Böttcher, Manfred (1926–2019)

By Johannes Hartlapp

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Johannes Hartlapp, M.A. in Religion (Newbold College/Andrews University), Dr.theol. (Martin-Luther-University Halle/Wittenberg), served as a pastor in the Westsaxonian Conference (1980-1995) and youth-department secretary in Chemnitz (1986-1990). He was dean of Theology at Friedensau Adventist University (2000-2003; 2011-2015) and head of the church distance learning programme for local church members in Germany (1997-2020). Currently, he serves as a lecturer in Church History at Friedensau Adventist University (1995-present). He is a well-known speaker with an interest in Adventist history during the National Socialism and Reformation period in Germany.

First Published: October 4, 2022

Manfred Böttcher served as a pastor, church administrator, union leader, ecclesiastical diplomat, author, and lecturer during almost the entire GDR era. Because of his multi-faceted ministry and dedicated manner of work, he was one of the most prominent leaders of the denomination in Eastern Germany throughout this period.

Early Life, Education, and Marriage

Manfred Böttcher came from an Adventist pastoral family.1 He was born March 1, 1926, in Stettin, Germany, and grew up in Pomerania.2 After graduating from high school, he took a two-year agricultural apprenticeship in Lower Silesia to study agricultural science. But immediately after his enrollment at the University of Breslau (now Wrocław in Poland), he was drafted into the military in 1944. In December 1944 he was baptized in the Görlitz Adventist Church in Germany.3

Beginning in the autumn of 1946, he worked in Friedensau, first in the agricultural sector. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Army in April 1947, he was among those who helped prepare the school for the reopening of the theological seminary. At this time, he developed a special relationship with Friedensau which lasted until the last days of his life. After a shortened three-year training, Manfred Böttcher became a pastor in Leipzig. There he married Vita Fiß and they became the parents of five children.

Minister and Administrator

In 1954 Böttcher was called by the Northeast Saxonian Conference.4 He worked there as director of the youth department, secretary, and, at the same time, as a pastor in the Dresden district. In the following year he was ordained. In 1960 the committee of the East German Union Conference appointed him as one of the departmental executive secretaries.5 Two years later he became secretary of the union and director of the literature department.6 These were the two fields of work for which he felt a special responsibility throughout his life. As secretary of the union, he played a decisive role in all relations with the governmental agencies and with the world Church. At this time the government rulers thought the time for the death of the Church had already arrived. It was evident that Böttcher had a special ability as a trustworthy negotiating partner who could create a businesslike working atmosphere in which success could be achieved through perseverance.7

In 1967 Böttcher became president of the Thuringia Conference.8 The following year he was appointed president of the East German Union, which later became known as the Union of Seventh-day Adventists in the German Democratic Republic.9 This marked the beginning of the most important and creative period in his life. By assuming this task, he initiated a change of course towards the state authorities. While his predecessors had taken great care to avoid all contact with the socialist authorities, Böttcher chose a different path. He negotiated with them and hoped to create a basis of trust. This relational approach helped him to obtain permission from the authorities to hold a large youth congress in Friedensau in 1970. As a result, there were “more than a thousand persons gathered on the last Sabbath to witness the baptism of 45 new believers.”10

The second area that was important for Böttcher was the publishing and spread of Adventist literature. From 1969 to 1985 Böttcher led the literary committee of the Church, while also setting a good example as an author of various publications.11 During the GDR years, the publication of the Church’s own literature required a great deal of discussion and perseverance in the face of the state authorities, who disliked non-compliant and religious opinions. Böttcher achieved success in this area when he received permission to publish a church magazine under the name Adventgemeinde (Adventist Church). After several unsuccessful attempts beginning in 1969, permission to print was finally granted in 1980.

In 1982 Manfred Böttcher was surprisingly appointed director of the Friedensau Theological Seminary12 and the Friedensau Institutions.13 With the same energy, he also seized this task. He sought to expand the spectrum of training in Friedensau, making it a mission training center for young people from socialist centuries.14 During his time as director of Friedensau Theological Seminary (1982-1990), he contributed to the seminary’s academic development and made the educational institution accessible to students from Mozambique, the Soviet Union, Angola, and Yugoslavia.15 He deepened his contacts with other church training centers in the GDR and invited church and state representatives as well as representatives of the world Church to Friedensau. In this way he contributed to the later recognition of the seminary as a state-recognized, university-level institution. In 1988 he received an honorary doctorate from Andrews University for his diverse creative and literary works.

Later Life

In 1990 he relinquished the responsibility as director of the seminary. However, he continued to run the Friedensau Institutions until his retirement. After that his active work was by no means over. He was then more than ever committed to Friedensau in a reunited Germany. As head of the donation department, he succeeded in raising about 3.5 million Deutsche Mark for the development of Friedensau within a few years.16 In 1993 he and his wife moved to Goslar. After his retirement he continued to work as a guest lecturer at the Friedensau University. In later years, he and his wife moved back to Friedensau, where he was involved in serving the university library as a volunteer staff member for about ten years.

Manfred Böttcher published a number of books, essays, and journal articles. His books include: Weg und Ziel der Gemeinde Jesu [Way and Goal of the Church of Jesus] (1978), Wagnis des Glaubens, Dialog und Zeugnis der Adventgemeinde in der DDR [Risk of Faith, Dialogue and Witness of the Adventist Church in the GDR] (2001), Die Adventgemeinde in der DDR, eine Gratwanderung von 1949 bis 1990 [The Adventist Church in the GDR, a Tightrope Walk from 1949 to 1990] (2007), and Schlüssel zur Bibel: Erkunden, Erkennen, Erfahren [Key to the Bible: Explore, Recognize, Experience] (2002). At the same time, he had a great interest in practical church work, which he supported through his preaching activities.17

On September 12, 2019, Manfred Böttcher was laid to rest at the age of 94.

Sources

Hartlapp, Johannes. “Nachruf: Dr. h.c. Manfred Böttcher, 1926–2019.” Miteinander (Berlin-Central German Conference), January-March 2020.

“Newsnotes.” ARH, August 19, 1982.

Powers, Sylvia. “Larger Plans: A Report of the Yearend Meeting of the Euro-Africa Division Committee.” Quarterly Review, March 1973.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

Taylor, Charles. “Friedensau: Meadow of Peace, Gospel Seedbed.” ARH, March 22, 1984.

“Theologische Hochschule Friedensau trauert um Manfred Böttcher.” Accessed February 8, 2020. https://www.adventisten.de/news/artikel/go/2019-09-16/theologische-hochschule-friedensau-trauert-um-manfred-boettcher.

“Trauer um Dr. h.c. Manfred Böttcher.” Accessed February 20, 2020. https://www.thh-friedensau.de/trauer-um-dr-h-c-manfred-boettcher/.

Notes

  1. An earlier version of this article appeared as an obituary: Johannes Hartlapp, “Nachruf: Dr. h.c. Manfred Böttcher, 1926–2019,” Miteinander (Berlin-Central German Conference), January-March 2020, 8.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. See “Northeast Saxonian Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954),102.

  5. “East German Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961), 90.

  6. “East German Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1964), 103.

  7. Ibid.

  8. See “Thueringia [sic] Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1968), 113.

  9. “Union of Seventh-day Adventists in the German Democratic Republic,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1967), 120.

  10. Sylvia Powers, “Larger Plans: A Report of the Yearend Meeting of the Euro-Africa Division Committee,” Quarterly Review, March 1973, 3.

  11. Some members today are still familiar with his four books for the children’s service.

  12. “Newsnotes,” ARH, August 19, 1982, 20.

  13.  For many years, the “Friedensauer Anstalten” (Friedensau Institutions) was the legal association holding the property and running the ministries in this almost entirely Adventist village.

  14. See Charles Taylor, “Friedensau: Meadow of Peace, Gospel Seedbed,” ARH, March 22, 1984, 17-18.

  15. “Theologische Hochschule Friedensau trauert um Manfred Böttcher,” accessed February 8, 2020, https://www.adventisten.de/news/artikel/go/2019-09-16/theologische-hochschule-friedensau-trauert-um-manfred-boettcher.

  16. The author has obtained this information by personal acquaintance with Böttcher for many years.

  17. “Trauer um Dr. h.c. Manfred Böttcher, ” accessed February 20, 2020, https://www.thh-friedensau.de/trauer-um-dr-h-c-manfred-boettcher/.

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Hartlapp, Johannes. "Böttcher, Manfred (1926–2019)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 04, 2022. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=1H4K.

Hartlapp, Johannes. "Böttcher, Manfred (1926–2019)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 04, 2022. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=1H4K.

Hartlapp, Johannes (2022, October 04). Böttcher, Manfred (1926–2019). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=1H4K.