What Gerhard Krodel was and is for me.
Let me begin with two quotations... Gerhard Krodel in a letter March 3. 2003 “ Manfred, I do not think for a moment, that you are depressed or burnt out when you tell us, what life is really like for you…. Your letter and your ministry reflect and realize in your life and work the exhortation of Tim. 6,17 : Fight the good fight of faith, take the hold of the eternal life, to which you are called” And Joan Krodel in a letter of March 16. 2006 “…Gerhard was very proud of what you are doing in your ministry and talked often of you….”
Both these quotations reflect the sincere interest Gerhard had in me and my work in the Russian Far East. And that was it: 1.) Gerhard Krodel stood at the very beginning of my career” in the Lutheran Church in Russia, and 2.) he accompanied me all the years long till to his death, -and this accompanying was not only a.) material help in money, but more important b) he procured me a net-work of personnel connections among his former students, now pastors in the states , and most important c.) he accompanied my life and work in the Russian Far East with his burning interest, thoughts and prayers.
To begin with the last: Gerhard once said me at the telephone:” Manfred, Joan and I , we are praying for you every evening”. Words, which brought me near to tears, when I remembered them hearing of Gerhards death. My wife Tatjana just told me: “ When Gerhard Krodel was telephoning, and you were not at home, I always felt at his side a deep sincere interest and even sort of serious responsibility for our life and work here. There was never formal politeness in his words, but a genuine interest, and that the more, as he was asking in a straight , direct, nearly a bit authoritarian way. He asked about your health, he even asked, if we were happy together, and then of course he asked about the church and our congregations”. With such a person my wife always felt well in conversation.
Well, that was it with Gerhard: he was the type of a good patriarchal pastor, and with him I lost a spiritual father. He came from Upper Franconia, a region in Germany, where people are conservative, but that in a good democratic way of taking serious its responsibilities, and that up to a nearly stubborn manner. During my second visit in Gerhard’s and Joan’s home, July 20.-26.1996. I wrote about Gerhard in my diary “ a conservative of character!” And he was also a genuine Lutheran of character. This made him even feel some sympathy with the German stubborn Lutherans of the Missourie-Synod. ( of which synod by the way has also come his wife Joan). He always criticized a “liberal” Lutheran Church, which he called “ a dogmatically weakened Calvinism”, and he even told me of the idea to found a special Lutheran synod within the ELCA, because of course he as a New Testamentarian could not accept the Missourie-Synod’s refusal of a historic-critic investigation of the Scriptures ( June 25.96) . Gerhard Krodel was, of course, a type quite of its own! I always liked it , when he, after a vehement condemnation of all strange sexual phenomenons, addressed to his wife and said in German :”Du bist ein gutes Weib!” (You are a good wife). He was not at all prudish, he was a good Lutheran.
When I say, he was for me a spiritual father, I have also to add, that he was for me a,- well a good comrade. With him I had always the feeling: that is an upright man, upright till to stubbornness, but a real man! We had always open talks, without any shyness of the one before the other and any ridiculous moral narrowness, and together with a refusal of all “liberalism” there was freedom in thinking and living (typical Lutheran: orthodox in thinking and free in life), and that made us together well understand in our refusal of “pietism”. “Gut lutherisch allewege!” (all way good Lutheran!) that was our parole. He liked life out of the fullest, and knew in the same depth, what sin is. He was a gallant fighter, war pilot in the German air-force and liked to talk about it, he looked the battle about Monte Cassino in the TV, but he knew, what sin is, and he came out of a tradition of adversary against the Hitler regime. He often told me of his father, also a pastor, who was left alone by his bishop, when criticizing Nazisms. That was also one of his reasons to mistrust a high church episcopal church-constitution, a criticism still sharpened in his experiences with the ELCROS.
The most impressive and intense meeting and exchange I had with Gerhard during my second visit . I was his guest for 6 days, and he showed me round July 20.-26.96. And then, the last day, July 26., having done all our work, and me having done that day a little hiking tour, Gerhard in the late afternoon seriously told me again about his sorrows: “Manfred , I have to speak my mind and to unburden myself. I collected up to now 755,000$ for the seminary of the ELCROS, what are they doing with this money, are they using it in a responsible way?” His difficulties with the church-administration in St Petersburg and also with bishop Kretschmar came up again. I heard these complains from him up to the end of his life, and I out of my personal experience understood them more and more. ( Have a look to my address “ Moved and suffered,- 12 years of Living Experience in and with the ELCROS”, given Dec 12.2003. in the seminary of Novosaratovka, and the correspondence around between Gerhard and me). I understood always very well his pains with the ELCROS seminary, which is financially the real work of Gerhard and Joan Krodel. And it was for me also a sign, how near we are one to the other, when Gerhard consented to my critic at the geographical situation of our seminary near this marginal, not really Russian St Petersburg, and said: “I wanted to have it more centrally situated, may be in Omsk”,- just as I. Well, on this very evening 7.26.96. I felt as looking to Gerhard: A deeply wounded man.
And then, after a marvelous dinner by Joan, that very last evening Gerhard said to me: “Manfred, heute Abend besaufen wir uns einmal”( This evening let’s get drunk). And in my diary that day is written “ Alter Haudegen mit konservativem Ehrgefuehl (old warrior or fighter with a conservative sense of honour)!” and “ remain respectable”. And when I gave the key-word “cowardice”, he said “That’s it, that’s with many people…” and how he hated this, like as I do. And then at some glasses of wine and cognac he poured out his heart:” Manfred, I in the last part of my life wanted to write a New Testament Theology.( That by the way could have been a very interesting enterprise.: Gerhard wanted to write this New Testament Theology not as now always done by dividing the NT historical-critically in different theologies, but by accepting the NT as a whole one book used in our church, means not so much historically but phenomenologically ! ), But then I met with you Lutheran people in Russia. On an airport I met an old German-Russian woman in distress, who said to me urgently: “Please do send us pastors, who tell us God’s word!” That was the call for me. Since then I am working for you”. He defended his engagement for the Lutheran Church in Russia against the ELCA bishop Nelson, who always said: that’s a thing only for the Germans. And then these words, written in my diary in big letters: “ I shall never leave you, never give you up in Russia!” These words Gerhard hold all the last part of his life. Faithfulness, that was one of the outstanding features of his character. I have , by the way still a wonderful photo of Gerhard and me drinking and smoking this evening.
But now I have to tell my history with Gerhard Krodel from the very beginning. It is a history of 14 years! We met first May 1992 on the synod-convention of the new rising Lutheran Church in Russia and other states of the former SU in the town of Omsk. He was there with pastor Charles Maahs, also a former student of him, at that time bishop of the Central States synod. We became more and more acquainted, had good conversations he liked me (also when I was playing my violin on a boat tour the last day), and then he invited me to the states.
But then was a little pause, I went to Vladivostok, where we refounded St Paul’s Lutheran congregation, November 1992 I had to go back to Germany again, from where I strove to get free for my service in St Paul’s Vladivostok. We had mail-contact. From April 16. to 29. 1993 I visited my daughter Constanze, who was on an exchange program in Dayton OH. And imagine: one day a pastor, Larry Hoffsiss, Epiphany Lutheran Church Dayton, phoned me asking for a meeting. This man was sent to me by Gerhard Krodel, his former professor, and his congregation became the first partner-congregation of St Paul’s Vladivostok. Larry Hoffsiss already next year at Pentecost 1994 signed a partnership treaty in Vladivostok, where he also left his son John for to work in our congregation half a year. Of course I now had to visit Gerhard in Gettysburgh, where I enjoyed his and Joan’s hospitality April 23. to 26. 1996. Here the strategic plan was made and explained. A list of many pastors all over the states to support St Paul’s Vladivostok and his mission in the Far East was set up, and from this came out many, many good and fruitful relations which are working and spreading out up to today!
The first strategic step set forth by Gerhard was to charge pastor Daniel Biles with the task to learn Russian. Dan Biles did this with great success, so that he could even preach in Russian, when visiting Vladivostok. And now he is also not only reading my sermons in Russian, placed on our website, but he even sometimes translates them from Russian into English! Besides this he has become our “representative in the states” coordinating money donations for us and sending them here. --- The next great fruit of Gerhard’s strategy was the decision of the synod-assembly of the CSS under bishop Maahs of October 10. 1996. to have “ a companion church relationship with our Central States Synod ELCA and St Paul Lutheran Church Vladivostok”.
This treaty was preceded by a long and intensive visiting tour of me through St Louis and then Kansas State together with Pastor Gordon Peterson, assistant to the bishop and bishop Maahs himself June 26. to July 19. 1996. At the end I visited Gerhard and with him congregations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. In the time to come we had visits of pastors Peterson, Loren Mai, Dave Rush, Dan Biles, Dr Susan Hedal ( both on our seminar June 2000), Alan and Kathie Walter ( on our seminar July 2002), Dr Randy Mc Guire (on our seminar July 2004), pastor Mike Peck and Tricia ( to their partner congregation St Mark’s Magadan), Jennifer Lee and Jack Sherman ( to their partner congregation St Catherine’s Komsomolsk), and this year Jackie Volbrecht plans to visit her partner congregation St Mary’s Ussuriysk,- these are all late fruits of Gerhard Krodels founding-activities! Also the congregation partnerships ( f i Epiphany, Dayton OH and Christ Luth. Church Baltimore MA to Vladivostok, - Holy Cross, Overland Park KS to St Mark’s Magadan, - Atonement Luth. Church Overland Park KS to St Catherine’s Komsomolsk,- Gloria Dei, Wichita KS to St Mary’s Ussuriysk, and now hopefully Trinity Luth. Church Great Bend KS to St Luke’s Arsenyev) are after all and in conclusion late fruits of the foundation laid by Gerhard, on which we were building! Thanks to this man, who is in a certain sense also the father of the deanery of the Russian Far East !
During my work as a dean of the Russian Far East since 1992/93 I visited ( so to say in “Church-business”) the states 8 times. ( April16.-29.1993;--- June25.-August2.1996;--- August 30.–October4.1999;--- May15.–June6.2000;--- May12.-May29.2001;--- September 19.-October11.2001;--- May24.-June21.2003;--- April21.-May05.2004;---). I visited Gerhard in Gettysburg 4 times ( April 93; July20.-27.96; September 99 together with Tatjana, so he knew her face by face; and June 19.2003.).
It was June 19.2003., when I saw Gerhard for the last time. The faithful “servant” and :”represenataive” pastor Daniel Biles brought me to him. It was a meeting for only four hours from 11 to 15 o’clock. The great old man was connected to an oxygen apparatus and a bit weak. But his thoughts were vivid and critical as ever, and of course they turned around his last great work, the help to the seminary in Novosaratovka and to the deanery of the the Far East. The bitter disappointments as to archbishop Kretschmar and P Stefan Reder and the administration of the money he collected for the seminary ( he spoke of 1,3 millions of Dollar) came up again. As to the ill bred decision to place the seminary near the marginal St Petersburg, he said, that he himself at those times had proposed to place it in Omsk. When I meant: then we could sell the buildings and transplant the seminary to Omsk, Joan uttered:”That would break my heart”, which is quite understandable. To my problems with the pietists and fundamentalists in the ELCROS he as a good Lutheran and fighter gave me the advice not to cede the least spiritual territory to this “destructive weed”. As a prolongation of his practical help to my deanery he gave me a present of 20,000 $ for our efforts to begin a “business” for financial church independence. That was his last great good deed for us. We are just now beginning to work with this investment, and it is a pity, that Gerhard does no longer see these fruits of his help.
He totally understood my difficulties and problems in Russia. By this he also criticized the American deficit, not to come along in accepting depression, suffering and the way through the “valley of the shadow of death” of psalm 23, but always thinking in categories of success, and he again blamed the Calvinism in American ethics, proving himself the good “stubborn” Lutheran he was. He encouraged me to work still at least to an age of 74 years. He blessed me in his way, and then Daniel Biles came to pick me up. We had still several telephone conversation up to his death. In one of the last telephone conversations Gerhard showed his joyfulness of the many partnerships between the American und our Far East congregations, and he also told me, that he and the retired bishop Charles Maahs wanted to apply for me getting a prize of the Wartburg foundation. So close he was thinking and living with us up to his death!
When I shall sum up the importance, this remarkable man had for me, in a few words, I should say: He is one, who at the very beginning of my “career” in Russia laid foundation for my work,- he accompanied my life and work in this country with sincere, straight and direct interest and engagement,- he helped me, and the most important: he always encouraged me, not in a superficial way of a Calvinist’s success-ethic, but out of his orthodox good Lutheran faith, in which is more freedom, than in all “liberalistic” theater. He was in one word a man of a STUBBORN FAITHFULNESS, and that was the basic note, on which we both always found each other and esteemed each other.
On the grave of my great predecessor, founding pastor of St Paul’s Vladivostok, pastor Carl-August Rumpeter there are written the words of psalm 101,8 : “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me”. That is our parole in Vladivostok, and Gerhard Krodel is one of ours. In this sense we also want to place something remembering Gerhard Krodel in our church; Joan rightly was proposing it.
Manfred Brockmann, dean of the Russian Far East
Wladiwostok, July 3. 2006.