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October 10, 2022

A Summer Book Study Led to Community Transformation


By Isabella Campolattaro

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminal work on community, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christians in Community, has been inspiring believers since it was first published in 1939. What makes this classic all the more poignant and powerful is the fact that it was penned while Bonhoeffer was teaching at an underground seminary, just six years before being martyred by the Gestapo.

bonhoeffer

Dietrich bonhoeffer

 
A group of Christian Union Caritas students discovered the book’s transformative insights during a summer book study. These motivated young leaders are already implementing what they learned to foster community at Stanford’s CU Caritas.


Claire Muscat, a computer science student completing her master’s degree in 2023, explained how the students came to study Bonhoeffer’s work. CU Caritas Senior Ministry Fellow Justin Woyak had given the cohort the book as an end-of-school-year gift and offered to lead a group study via Zoom over the summer.  Student leaders and roommates Muscat, Irena Gao (‘23), Rachel Stutz (‘23), and several other students agreed. Each week, Woyak would prepare questions to guide the discussion.


It soon became clear to all that Life Together would have a life-changing impact. 


“We probably all share the sentiment that this is one of the most pivotal pieces we’ve ever read,” said Muscat. "I really appreciated just how straight Bonhoeffer was about the importance of daily discipleship and really direct about how to go about it.” Muscat explained that the book clearly outlines both the demands and the benefits of living in a close community with brothers and sisters in Christ.


Bonhoeffer makes a strong and clear case for making time daily for disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and confession. 


Muscat explained, “We do it not only because our holy God requires it of us, and He’s glorified through it, but it's also such a blessing being in daily communion with Him and our fellow brothers and sisters.” 


Stutz, who has an undergraduate degree in engineering physics and is pursuing her master’s in aeronautics and astronautics, agreed. “It was a really impactful book for me as well and made me excited to read more of his work.  Bonhoeffer clearly explains the reasoning for his suggestions about what good Christian community looks like in daily life. We all thought it was very powerful and said, okay, we want to incorporate these in Christian Union’s campus ministry next term.”  


Irena Gao, who has an undergraduate degree in computer science and is completing her master's in statistics, echoed the enthusiasm for Bonhoeffer’s vision of community.


“I’d experienced the power of community at Spiritus [one of CU’s annual student conferences],” she said, adding,  “I didn’t realize just how much power there is in community, to be able to confess sins to each other, to pray for each other. It made a big impact on me.”


Gao elaborated. “I've always thought about my faith as between me and Christ and thinking about how to grow there. Like you're on your own, you're having your own faith journey. It's really easy to kind of get lost in your own mind.” 


Gao also noticed how from the very first chapter Bonhoeffer not only made the case for community, but also the importance of community in ministering to others. “I think my main takeaway is how can I use my faith? How can I live my faith in a way that helps build up everyone else around me?”


Stutz and Gao promptly started a weekly Zoom call for CU women modeled after the book’s framework.  


“We catch up with each other, talk about our [Christian] walks, things we wanted to be accountable for, confession…,” Rachel explained.


“We've also just been planning for next year. I've been really excited about how we can have more opportunities to pray and more opportunities to live this out. It’s been really cool to see that start take form.”


Gao and Muscat are formalizing some ideas to implement with CU Caritas. Some of the key elements, inspired by Bonhoeffer’s book, include Scripture memorization. In fact, a few of the student leaders are planning to memorize all of Philippians, while others are memorizing various Psalms. 


Bonhoeffer also strongly recommends staying in close contact with fellow believers on a daily basis. The team is looking at practical ways to encourage a fixed morning routine of praying with roommates and larger group prayer at regular intervals, such as three times per week.


Gao concluded, “I think [CU Caritas] feels God's hand on us. Since reading this book, there’s so much zeal and people are excited.  I'm just planning for next year and thinking about how we could live  out Bonhoeffer’s vision personally. We want to be better building blocks for Christ.”