Friedrich von Bodelschwingh

Friedrich (Fritz) von Bodelschwingh the Younger was the scion of old Westphalian nobility. His father, Friedrich von Bodelschwingh the Elder, had been a pastor and, from 1872 onward, expanded the Bethel institutions, which cared for, among others, epileptics and “itinerant poor” and were later named after him, into the largest the Inner Mission’s organizations. In later years, he was also a member of the Prussian Parliament and belonged to the conservative wing. His son Fritz, the youngest of a total of eight children, followed in his father’s footsteps and likewise became a pastor. He followed his revered father, after his death in 1910, as the director of the Bethel institutions. Despite upheavals and serious difficulties, he was able to expand the institutions further. Nationally, he shouldered various responsibilities in the church and the Inner Mission. He was an attendee of the 1925 Universal Christian Conference in Stockholm. On account of his integrity and skills as a mediator, the “Young Reformation movement” nominated him and the representatives of the German regional churches elected him Reich Bishop, i.e. head of the envisioned new German Evangelical Church, on May 27, 1933. This went against the wishes of the German Christians who had nominated their patron Ludwig Müller and attempted to reverse the outcome of the election by every means. No longer even able to count on the support of different Lutheran church leaders, Bodelschwingh yielded to pressure from the government and resigned after only four weeks in office. From Bethel, he was actively involved in the emerging Confessing Church and attended, among others, the National Synods of the Confessing Church in Barmen and Dahlem in 1934. He attempted to mediate between the different political camps in the church but resisted Reich Minister of Church Affairs Hanns Kerrl’s efforts in 1935 to recruit him to work together with the Church Committees constituted to bring peace to the church. After the outbreak of the war, Bodelschwingh successfully averted the planned killings of thousands of his charges in Bethel threatened with so-called “euthanasia” by skillfully negotiating and maneuvering. Bodelschwingh effectively supported Bishop of Württemberg – and first chairman of the EKD Council as of 1945 – Theophil Wurm’s efforts to unify the church and once again demonstrated his gift for mediation.

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