The first leader of the priest’s circle in the history of The Christian Community was Friedrich Rittelmeyer. Understanding how he came into the Movement for Religious Renewal from Alfred Heidenreich’s view may prove of interest to us as a way to look back on our history in order to look forward to our future. Rittelmeyer was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany in the early part of the 20th Century.
Early in 1917 Rittelmeyer was called to Berlin, to one of the most influential pulpits in Germany, comparable perhaps to the pulpit of St. Paul’s or the City Temple in London. Of his experience in this position during the last two years of the First World War, when he saw the final collapse of Imperial Germany at very close quarters, he spoke with many vivid details in his autobiography. By the end of the war he had gained an international reputation. Archbishop Soederblom of Sweden invited him to visit the Scandinavian churches. As a member of the German section of the Ecumenical Council Rittelmeyer was chosen to meet the group of leading Quakers who were the first Christian representatives of Britain to extend a handshake of peace to the Germans, and to welcome the first delegation of American bishops. It seemed then only a matter of time until Rittelmeyer would be offered the highest position in the hierarchy of the Lutheran Church in Germany.
However, events took a different turn. Rittelmeyer was in his forty-ninth year, when the turning point of his life came. Providence offered a helping hand, but did not force the issue. In 1918 he had met with an accident, in which he broke a leg, but which was not otherwise considered serious at the time. Delayed after-effects of some internal injuries compelled him, however, to go on sick-leave in the summer of 1920, and to retire from public life for nearly a year. On his sick bed he prepared the greatest public tribute to Steiner that had yet appeared. He prevailed upon a number of leading men in various walks of life who by that time had been earnest students of Rudolf Steiner’s work, to say in the form of a comprehensive article what they owed to him in the field in which they were masters. Rittelmeyer edited these collected essays and himself contributed one called ‘Rudolf Steiner’s Personality and Work’ and one called ‘Rudolf Steiner and the German Spirit’, the latter a deliberate challenge to the resurgence of militant nationalism. The work appeared as a birthday gift for Rudolf Steiner’s sixtieth birthday in 1921. It was the first substantial tribute to him published by an ‘outside’ publisher. It was a great challenge to the German intelligentsia at the time. Rittelmeyer published later in his autobiography one or two characteristic letters which he received at the time from leaders of contemporary thought, charming and pathetic in their non-comprehension.
During this period of enforced physical inactivity Rittelmeyer found time to ponder in detachment over the proposed movement for religious renewal of which he had been kept informed from the beginning. What went on in his mind in those months was decisive. When he had sufficiently recovered to meet us, his mind was made up.
I remember very well his first appearance in our circle in Berlin in the late autumn of 1921. I must confess that for me it was something of a shock. Of course I was deeply interested and in a very real sense already committed to this coming movement for religious renewal. But anything even faintly parsonic or reminiscent of religion in the usual style sent cold shivers down my spine. It was inevitable that at that first meeting with us Rittelmeyer should still show something of the exterior of the Lutheran parson. Later on he transformed this in the most exemplary and moving manner. But for the moment some of us had to swallow hard. It was all part of the historic process.
In the following spring of 1922 during another of these conferences for university students, we had a decisive meeting with Rudolf Steiner in one of the vestries of Rittelmeyer’s church in Berlin. Steiner strongly encouraged those among us who wanted now to go ahead. Soon after, Rittelmeyer offered his resignation from his position in the Lutheran Church. As a matter of fact, his letter of resignation was not even acknowledged. The ecclesiastic authorities did not write a single line of thanks or regret to the man who had given the church a quarter of a century of historic service. In the summer of that year, Rittelmeyer, Geyer and Bock, who were expected to become the leaders of the movement, were invited by Steiner to spend some time with him in Dornach for top level conversations. In these talks, which continued for several weeks, the principles of leadership in a modern Christian community were clarified.
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