you have been deprived of by studying theology.”

Right at the beginning of the First World War, he volunteered for the military, for the 4th Guards Regiment. Very soon, he suffered at the front — where he had once, as it was later discovered, been very close to Emil Bock — a first wound at Langemarck. Both legs were shot through.
Later, in Russia, he was shot through the thigh. Because of, but also despite, such weakened legs, he reported for pilot training in 1916 and was accepted. In Gotha and then in Böblingen near Stuttgart, he learned to fly the small, still rather primitive, open fighter planes, whose machine guns had to be set so that they shot precisely between the rotating propeller blades, which was not always the case.

How delightfully Martin Borchart could tell about the training flight whose goal he had determined as the place of residence of the lady who was one day to become his wife. On the flight from Böblingen to Heidenheim, he did not find the previously determined topographic landmarks in the actual landscape below. He had ‘flown astray’ and now tried to read the place name in a low-level flight over a train station; instead, he read Platform 1 and, on the next approach, Platform 2. After landing among fruit trees, he received information from a farmer that this was Goeppingen. The flight was continued, ending in Heidenheim, but because of adverse wind conditions, he landed on a field in whose immediate vicinity much later The Christian Community’s church was to be built. The couple in the house near the emergency landing site told him that Miss Poppe had unfortunately just left. They asked whether he knew, by the way, that she was an anthroposophist. While the housewife was already on the next topic — the abominable new invention of chewing gum in America, with which one could pull long strings out of the mouth— the master of the house enlightened the guest who had landed so rudely from the sky, “… the anthroposophists believe in the astral body”. The merchant and world traveler Alfred Meebold had written a book about it, The Path to the Spirit.

From his experiences in the war as a reconnaissance pilot (from Metz), there is nothing to report further here. In January 1918, the engagement was celebrated; then, on June 18, his wedding with Elisabeth Poppe. Three children were born to the couple. Through his wife, he found access to anthroposophy. She had already, at the age of twenty-one, been accepted as a member of the Theosophical Society by Rudolf Steiner in 1912. After Martin and Elisabeth Borchart had rented a six-room apartment in Marburg/Lahn in the old town (at Marktgasse 18),  lively work with like-minded people could be established in its rooms. First, they founded a local group of the League for Threefolding together with the German-American Friedrich Oehlschlegel, who was soon appointed as one of their first teachers at the newly founded Stuttgart Waldorf School. When seven people were together, they founded a branch of the Anthroposophical Society. Martin Borchart became the branch leader.

A Düsseldorf lawyer’s son and student of painting, later of theology, from Munich contacted him. It was Johannes Werner Klein with whom the following events were to take place. Both students had switched to philosophy out of disappointment in their theology studies. Together they eagerly studied Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. On Friday, January 30, 1920, in the middle of the semester, Elisabeth Borchart woke up her husband in the morning: They had to go to Dornach on Monday to visit the first Goetheanum because there could be a train accident. Since her husband hesitated, she said that he could ask Mr. Klein if he wanted to go with them. This request was made in front of the College, and afterward, Johannes Werner Klein agreed to go along; the next day Margarete Deussen joined him.

The trip was delayed. Because of incipient inflation, money had to be obtained. They took along some items for sale in Switzerland. Equipped with a membership card of the “Johannes [Goetheanum] Bau-Verein” and some issues of the house magazine of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, the four travelers identified themselves at the consulate in Frankfurt, saying that they were welcome as students in Dornach.

A week after the idea of going to Dornach to visit the Goetheanum emerged, the four travelers had reached their destination and found that a lecture by Rudolf Steiner had been announced for the evening. (Today, this lecture of February 6, 1920, can be read in GA 196). Rudolf Steiner spoke several times about the necessity of the renewal of Christianity; that one must learn to think and act humanely, not bound to nation or tribe, as before. And then: “These things can inspire you to the question: But then what should the individual do?”

Now, in retrospect, it may seem as if those words had been spoken specifically for the new young guests from post-war Germany. In any case, Johannes Werner Klein felt inspired to ask Rudolf Steiner for an appointment, which took place on Sunday, February 8 [compare the chapter on J. W. Klein]. Rudolf Steiner noticed during this conversation that Johannes Werner Klein had not quite understood him and therefore asked for his companion, Martin Borchart; if he had a question, he would be available for him. Martin Borchart knew nothing of the content of the conversation that had just taken place between Rudolf Steiner and Johannes Werner Klein and had no question of his own. Borchart had already discussed his doctoral thesis with Rudolf Steiner and had also received a topic for it, which unfortunately has not been passed down; it did not materialize later because of the founding of The Christian Community.

However, the question about the third church, about Johannine Christianity and its religious form, was raised by Johannes Werner Klein (following the thoughts of the philosopher F.W. Schelling in his Philosophy of Revelation). This was followed up on later. Almost a year and a half had to pass before, again with Martin Borchart’s help, the correctly formulated request of a group to Rudolf Steiner made possible the promise of a first course oriented toward religious renewal. At that time, on May 22, 1921, when they were struggling for the right formulation of this request, Martin Borchart had just the day before acquired a newly published lecture cycle by Rudolf Steiner. During the night, he immediately studied the first three lectures (“Cosmic and Human Metamorphosis,” today in the Complete Edition Nr. 175: Building Stones to a Knowledge of the Mystery of Golgotha). More than four years earlier, on February 20, 1917, Rudolf Steiner had stated in Berlin, in the presence of Friedrich Rittelmeyer, the necessary distinction between spirit-cognition (anthroposophy) and religious practice. Spirit-consciousness is kindled through religious practice, and spirit-knowledge is acquired through anthroposophy. Martin Borchart spontaneously grasped this distinction at that time. He conveyed this quotation to Gottfried Husemann, who then succeeded in formulating the question about new forms of Christian religious practice. Thus, also through Martin Borchart’s contribution, the “June Course” for the preparatory group of eighteen students in Stuttgart became possible. From then on, he was a witness at all stages of the founding of The Christian Community.

On September 16, 1922, at the age of twenty-eight, he was ordained to the priesthood by Emil Bock. He actually wanted to go to Bremen, where he had hoped for help from an uncle to found a congregation there. However, he left this city to his friend Johannes Werner Klein and became the founder of the congregation in Dresden (1922), then in Bayreuth (1924), before becoming pastor in the Stuttgart congregation in 1925, where he found the center for all his further activities.

From then on, Martin Borchart worked as a priest in the Stuttgart congregation with Kurt von Wistinghausen, Erwin Schühle, Arnold Goebel, Friedrich Rittelmeyer, Emil Bock, Hermann Beckh, and many other colleagues who were only active there for a short time. In 1933 he was able to live with his family in the newly built seminary house. In 1940, however, human relations with Mr. and Mrs. Husemann, who lived in the seminary, made it seem more favorable for him and his family to move into the parish house in the Werfmershalde, into the apartment above the consecration room. From 1937 on, he suffered from the consequences of a motorcycle accident.

In 1938, after Friedrich Rittelmeyer’s death, Martin Borchart was appointed Lenker for Stuttgart and the Württemberg Swabian communities. This was followed by the banning of The Christian Community by the National Socialists on June 9, 1941, and several weeks of imprisonment in the Welzheim concentration camp. During the prohibition period, he prepared for an interpreter’s examination in English and Russian in Heidelberg but, for unknown reasons, did not take the final examination. Instead, in October 1942, he joined the Stuttgart office of the Central Dairy Kuhn, Rottenburg/Neckar, as office manager, personnel supervisor, and public relations officer. During the fire in the community center in 1944, he contracted severe smoke poisoning; from then on he suffered from respiratory problems.

In former times, he had been called ‘the handsome Martin.’ The tall, slender figure, leaning a little on his cane with the silver knob, a fine smile on his face: this is how the Stuttgart community experienced him as their priest for many decades.

A special concern of his was the annual conference of the Swabian communities. The people should get together from many places and experience The Christian Community. On the occasion of such a conference in 1965, the Swabian Building Fund was founded, a free economic association of the congregations for the financing of church buildings. Thus, for example, the congregations in Esslingen, Ulm, Murrhardt, Tübingen, Stuttgart, and Überlingen were able to build their churches. Thanks to this joint institution, many church centers have been built to this day.

Within the circle of priests of his lenkership and under his free and benevolent gaze, a fraternal common ground around the need for Honorarium requirements was able to unfold in the form of the first salary network in The Christian Community. From this side, the germs of new social forms were sown.

For decades Martin Borchart had to bear the brunt of the character of his founding colleague Gottfried Husemann, who died remarkably close to him. Martin was almost always silent, rarely and only quietly voicing his opinion. He lives in memory with the smile of a mildness that only borne pain makes possible; he could rejoice royally over what his pastor colleagues achieved, especially the younger ones.

Thus, in the last years of his life, he could often be heard saying gratefully and joyfully: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.” He died on the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 19, 1971, in Stuttgart, a few months after the death of his son Heinz, who had also become a priest. His crossing of the threshold led him directly into the days of the Christmas events. The Christian Community owes to his selflessness the decisive act of mediation in the hour of its foundation.


The realization that a renewal of religious life was necessary for the salutary progress of humankind, and the will to help in this, brought together the participants of the Stuttgart Theology Course in June 1921. These young theologians were of the opinion that the theological faculty could not give them a fruitful preparation for their goal, and a state-church office could not give them the right field for their work. Therefore they turned to Dr. Steiner to receive from him what anthroposophy could give them to prepare them to found viable Christian communities. Practically, the work of financing was immediately set in motion at that time, which was to create a basis for making the spiritual work possible. Since a certain financial basis now seems to have been created which could support our work in the beginning, and since many signs in the present seem to me to indicate that we would be fulfilling a time requirement if our work were to begin now, and that perhaps the appropriate period could be missed by prolonged hesitation, it seems to me necessary that those should come together who are willing to put their full strength into it at once. An educational course led by Dr. Steiner, seems to me to be an indispensable prerequisite. I can overcome the consciousness of my inadequacy and unworthiness only by hoping to grow through the great cause. And so I now want to stand up for it completely, giving up my previous work.

-Martin Borchart


Heinrich Ogilvie

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Cindy Hindes

Heinrich Ogilvie

July 18, 1893, Schleusingen – February 15, 1988, Zeist


Heinrich Ogilvie’s father was supposed to have taken over the administration of at least one of the family estates in the Memelland. For this purpose, he had studied and graduated in law. However, shortly after he took over the administration, he voluntarily renounced his inheritance in favor of his younger brother, who did not yet have a profession. He then became a lawyer in the small Thuringian town of Schleusingen and married the daughter of the local high school principal.

Heinrich Ogilvie was born in Schleusingen on July 18, 1893, the third of eight children. Two siblings died early. As the eldest surviving son, Heinrich Ogilvie received a particularly strict upbringing in keeping with family tradition. A weakness in the little child’s back caused the doctor to prescribe a two-year bed rest treatment. The boy was also often sick, and, in some cases, had repeated childhood illnesses. He was so weak in elementary school, that he was considered a dreamer and was tormented by his comrades. For example, they repeatedly pressed him crosswise against a wall. Finally, on one such occasion, he managed to stage a powerful outburst of anger, with which he was able to send his classmates fleeing.

In him, who on his father’s side came from an old Scottish noble family, there lived an overpowering soul of will, but also of passions, as he himself described it in the small booklet of his memoirs, Jakob, wo bist du [Jacob, Where Are You]?

He fared better in high school. The teachers and the subject matter didn’t appeal to him very much, but the circumstances seemed more humane because the director was his mother’s grandfather.

An overwhelmingly painful stroke of destiny came into his childhood life with the news of his mother’s death, which reached the twelve-year-old Heinrich during summer vacation on the island of Föhr. Now the world of childhood perished, and another world appeared on the horizon of consciousness. He wanted to turn toward it. Now it was clear to him: I want to become a pastor! Every Sunday, he went to the Lutheran church with his grandfather. But after age fourteen, distress, doubts, and the passions of the “wild blood” of the ancestors increased in his soul.

For a year, the fifteen-year-old was preoccupied with Lenau’s epic The Albigensians with its impressive description of the so-called heretics. At sixteen, he was fascinated by the Epistle to the Galatians from the New Testament because he found in it the motif of the freedom of human conscience as he understood it. In the same year, however, his beloved and revered grandfather was snatched from him (1909). It was the second death in his young life that marked his soul.

Now Heinrich founded a literary students’ association. He read poems — on one evening, for example, by Goethe – but not before he had read all of Goethe’s poems for himself and selected those that were important to him. Schiller’s dramas, as well as many others, were treated in the same way. The young man had now become also physically stronger. He practiced a lot of sports: gymnastics, competitive swimming, and soccer.

In 1911 at eighteen, Heinrich Ogilvie graduated from high school and immediately began to study theology (in Halle an der Saale, among other places). He also read philosophy, psychology, politics, and art history. However, doubts about everything that had been handed down, ignited by an article by Johannes Müller (“Glaube und Wissen” [Faith and Knowledge]), pressed him hard. But when the World War broke out in 1914, he hoped to escape this world of doubt and bleak meaninglessness by dying in a hail of bullets.

A third time he looked death in the eye: it was a wound he had to endure. A sniper’s bullet had shattered his thigh while he was transporting a wounded comrade. After eight months in the hospital, the twenty-one-year-old had to learn to live with the fact of his disability. Nevertheless, he was able to take his theological state examination during this time.

Finally, however, he was drafted again as a guard soldier. The most important event of this second period of military service for him was his comradeship with a very simple Catholic soldier from Baden, in whom he experienced the self-evident religiosity and faith, from which he himself was meanwhile so very distant. He wrote: “In the primal goodness and love, in the freedom and irresistible truthfulness of his being, I saw the reality of Christ in a man. Now I knew that the Son of Man had lived and was still alive. Life on earth has a meaning. There is an overcoming of decadence. Gradually, I saw in more and more people that which is of Christ or what is waiting for Him. It was possible to live and work for that.”

After the end of the war, he took over the leadership of a kind of student residential community, the “Tholuk-Konvikt” in Halle an der Saale. In 1919 he passed the first and, in 1921, the second examinations and was thus a candidate for the ministry. But he did not want to take on a pastorate. He wanted to be socially active. In fact, he wanted to renew the whole of culture. He founded a country home for needy young men with that Catholic comrade.

To get to know agriculture, he hired out as a farmhand to a farmer in the Saale Valley. During this time, he became engaged to Margarete Schulze, an elementary school teacher, who was to accompany him for many decades as a faithful wife and mother of four children. Another time, Heinrich Ogilvie was in the village Redentin near Wismar in Mecklenburg to run – all by himself – a small, rather neglected farm. During this time, Rudolf Steiner’s book How to Know Higher Worlds came into his hands. He read it up to the middle but then put it aside with the verdict: “It is excellent, but it is not for me.”

There in Redentin, suddenly, unannounced, a strange student stood in front of him in the stable. It was the summer of 1921. Gottfried Husemann had set out on his journey after the “June Course.” Among other addresses, he also had Heinrich Ogilvie’s with him, which he had received from Arnold Goebel and Waldemar Mickisch. Gottfried Husemann, the foreign student, invited Heinrich Ogilvie to come to the “Autumn Course” in Dornach. But the latter did not want to know anything about it and sent him away. Just then, his fiancee came along and said, “Bring him back, bring him back, join them, this is your path!” But Heinrich Ogilvie did not do it.

He was asked in Marburg/Lahn to take over the leadership of a “social work-community” and establish a rural folk high school in the spirit of the ideas of Sigmund Schulze and his “Sozialen Arbeitsgemeinschaft Berlin-Ost”. Three professors, among them Paul Natorp and Rudolf Otto, acted as promoters of this enterprise.

Rudolf Otto wanted Heinrich Ogilvie to be the secretary of his “World Federation of Religions.” Ogilvie also rejected this. His ideal, which he wanted to serve, was: Everything in life should become a sacrament.

At Easter 1922, he became director of the Municipal Adult Education Center in Kassel. Quakers had provided a salary of thirty thousand marks for three months in advance. (There was inflation.) With this security, Heinrich Ogilvie thought he could marry. On April 12, 1922, his father’s seventieth birthday, the civil marriage took place. Three days later, his father died suddenly. Again, death was closely connected with a major step in his destiny. The marriage produced three sons and a daughter.

After the meeting of those who had decided to found The Christian Community in Berlin in March 1922, Richard Gitzke went to Kassel to prepare for the formation of a congregation there. He also appeared at the Volkshochschule  [folk high school] of Kassel and invited Heinrich Ogilvie to attend his two lectures.

In the previous winter of 1921/22, Heinrich Ogilvie had first experienced Rudolf Steiner at his lecture given in Frankfurt. Ogilvie noticed on the train ride back at night to Marburg that in discussion with other listeners, he defended Rudolf Steiner, although the lecture had given him nothing, as he thought. Then, in Kassel, it was similar. Heinrich Ogilvie attended Richard Gitzke’s lectures and found himself in the role of the interpreter in the subsequent discussions, without having connected with anything that was said.

Heinrich Ogilvie did not want to become a member of the religious renewal movement. But there must be something to learn in the group, he thought. Therefore he wanted to get to know these people. He went to Breitbrunn. The people of the circle and most of what they said seemed strange to him. He had to endure severe trials of the soul and transformations: “A presentation by Harald Schilling on “Workers and Destiny” overturned my whole socialism.”

Toward the end of the meeting, he decided to go to Dornach to co-found The Christian Community. Now it was clear to him that “an objective religious life in cultus and sacrament creates foundations also for the solution of the social question.” He asked his wife by telegraph to come to Breitbrunn; she was to be involved in the decision. She then told him: “I told you right away that this is your path. Of course, I will go with you. But we should not have married, for you must be unmarried.”

By the end of the weeks in Breitbrunn, Heinrich Ogilvie had canceled the pastoral care of communist workers that he had already promised to some factory owners in Zeitz, Saxony. Now he was free for “the cause.” The will that had long before animated the twelve-year-old at the death of his mother was fulfilled. On September 16, he was ordained by Emil Bock and then sent out as a pastor of The Christian Community.

He wanted to found a congregation in Dortmund. A proper room could not be found – only a small chamber in Annen with a widow who had given birth to twenty-two children. Every morning he drove to Witten to work ten hours a day as a hauler. But his health could not stand this for more than half a year: “Dust lung” forced him to stop. After discussions, lectures, and courses, however, first a human basis and then also a financial basis for community work arose. It still took a whole year before the first Consecration Service could be held in Dortmund in the fall of 1923.

Despite all the difficulties that had to be overcome everywhere when the first congregations were founded at that time, five of the founders had to struggle with particular obstacles: Herman Groh, also Wolfgang Schickler in Essen, Walter Gradenwitz in Düsseldorf, Gottfried Husemann in Cologne and Heinrich Ogilvie in Dortmund.

For Heinrich Ogilvie, this first period of pioneering work lasted until the spring of 1925, when his strength was exhausted. He recuperated in the sanatorium run by anthroposophical doctors in Gnadenwald near Hall in Tyrol and then in Breitbrunn on Lake Ammersee in Upper Bavaria, where he was a guest of Margareta Morgenstern and Michael Bauer. He regained the health that allowed him to accept the request to move to the Netherlands to found The Christian Community there.

After Emil Bock’s first visit to the Netherlands in November 1924, a preparatory group for the founding of The Christian Community had formed in The Hague. The group invited him to lecture again in November 1925. On this occasion, Emil Bock baptized two children, and the Dutchmen Ludovicus Mirandolle, Gerrit Gerretsen, and Cornelis Los decided to seek the priesthood. As early as January 1926, Emil Bock again traveled to the Netherlands together with Friedrich Rittelmeyer and Heinrich Ogilvie. In addition to lectures, Rittelmeyer held the first Consecration of the Human Being in a small circle on February 7, 1926. On Palm Sunday 1926, the first Consecration Service was publicly celebrated by Emil Bock in The Hague and simultaneously by Heinrich Ogilvie in Amsterdam. The latter decided to stay in the Netherlands and took care of the translation of the text of the Consecration Service, together with the three aforementioned Dutchmen and Jeanne Brunier. As a result, on St. John’s Day 1926 in The Hague, Ogilvie celebrated the first Consecration Service in Dutch.

In the following months, he prepared the founding of congregations also in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The founding in The Hague occurred on November 13, 1926, with 20 people. Initially, celebrations were held in a private house. The later co-workers, Ludovicus Mirandolle, Gerrit A. Gerretsen, and Cornelis Los, were actively involved in this first community established outside the German-speaking area. After Gerretsen’s and Los’s ordinations on December 19, 1926, Heinrich Ogilvie moved to Amsterdam, where community life was concentrated in the house at Johannes-Verhulststraat 41 for many years, starting in 1930.

In the 1930s, Heinrich Ogilvie filled in for Gottfried Husemann’s Lenker activities in the Ruhr region before he himself was given the Lenker’s office in 1938. In 1935, The Christian Community was officially recognized as a church in the Netherlands by the Dutch Ministry of Justice. In the same year, the congregation was able to move into the very first room it had constructed for the sacraments. When the National Socialists (Nazis) occupied the Netherlands in 1940 during the Second World War, outer conditions were oppressive but strengthening for the community: The congregation in Amsterdam also had forty Jewish members. In 1941 Heinrich Ogilvie was banned from working. However, a high police officer named Ogilvie – a sixth cousin – repeatedly allowed the personnel file to disappear at the bottom of the mountain of files.

In 1945, his community work and his Lenker activity from 1938 could be taken up again publicly. In Amsterdam, the purchase of a house was possible. In 1948 the well-known conference center “Land en Bosch” was built, where many children’s and youth camps, conferences, meetings, and synods took place over several decades. In 1956 the retirement home Valckenbosch was opened in Zeist, and in the following decade, the three impressive church buildings in Zeist, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam.

As a result of a serious accident in 1956, in which Ogilvie re-injured the leg wounded in World War I, he had to endure severe pain for eight months – deliberately without narcotics. Annual recuperative stays in Switzerland and many trips to almost all European countries and the Near East were also part of his life. Especially appreciated is his translation work. Ogilvie is to be thanked for a complete translation of the New Testament into Dutch and, in the last years of his life, into German.

With his wife, he moved to the retirement home in Valckenbosch. After her death, Heinrich Ogilvie continued to work there with unbroken alertness and his willful spontaneous temperament until he died in Zeist on February 15, 1988 – a pioneer of The Christian Community of a very original kind.


Kurt Philippi

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Cindy Hindes

October 16, 1892, Munich – March 19, 1955, Nuremberg

Kurt Philippi was born in Munich on October 16, 1892. His father had a store for shoemaking supplies; his mother was a court actress, first in Darmstadt, then in Munich. In the year after his birth, the young family moved to Teplitz in Bohemia, where his father took over the management of a shoe factory. There, in Teplitz, his siblings Else and Paul were also born. Else died of diphtheria at the age of four.

Kurt Philippi’s early childhood ended in 1899. The family moved to Berlin, where his father became a salesman after losing almost his entire fortune as co-owner of the Teplitz factory.

The boy began his schooling there in Berlin. His last school was the Hohenzollern-Reformgymnasium Schöneberg, which he left in February 1912 with the certificate to study German and new languages. This decision was based on his talent for these subjects and his desire to become a librarian. However, after leaving school, various fateful encounters and experiences led him to study Protestant theology at the University of Berlin in April 1912.

In October 1913, his father died of a stroke. Through iron diligence, supported by Kurt’s mother, who managed the business correspondence, he had created a financial basis again and thus made Kurt’s studies possible.

In February 1915, Kurt Philippi was called up for military service in World War I. He first took part in the Russian campaign and then went to the Western Front in France. He experienced all the phases of positional warfare with their immense human losses in battle until the retreat.

At the beginning of October 1918, Kurt Philippi fell ill with severe influenza on the Western Front and had to be sent to the reserve military hospital in Aschaffenburg. The disease had not yet been overcome when he was released in November. This not fully healed illness continued to make his physical constitution appear fragile. It was certainly a major cause of his many years of suffering and his relatively early death.

He resumed his theological studies in Berlin in the winter semester of 1918/19 and passed his exams in the spring of 1922. However, great doubts of faith had arisen in Kurt Philippi, probably not least due to his war experiences. They made it seem impossible for him to enter a parish office of the regional church. The Protestant doctrine of the sacrament and the administration of the sacrament, in particular, made it impossible for him to cooperate. Therefore, during his last semesters of theology studies, he had already taken up training in the institute of Dr. E. Drach, lecturer for language education and the art of lecturing at the University of Berlin. He completed this one-and-a-half-year course of study with a diploma as a ‘teacher for voice training and performance art, especially for purposes of the German school’.

In his second period of study after the World War, Kurt Philippi became acquainted with Friedrich Rittelmeyer, Emil Bock and the circle that had formed around them and thereby with anthroposophy. Unfortunately, we do not know how these encounters took place. Kurt Philippi only related that he joined everything “with enthusiasm”.

His enthusiasm became even stronger in the preparation for religious renewal. Here it was a matter of a new understanding of the sacraments comprehensible to present-day consciousness and the intention to cultivate a completely renewed form of cultus.

Thus Kurt Philippi became a co-founder of The Christian Community. He reported how much he was touched by Michael Bauer’s visit to Breitbrunn during the preparatory meeting for Dornach. Bauer impressively spoke to the circle that the most important thing for a spiritual aspirant, i.e., a pastor, is “inner composure,” which is true “wood-chopping work,” and yet must proceed without any physical tension.

Emil Bock ordained Kurt Philippi on September 16, 1922, shortly before Kurt’s 30th birthday, as the eighteenth of the whole circle.

He went from Dornach to Magdeburg, where he had already prepared a church foundation. This city of Ottonian Christianity on the Elbe, directed by the Kaiser, did not immediately open up to the newcomer. It was a difficult time. Kurt Philippi soon went to Naumburg-an-der-Saale, where he replaced his Berlin friend Dr. Eberhard Kurras. His time in Naumburg also lasted only briefly – as did his following time in Leipzig. In February 1926, after three-and-a-third years of teaching in three different places, Kurt Philippi came to Nuremberg, the site of the imperial castle.

In Nuremberg, he accomplished his real life’s work; he worked there as a quiet, always active congregational pastor and companion of his fellow pastors Wilhelm Kelber, Karl Ludwig and later Eberhard Kurras. From his marriage in Nuremberg came two sons. He was there when The Christian Community was banned on June 9, 1941, and remained there with his family during the war. He was spared military service for health reasons until the final phase, when he finally had to enlist in the Volkssturm. From 1941 to 1943, he trained as a bookseller at the M. Edelmann company in Nuremberg.

During the four years of the ban, he was the only pastor present in Nuremberg and thus could maintain personal relationships with the parishioners in the hard-hit city. During the war, he accompanied in prayer his friends in the field, especially those who had fallen.

Immediately after the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the Third Reich, he began the work in the community when his colleagues could not yet be back in Nuremberg. At Pentecost 1945, the first Consecration Service after the war was read with congregation members and celebrated soon after.

He prepared confirmands for twenty years, and time and again, he brought a circle of players to impressive performances in the Oberufer Christmas plays.

Kurt Philippi also cultivated contacts with the authorities and thus made it possible to build a community center as early as 1948/49, just outside the old city wall under the Kaiserburg on a partial plot of the Schwanhäußergarten. His quiet manner inspired confidence, and the building was able to come about despite all the adverse circumstances. It was not until 1976 that it had to make way for a much larger church building.

Emil Bock consecrated this first building on December 18, 1949. One year later, Kurt Philippi experienced the same symptoms of illness as in 1918. Recuperation and sanatorium stays were necessary. But the disease (Parkinson’s) could not be stopped. Much patience had to be exercised. A large circle of friends accompanied his time of suffering.

He suffered in full consciousness until shortly before his death on March 19, 1955. He passed away in the sixty-third year of his life, like so many of the founding circle.

Kurt Philippi’s quiet, restrained nature was never forward. Everything that stood out, everything conspicuous, was alien to his nature. In silence, he expressed many things that moved him in the form of poems — without wanting to be a poet. He wrote many such poems, often on current events. His life would be incompletely represented if some of these poems were not considered. The poems “Den Kindern unserer Zeit [The Children of our Time]” he sent to Emil Bock shortly before his death; the second and third probably speak more of his own longing.



Inspired by Mr. Klein’s remarks, the following has become clear to me on repeated reflection: If the goal of religious renewal set forth in the Dornach Commitments is to be realized in the foreseeable future, it is necessary that those who wish to work for this goal join together in a community during the Berlin University Week to prepare themselves for their public work as soon as possible in close cooperation under the direction of Dr. Steiner, above all to strengthen the power and purity of the religious impulse within themselves and to acquire pedagogical insights and skills. If possible, public lectures should begin this summer. As desirable as greater inner maturity and, ultimately, the attainment of academic degrees and certificates of competency would be for us, it seems to me at the present time to be incomparably more important that our seeds be sown while the wind is still reasonably calm. So I would urge Dr. Steiner to be helpful to us in our preparation for public activity. I am determined, after such preparation, to devote myself immediately to public activity in the interests of our cause if the Central Office deems the time suitable and me qualified to do so.

Kurt Philippi, Berlin-Friedenau, November 26, 1922



Otto Becher

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Cindy Hindes

January 26, 1891, Holzminden/Weser – July 19, 1954, Pforzheim

When Otto Becher died after a severe operation in Pforzheim on July 19, 1954, another of the founders of our earthly work was lost. He was sixty-three. What he had given shone as a special color in the picture of the first decades.

Otto Becher was born in Holzminden/Weser on January 26, 1891. He grew up in this landscape of old Carolingian spirituality near the Corvey monastery. His mother, Anna, died early. His father Emil was pious, with a personality of positive faith. His son admired him very much, even though later in his studies, Otto Becher belonged to the most radical wing of critical theology.

Something particularly straightforward lived in Otto Becher, in his whole being, but especially in his thinking and judging. “In the service of that which was recognized as true and that which was felt to be sacred, he consumed himself completely with those powers which were at his disposal.” — that was how his friend Rudolf Meyer described it.

Initially, Otto Becher had worked in Leipzig with Wilhelm Wundt in the Psychological Seminar. Then he moved to Göttingen to study the strictly phenomenological direction of Edmund Husserl. Studies in the philosophy of religion and the pedagogical seminar with Professor Arthur Titius revealed Becher’s talents so strongly that Titius invited him to teach with him. But the twenty-four-year-old refused. His honesty in discernment forbade him to pass along what was traditional and dogmatically obscure. But he studied intensively; he received a scholarship and was allowed to live in the Theologischen Stift. His external needs were always modest. When Rudolf Meyer met him in 1915, he was like a monk in his cell—but embracing all cultures in spirit.

During their heated discussions and conversations ‘in his cell’ about Julian the Apostate, the phrase emerged: “What you are looking for could be called, in the sense of Goethe, the cross entwined with roses.”

This appealed to Otto Becher in the depths of his soul, after which the friends sought Goethe’s poem “The Mysteries”; it described how Brother Mark finds the gate of the Brotherhood of the Rosicrucian.

Rudolf Meyer had found his way to anthroposophy in 1916. He had heard that at the first Goetheanum building, a stage curtain was planned to show an image of the motif of Brother Mark finding the Rosicrucian Gate. Otto Becher was horrified that his friend was getting involved in such fantastic things as anthroposophy. Nevertheless, he began to familiarize himself with the new spiritual science and subsequently became a thorough connoisseur and exponent of anthroposophy.

It was clear to Otto Becher that he could not take on any position as pastor or lecturer. So he first worked as a house teacher at the Silesian castle of Lubowitz near Ratibor, from which Josef von Eichendorff came, then with Stegemanns at Gut Marienstein, north of Göttingen. He also worked for a time as an educator with Paul Geheeb at the ‘Odenwaldschule’.

When the very first circle of eighteen students gathered with Rudolf Steiner for the June Course in Stuttgart in 1921, Otto Becher was among them. For him, the consequence was to withdraw from his spiritual-scientific studies and turn to the work of religious renewal. Four months later, he attended the Autumn Course for theologians in Dornach and expressed his will to cooperate, even though he thought he had only weak forces. From May 1922, he prepared the foundation of a congregation in Breslau.

In the Breitbrunn photo, we see him standing in the middle next to Pastor Karl Ludwig. Compared to the youth of most of the participants, both were already more mature professional men. Emil Bock ordained Otto Becher in Dornach on September 16, 1922, the day of The Christian Community’s founding.

After the Dornach events, Otto Becher founded the congregation in Hannover together with Claus von der Decken. But he remained there only a year and then, at Rudolf Meyer’s request, worked in the Görlitz congregation.

This circumstance made it possible for him to attend the conference at Koberwitz Castle near Breslau from June 7-16, 1924, where Rudolf Steiner held the agricultural course that spiritually founded the biodynamic way of farming. A small insignificant episode has come down to us from those days, but it characterizes Otto Becher’s poverty and frugality. On the daily train ride from Breslau to Koberwitz, a lady noticed that Otto Becher was wearing no socks and completely worn shoes despite the wet and cold weather. She immediately made sure that he received what he needed as a gift.

In October 1924, Otto Becher, at the age of thirty-three, took up his work in the Pforzheim community. It had been founded by Walter Gradenwitz, who then worked with him for some time.

For over thirty years, he built up and maintained the congregation in Pforzheim. Of benefit was his comprehensive education in many areas, his pedagogical experience in religious education for children and youth work, but above all, his spiritually clear and modest, engaging, friendly manner.

Although Rudolf Meyer had repeatedly asked him to write, he did not publish any of his work. A wealth of manuscripts were confiscated by the Gestapo when The Christian Community was banned, and he was taken into custody for three weeks. During the time when the Christian Community was banned, he worked as a secretary in Herbert Witzenmann’s metal tube factory.

Apart from Pforzheim, he gave lectures in only a few towns in Baden. According to the judgment of his colleagues, these were true gifts of the spirit.

With his commitment as a member of the board of the school association, he promoted the founding of the Pforzheim Waldorf School. He was wholeheartedly involved in the work of the branch of the Anthroposophical Society. In addition, he was a well-known personality in that town, which on February 23, 1945, had been so severely hit by the war.

So it was natural that at Becher’s death, the mayor wrote a heartily cordial letter and that the newspaper paid detailed tribute to his work in the city.

Perhaps two things characterize Otto Becher best: The topic of his last series of lectures in the congregation was: “The Work of Christ in the Intellectual History of the Occident.” His innermost concern was to trace Christ’s activity discerningly and serve Him in worship. And secondly, he was like a secret knight who sensed his proper hour approaching. Thinking of repeated earth lives, he himself considered his rich working life only as a preparatory incarnation.

He cared for the renewed sacraments as a priest for thirty-three years.


226 Otto Becher


For a long time I had the feeling that the will for a religious renewal, which had begun to flow at our first course in Stuttgart in June, had since then increasingly moved from the practical-religious to the theoretical-theological and thus threatened to peter out. Through Mr. Rudolf Meyer and Mr. Borchart, I have now been informed that many of us course participants have become aware of this and have decided to call for the purification of the original impulse through explanations.

I hereby join these rallies. Even if, on the one hand, the whole magnitude and gravity of our task cannot be brought seriously enough into consciousness, and the inadequacy of one’s own powers, measured against the task, is experienced in a particularly deep and painful way, I nevertheless believe that it is precisely the cliff of hidden egoism that is avoided if, trusting in the soul-strengthening and enriching effect of the spiritual knowledge that Dr. Steiner has made accessible to us, one courageously begins with practical religious work. Personal imperfections are certainly best overcome in spiritual-religious action and life itself. It is foreseeable that from the beginning of our practical work, all means will be used to fight against us. However, I now believe that a preceding public theoretical propaganda in the theological world will rather aggravate than alleviate the conflict with it. For the confession of the Spirit is, after all, ultimately a matter of will. Yes, there is a danger that our impulse will be stifled by the agitation of the press if the public learns of our will sooner than it has become action. Furthermore, it should be noted that the economic possibilities of church planting are only getting smaller and smaller, and that the financing of our movement can only really start to flow after the practical work has begun. First the spiritual reality must be really experienced, if Impulse is to awaken in the people, which help to carry and spread the religious movement. The how of starting would have to be clarified quite soon in a meeting and to ask Dr. Steiner to give us further advice in this direction.

On the question of the leadership of our movement, I would only like to emphasize here that the spiritual freedom, the initiative, and the sense of responsibility of the individual co-workers must not be impaired in any way. The ideas of threefolding will have to guide us in this.

Finally, I declare that I am willing to use my weak forces for our practical-religious goals as soon as I am free in my line of work, which will probably be the case at the beginning of June.

Otto Becher

Marienstein, February 22, 1922.



This is the course of the great development of the world and of mankind: The power of the gods slowly becomes – from embodiment on earth to embodiment on earth – the power of the human being himself. Only in the distance from the gods can the human being develop independence, and only here can spiritual love arise from freedom and grow stronger. The earth is the place of the unfolding of the human ego and the human community. The true new community is based on the voluntary sacrifice of the strong. People who have awakened to the “I” are free to unite in the service of hatred and destruction, of the massification and disenchantment of the human being, or for his liberation and exaltation, for true humanity. To this kind of union above the word of Christ applies: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And Paul writes to the Colossians “When Christ comes to be revealed, you also will be revealed with him.” Thus the human being experiences himself as a germinating force for a new humanity and a new earth … The development of the will must not take place without transformation and healing; there must be a readiness to receive the divine power of grace, as in the archetype of Mary, but also of Mary Magdalene. Again and again we must become aware that we can “do no works” before God. All talents have an antisocial effect as long as they are not transformed and put at the service of Christ. Not paralysis, but highest increase of impulses is connected with it; now our goals become the world goals, and the world goals become our goals. The spiritual nobility of a true priestly royalty then moves into our souls.

Today, the anxious concern is everywhere: How will a peaceful cultural construction such as this be possible? The right bringers of peace can only be those who are inflamed by true Christian impulses. A true Christian community is called to carry out into the world the new angel’s work: “Peace on earth to men of good will.



Pastor Otto Becher died.

The Christian Community of Pforzheim lost its pastor.

Unexpectedly and suddenly, the Christian Community in Pforzheim lost its highly honored pastor, Pastor Otto Becher, after a brief serious illness. On October 31 of this year, it would have been three decades that Pastor Becher had ministered here. Born on 26.1.1891 in Holzminden, he first enjoyed a humanistic education and then studied theology and philosophy in Göttingen and Leipzig. At the age of thirty he came to anthroposophy as a constant seeker, but then found inner clarity and from this became the co-founder of the Christian Community in Germany already one year later. When he came to Pforzheim after another two years, he had soon settled in and devoted himself to this city and the circle of people he pastored with all love and intensity. His greatest and most prominent concern was to work out of silence. For the Pforzheim congregation his passing means an irreplaceable loss, since it revered him not only as a faithful intimate pastor, but also as an outstanding scholar of the humanities, as a joyful, life-loving artist, and as an excellent organizer with a talent for improvisation that was peculiar to him.


Wilhelm Johannes Salewski

Wilhelm Johannes Salewski

September 20,1889, Chemnitz – 1.2.1950, Unterlengenhardt


Four days after his ordination on September 16, 1922, and still during the founding events in Dornach, Wilhelm Salewski reached the age of thirty-three. He thus belonged to the middle-aged founders between the few older ones and the many very young ones. His birthday on September 20 fell on the ninth anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the first Goetheanum building.

Wilhelm Salewski was born in Chemnitz in 1889, the first of twelve children – five brothers and six sisters. His father came from a Pomeranian family of farmers and millers and was working in the dairy business at the time of his first son’s birth. Five years later, the family moved to the Vistula lowlands. On various farms in Rospitz and Sedlinen, in the vicinity of the town of Marienwerder, his father tried to earn the bare necessities for the growing family.

The children grew up in this agricultural area. They had to help with all the work. Self-cut willow wood from the banks of the Liebe River and their own peat were the heating material for the harsh winters. The walk to school took an hour. Assaults by the village youth had to be endured.

Wilhelm Salewski was at the top of his class throughout his school years. He passed the Abitur at the grammar school in Marienwerder in 1908. His parents, therefore, wanted him to study despite the lack of money. He was to become a pastor. His father was a strict pietist in the “Community Movement” within the national church. Young Wilhelm became familiar with and enthusiastic about the great epoch of German idealism while still at grammar school. He used the Fichte saying, “To have character – is to be German” as a motto in his graduation speech after leaving school.

Instead of theology, however, Wilhelm Salewski studied philosophy and philology in Greifswald, Marburg, Tübingen, and Berlin. From 1910 onward, the family lived In Dresden, where the father now ran a dairy wholesale business. There, the younger sisters and brothers experienced their big brother playing the piano for them, singing to the lute on hikes in the Ore Mountains, or opening up the world of paintings to them in the Gemäldegalerie [Old Masters’ Gallery] with Raphael’s Sistine Madonna and taking them to the opera.

With the outbreak of the First World War, he volunteered. He went with the ‘Grimma Hussars’ to the battles in Flanders. Later he fought in a machine-gun troop in Hungary, where he was also wounded. At the end of the war, we find him as a lieutenant in the military hospital in Leipzig. His brother Paul was killed in action in 1917.

Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to determine when Wilhelm Salewski became acquainted with anthroposophy, only that it happened through his encounter with the theatre troupe around Gottfried Haaß-Berkow. In any case, the doctoral thesis he submitted in Leipzig in 1919 was not accepted because it contained anthroposophical ideas.

Siblings still remember this time: how they heard their elder brother enthusiastically talking about Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy. Some sisters later found their way to The Christian Community, and his younger brother Hugo also became one of their priests in 1927. The most profound experience in Wilhelm Salewski’s biography was his participation in the opening weeks of the first Goetheanum building in Dornach, which Rudolf Steiner introduced with the motif in his address that in the future, science, religion, and art must be renewed from the spirit so that they can work together in a renewed way for a future culture. This is what the Goetheanum wants to serve.

The Anthroposophical Society engaged the “Thuringian philosopher” from Leipzig, who was involved there as a speaker in the threefold social order initiative in Elise Wolfram’s branch. Especially in the Ruhr area, he gave lectures to entrepreneurs and proletarians and had conversations with them. When the initiative soon had to be abandoned, Wilhelm Salewski worked as a home teacher in Bremen and also at a rural educational home. But he continued to be active in the anthroposophical movement, especially as a speaker on Goethe. In 1921, an essay by him appeared in the journal Die Tat, which Rudolf Steiner mentioned with praise in one of his lectures (on February 8, 1921, in GA 203, 1978, p. 213). Thus we see him already tried and tested in spiritual work when he came across the circle of founders of The Christian Community and immediately recognized the liturgical work he wanted to take on as the most important means in the struggle to overcome materialism and intellectualism.

From the autumn course in 1921 onwards, he was involved in every step of the founding of The Christian Community. He prepared the founding of the congregation in Düsseldorf but was then active in Karlsruhe for years until he moved to Stettin, where he remained until the Second World War. At a meeting of The Christian Community in Mannheim (October 1927), which Wilhelm Salewski had helped to prepare, he invited Marie Steiner and her Dornach speech choir to participate. These choral performances were the first outside Dornach and marked the beginning of a rich touring activity through many European countries.

He spent the first days of the prohibition period in 1941 in prison. After the Second World War, he worked as a priest in Bayreuth. For many months in 1949, he suffered from a serious illness which brought him to Unterlengenhardt (in the Black Forest) to the Burghalde clinic, where he died on February 1, 1950.

Not particularly tall, he was nevertheless a striking figure, stern-looking, with an eagle’s nose and a slightly melancholy expression around his mouth. His strong soul often seemed inhibited. His unhappy marriage remained without children. Those around him experienced him as somewhat reserved, almost withdrawn, and sometimes even brusque. He pondered a lot about the problem of evil.

Through countless lectures, he had worked for the first foundation of The Christian Community. There is hardly an issue of The Christian Community magazine in which he did not publish an essay, a story, a poem, or a book review. In 1931, Wilhelm Salewski’s only book publication appeared: Die Psychoanalyse Sigmund Freuds, Grundfragen und Konsequenzen – Als Protest gegen den Verleihung des Goethepreises an Sigmund Freud [The Psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, Basic Questions and Consequences – As a Protest against the Awarding of the Goethe Prize to Sigmund Freud]. He self-published “Briefe” (essays) with the overall title Goethes Wesen und Werk [Goethe’s Essence and Work].

Throughout his life, he had felt the mandate to continue to stand up for anthroposophy. In 1948 he wrote to the aged Marie Steiner, whose reply on the relationship between anthroposophy and The Christian Community is an important document: “… That is why your letter touched me. I cannot think that it is still a question of which of our movements will triumph over the other and how we should delimit our fields of work from each other. I think we must seek ways of fusion …. With best regards Marie Steiner. “ [Cf. the book: Marie Steiner und die Christengemeinschaft [Marie Steiner and The Christian Community] by Wolfgang Gädeke (Stuttgart).]


On the painting by Rembrandt

“Christ and the Disciples in Emmaus”

How familiar Emmaus is to me. –

I have to paint it again and again.

I saw Him walking with His own

through the evening field and hear His words:

… “suffering in Jerusalem … ”

… “enter into His glory … ”

and my heart burns within me.


You earth, shining with dew

golden grain, you silent animals,

how you are one in His peace.

You poor hut, more gloriously adorned

than Solomon’s consecrated temple.

I enter with Him, –

He breaks the bread, –

and flaming, glowing I saw in the hut a sun….

–Wilhelm Salewski


The Dornach theological course gave me the opportunity to recognize the essence of a contemporary liturgy and its absolute necessity for our present. Since the day I understood that intellectualism and materialism could be overcome through a liturgy, I have remained unwavering in my determination to work on the religious renewal of our people in the way that has been shown to us. The deepest essence of all that has been given to us by Dr. Steiner proves itself to me through the daily effect of strength that emanates from it. I hope and long that we will soon have the opportunity to work outwards.

Charlottenburg, March 4, 1922

  1. Salewski




Claus von der Decken

October 5, 1888, Preeten Castle – August 24, 1977, Kassel

The midwife had to navigate the flooded Elbe meadows to get to Claus von der Decken’s birth on October 5, 1888, at Preeten Castle near Neuhaus. Claus was the second of four children who were joined by a foster sister. His father, Ernst, from the old Hanoverian landed gentry, was the administrator of various estates. His mother, Anna, was born von Arnswald, whose three sisters were abbesses of the noble convents of Bassum, Medingen, and Ebstorf. Anyone who was brought into a noble convent had to have sixteen full noble great-great-grandparents.

Claus von der Decken was what was then called a country gentleman. But his father, who was actually an artistic man, had an unfortunate hand in his property management. The property, which he had invested in large tenement houses in the early years, brought him losses instead of the profits he had hoped for. Nevertheless, his relatives let him continue to work and helped him.

The last small property his father still had was in Adendorf, not far from Lüneburg. From there, Claus and his two brothers went to school in Lüneburg for a while. At times they also had tutors; the young governesses of the three boys had a lot to put up with.

Claus completed his schooling (around 1904) and then took up voluntary military service with the Saxon Guard Riders in Dresden, which he finished as a lieutenant in 1908. He could then devote himself entirely to his artistic inclinations. He studied painting – especially portraiture – at the art academies in Düsseldorf, Dresden, Munich, and Paris. He also undertook an art trip to Rome during this time.

Claus wrote poetry throughout his life – sometimes up to fifty poems a year, but he also wrote dramas and more. When he studied in Düsseldorf, he was friends with the family of Lory Smits, who later became the first eurythmist. The elder Smits taught Rudolf Steiner a poem by Claus, which he praised. Tradition has it that Claus was sitting in the next room of the Smits house in 1909 when Rudolf Steiner gave the well-known lecture cycle on the angelic hierarchies in the salon. It is certain that Claus had not yet found access to anthroposophy at that time, although his very first encounter with Rudolf Steiner had probably taken place a year earlier.

While still a student, he was secretly engaged to Cécile von Bodenberg. The family of the nobles and freemen of Bodenberg belonged to the so-called dynastic nobility. They had their own vassals, owned land the size of a principality between the rivers Aller and Weser, and naturally belonged to the Guelph party and wanted to see the king reinstated in Hanover.

His father ordered the bride and groom to wait seven years before getting married. Naturally, Claus volunteered for military service in the First World War after finishing his studies. But when his two brothers soon died in the field, Claus was transferred to the rear echelon to spare him as the last scion of his family; then, his father allowed him to marry. The wedding took place on October 3, 1916, in Hudemühlen, ‘Estate Three.’ Back in the military, Claus was constantly commissioned to make portraits of comrades and superiors. He was stricken with typhoid. After the war, he painted some portraits of fallen members of parliament for the Reichstag building in Berlin, but they later fell victim to fire.

During the war, he encountered anthroposophy anew with great intensity. After the end of the war, it was Rudolf Meyer who pushed him hard: “You came through the war alive. You must make yourself available to Rudolf Steiner and the Threefold Movement!” Claus von der Decken did not listen to him.

From January 1918 onwards, the family grew by one child a year until there were seven to feed. They lived in an outlying estate of Hudemühlen, Hademstorf, a rural inn. Claus earned money by painting portraits, some of them quite “lucrative.” Being nobility and recommended in aristocratic circles, he painted on estates as far away as Silesia.

Once again, Rudolf Meyer approached him. It was in summer of 1921; the first steps towards religious renewal in the sense of anthroposophy had been taken. The June Course had taken place. Rudolf Meyer was looking for co-workers and met Claus von der Decken in a confectioner’s shop in Hanover to invite him to join the Autumn Course in Dornach and to help with the future work. Only then had the decision matured to commit himself – thirteen or fourteen years after his first acquaintance with anthroposophy and his first encounter with Rudolf Steiner. Although the family already had three children – a fourth died in the same year – and the economic prospects were very poor, Claus von der Decken decided to take up the priesthood.

On September 16, 1922, he was ordained as a priest by Emil Bock in Dornach. Together with Otto Becher, he founded the community in Hanover. The family could continue to live outside in Hudemühlen (today Hodenhagen/Aller). When money became too tight, the father moved out again, far across the country, to paint portraits.

Martin Schmidt, a rye breeder who later became widely known, had the means at that time, both through the superheated steam machine production in Kassel and through funds from America, to acquire his own farm in 1924, shortly before the Koberwitz course, which established biodynamic agriculture and in which he participated. He bought the Eschenhof in Grammersdorf on Hemmelsdorfer Sea, northeast of Lübeck. This soon became the home of the von der Decken family. From there, Claus von der Decken took over the community work in Lübeck that Joachim Sydow had started from Rostock.

On the Eschenhof, the family had to endure difficult destinies, both humanly and in terms of health. Cécile von der Decken died in 1928, two years after the birth of her seventh child. Four years of family separation followed. The three older children moved with the Schmidt family to Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe to attend the Waldorf School. The three younger children stayed in Lübeck with their father and were looked after by his mother and sister.

On October 5, 1931, Claus von der Decken took up church work in Kassel. In 1932 he entered into his second marriage. Melly von der Decken, née Hegewald, had taken on the difficult task of raising six children as a stepmother under oppressive hardships. Until one month before his death, she faithfully stood by her husband for over forty-five years.

Claus von der Decken worked as a priest in Kassel for over four decades. The ban on the Christian Community (from June 9, 1941) brought better economic times for the family. At last, there were sufficient funds for subsistence because Claus was painting portraits again. On the other hand, a second heavy blow of fate struck the the family when two sons fell in the war.

The priest’s unusual humanitarian commitment had already amazed those around him in Lübeck, where he spoke and prayed with alcoholics about the Blue Cross’s work against alcohol addiction. One of them later had himself married by him. In Kassel, he helped Jewish people to escape during the Nazi era. During the heavy bombing raids, he visited the rubble sites, once rescuing a woman from the flames and giving her shelter with his own family.

He was distinguished by a particularly rich, strong emotional capacity. Unforgettable was his humor that expressed itself so quaintly when he told stories in the Low German dialect. He was an artist and a priest. His poems were published in the magazine The Christengemeinschaft. Of his dramas, Pontius Pilatus was published in 1963. Claus von der Decken experienced a special, humanitarian and amicable fulfillment of his work on the occasion of a series of community camps, which he organized with Wolf-Dietrich von Kurnatowski, Friedrich Gädeke, and other colleagues in the 1950s and 1960s on the Sonnenberg in the Upper Harz, north of St. Andreasberg.

As a poet and painter, he was tirelessly active. His most important works for the priests’ circle are probably the two fine death portraits of Friedrich Rittelmeyer and Emil Bock. But he had been committed to working for a new priesthood ever since he asked Rudolf Steiner: “Can the priesthood be conducive with my artistry?” and the latter had replied: “Yes, your artistry can be conducive to your priesthood.” Many destinies in the priest circle would have been better mastered if this sentence had been taken to heart.

On August 24, 1977,  Claus von der Decken died in Kassel a few weeks before his 89th birthday.


Wilhelm Alexander Ruhtenberg

Die Gruender der Christengemeinschaft: Ein Schicksalsnetz
By Rudolf F. Gaedeke
Translated by Cindy Hindes

Wilhelm Ruhtenberg – January 17, 1888, Riga – August 31, 1954, Bensberg


Wilhelm Ruhtenberg was born in Riga on January 17, 1888, the fourth of six children. His father ran a large cigarette factory in the former Hanseatic city with worldwide trade relations through the Russian Empire to Vladivostok. The upper-middle-class life of a Baltic family based on traditions formed the framework of the boy’s childhood. In the tenth year of his life, a serious illness forced him to a two-year sickbed. In order to spare him the ancient languages, his father sent him to a secondary school after his recovery. Throughout his life, Ruhtenberg admired his teacher there with gratitude.

Reading a biography of a minister (O. Funke, Die Fußspuren des lebendigen Gottes auf meinem Lebenswege [Footprints of the Living God on My Life Path]) ignited in him the will to become a pastor. The tradition of the merchant family and the unsuitable school education without ancient languages initially stood in the way. But his father allowed him to take private lessons in Latin and Greek so that a special examination would allow him to graduate from secondary school and study theology.

Ruhtenberg studied at the University of Dorpat from the autumn of 1907 until his academic exams with Adolf von Harnack in the autumn of 1914. He spent one semester each in Berlin and Leipzig. His disappointment with the study of theology and its then-common textual criticism of the Bible was so deep that acting as a preacher of the Gospel and pastor was out of the question.

His time in Dorpat, however, brought him a meeting with Nora Umblia, who was born and raised there. Their marriage, celebrated in 1913, brought two children. Without later remembering personally, he also met the student Herbert Hahn in Dorpat.

The First World War isolated the young family in Riga. They had to refrain from traveling abroad or studying. Ruhtenberg became a teacher at a private high school in Riga in 1914, and at the end of 1915, pastor-adjunct at St. Gertrude’s Church until 1917. While he was devoting his time primarily with private philosophical studies, the end of the war came and then that most terrible, inhuman time.

After the serious illness that he had survived in childhood, he now came even closer to death from hunger and months of mortal danger during the occupation. His wife managed to escape with the children. He himself was initially hired under the Bolsheviks as an elementary school lecturer. He had become acquainted with Rudolf Steiner’s writings at a bookseller’s in Riga and had an enduring enthusiasm for Steiner’s Riddles of Philosophy. This presentation rekindled in him a confidence in thinking and thus in the spirit. His audience grew when he treated the ancient Greek thinkers (pre-Socratics) with this background.

But because he was a pastor,  he was suddenly taken to Dünaburg with a penal battalion condemned to death. He survived this time probably only because he had previously trained his body, weakened by hunger, to good performance through much sport. Now, with the help of Jews, and disguised as a Jew, he was able to escape by ship across the Baltic Sea to Lübeck (1919). Behind him, in the east, a world was lost.

He then had the inner certainty that he would have to move to Stuttgart. There the future would show itself; above all, he would meet Rudolf Steiner. So he went to Stuttgart, met his wife and children again and heard a public lecture by Rudolf Steiner for the first time. Soon he became a member of the Anthroposophical Society. Then followed the great years of intensive double activity. First, Rudolf Steiner soon accepted him as a class teacher in the Waldorf School (January 1921). He was exactly 33 years old when this request, which he had made, was granted.

The family lived – always with a few boarding students – in a small wooden house on the school grounds on Uhlandshöhe. A small fortune had been lost to him in the collapse of Futurum A.G. in Switzerland. ( Futurum A.G. was an “Economic Society for the International Promotion of Economic and Spiritual Values”, i.e. a bank-like institute, with headquarters in Dornach existing from 1920 to 1924.)

Before being hired as a teacher, Wilhelm Ruhtenberg had asked Rudolf Steiner if he should take over an offered pastorate. Rudolf Steiner wanted only to answer the question in the affirmative if it would be possible to preach from the pulpit about repeated earth lives—only then would it make sense.

In addition to his work as a classroom teacher, he was soon appointed as a teacher of independent Christian religious education with the task of holding Sunday services as well. His religious groups had over sixty children! During the same period, people repeatedly turned to him – or were sent to him by Rudolf Steiner –requesting baptisms or marriages.

So it happened that he asked Rudolf Steiner for a baptismal ritual and a wedding ritual and received them – with the details for the vestments and other elements of the ceremony. In this way, shortly before the actual founding of The Christian Community, when the nascent circle of priests was just forming, there were six baptisms and one wedding with the same wording as was then handed over to The Christian Community. The rituals were given to Ruhtenberg as an ordained pastor, because he had official authorization to perfom baptisms and weddings.

Then the time came for the immediate founding of The Christian Community. Ruhtenberg took part in all the preparatory courses from the beginning and was ordained a priest in Dornach on September 16, 1922, as the fourteenth member of Emil Bock’s circle. Although he was now also a priest, he continued to work as a teacher at the Waldorf School in Stuttgart until 1930. Then he worked – after a second marriage – from 1933 in the congregations  of Rostock, Leipzig and especially Chemnitz until the ban of The Christian Community in 1941. After the ban and the end of the war, which Wilhelm Ruhtenberg survived in the ‘army post billing center’ in Chemnitz, there was strangely no more permanent parish work. After his escape, we find Wilhelm Ruhtenberg with friends in Überlingen working as a curative teacher in Holstein and finally in Bensberg near Cologne, where he died on August 31, 1954.

His path had led him from east to west. Then came the line added from south to north. His special mission was to be a special link between the school movement and The Christian Community, which he entirely fulfilled in the middle of his life. He embodied a very unique combination of an aristocratic, cosmopolitan attitude of body and mind with a tender ‘eastern’ soul. As a result, he was extraordinarily sensitive and vulnerable. This is how his friend and colleague Herbert Hahn described him from the founding years of the Waldorf School. This tender soul was also evident in his fine translations of the poetry of the Russian Alexander Remisow. (Further details of his biography can be read in Der Lehrerkreis um Rudolf Steiner in der ersten Waldorfschule 1919-1925, 2nd ed. Stuttgart 1978, p. 205ff.)