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In Memoriam: Geffrey B. Kelly

The members and friends of the International Bonhoeffer Society/English Language Section mourn the death and celebrate the life of Geffrey B. Kelly (27 August 1932 – 30 May 2017). We stand together in honored memory of our esteemed colleague and beloved friend.  He lived in faithfulness to his Lord and love for his family as well as in steadfast vigor for his students and collegial support of professional associates.  His erudition, his eagerness for truthful critique, and his drive for social justice were evident to all who knew him.

Professor Kelly was a scholar of international renown, for his teaching, his writing, and his sustained collegial support.  He was a vigorous teacher over many years, noted by undergraduates and graduate students alike for his deep engagement with them in the examination and exposition of historical and contemporary moral theology and its foundational role in modern life.  The central focus of his research over the course of this theological career was the place and import of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the continuing search for meaning and impact of Christian life today.  For Kelly, there was more than a close parallel with Bonhoeffer’s own ministry and mission.  He sought to exemplify the depth and passion of Bonhoeffer in probing the essentials of the faith and in pursuing the realization of that faith in both public policy toward compassion and justice and in the ordinary precincts of life.

Kelly’s creative scholarly work exemplifies fully this focus and passion.  His several books and many articles centered on the theme of ethical responsibility, rooted in a career-long examination of Bonhoeffer’s theological development and ethical reflection.  In any close discussion with him, it became immediately evident that Bonhoeffer was both the most important interpreter of the challenges of faith for a Christian today but also an immediate companion in the myriad moral challenges of our own time.  His interests are reflected early in his career.  As a member of a Roman Catholic order, the Christian Brothers, Kelly had a foundation in classical languages, was an expert linguist with fluency in German and French.  His doctoral dissertation at Louvain University (1970) centered on Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of revelation in relation to the theology of Karl Barth.  His facility in French led him to Jean Lasserre, one of Bonhoeffer’s closest friends, and the publication of a most valuable interview dealing with Bonhoeffer’s early development.

Kelly’s contribution to the Bonhoeffer studies and to the wider Bonhoeffer Society was marked by a special interest and facility in collaborative work.  An early example of this was his effort with John Godsey to bring forward the wide array and variety of Bonhoeffer’s influence on the witness of the churches.  The high point of such joint efforts is reflected in Kelly’s collaboration with his close friend and colleague, Burton Nelson, in works that combined access to Bonhoeffer’s own writings and interpretive guidance.  This effort to provide reliable and sophisticated English translations of the most significant Bonhoeffer writings illustrated both a pedagogical interest and his driving concern for the place of Bonhoeffer in the life of the churches.  In this way, Kelly was a key early influence in the life of English Language Section of the International Bonhoeffer Society toward its own translation efforts.  These interests and efforts reached significant fruition in Kelly’s editorial skills in two of the volumes of the Society’s 17-volume English translation of the German critical edition of Bonhoeffer’s entire corpus (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works):  volume 5, Life Together, and volume 4, Discipleship (with John Godsey).

Kelly’s initial place and consistent influence in the Bonhoeffer circle is noteworthy.  The Bonhoeffer Society/English Language Section had its genesis following the first International Bonhoeffer Congress in Düsseldorf in 1971.  Kelly was one of the four “founding fathers” who gathered in Baltimore in October 1973, to plan for a professional association devoted to Bonhoeffer studies among English language scholars, pastors, and interested students.  He was the first Society secretary, a post that he held for many years in ways both thorough and delightfully idiosyncratic.  He became quite literally the Society notary, employing his gregarious nature and generous spirit in a steady stream of letters and notes toward building the membership of the Society and especially in support of younger scholars.  He also used his position as an avenue for a playful spirit in the manner of mischievous minutes of meetings, genuinely sui generis, as a near legendary Irish emcee of Society social events, including the impromptu awarding of “papal blessings,” ever a dubious honor, to say nothing about his encouragement of a sub rosa strategy of “burying” Society costs within institutional budgets of the various Society officers.  Kelly became the second President of the Society and for more than a decade led the Society’s official meetings with aplomb, although with a rather unusual sense of parliamentary order.  He was a mainstay at virtually every annual meeting of the Society and at all of the quadrennial international Congresses, including the most recent Bonhoeffer Congress last July in Basel.

Geff was remarkable in so many ways.  He endeared himself to his colleagues and friends through his gifts of time and valuable counsel, especially to those early in their career and for those of us who valued his counsel in the enormous effort over nearly three decades on the critical edition in English.  From the exuberant, even joyous manner that he exhibited at the Society gatherings, it was obvious to all that the Bonhoeffer Society and its members and friends were very important in his life.  After Geff’s departure from the Christian Brothers and his marriage to his wife, Joan, his colleagues and friends treasured them both over the years with their children (Susan, Brendan, and Michael).   He was a warm, gentle, and gracious person who carried as well a sharp, prophetic voice, a welcomed combination celebrated by the Society and those who walked with Geff.  He will be deeply missed. 

Michael Lukens

Additional Remembrances

"I'm sure all of us could repeat fond memories of Geff such as those John de Gruchy mentioned, not least the mischievous minutes of meetings, Geff’s "papal blessings" distributed to all and sundry, and his greetings from Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love," which he so genuinely sent to us in message after message.  So here is a bit more information you can add to what you glean from the emails of others.
Geff Kelly was a founding member of the English Language Section of the Bonhoeffer Society.  Following the first International Bonhoeffer Congress in Duesseldorf in October 1971, Geff was one of four members of a steering committee who met in Baltimore on October 26, 1973, thus making him a grandparent of our Section. This led to the first AAR meeting of the Bonhoeffer Society which was held in Washington, DC in October, 1974, and Geff was elected the first secretary of the Society. In addition to his inimitable minutes, Geff was a proactive and tireless secretary who established personal relationships with new members by writing innumerable friendly notes in that pre-email age.  He also invented the strategy he called "burying," according to which expenses of the Society such as printing, mailing, and phoning should become involuntary contributions of the institutions where the Society officers were faculty.
Younger members of the Society, who have for years known Geff's wife Joan and their daughter Susan, may not know that in those early pre-marital days he was a member of the order of Christian Brothers. His doctorate, completed at Louvain in 1970, was on Bonhoeffer's doctrine of revelation in relation to Karl Barth's theology.  Geff was an expert linguist, at home in classical languages and fluent in German and French.  His expertise in French led him to Jean Lasserre with whom he conducted a lengthy interview and a published article, and his German proficiency served his editing of Life Together and Discipleship (with John Godsey) in DBWE."
Clifford Green

"Seeing this is going to so many good 'old' Bonhoeffer friends, let me add my own word of gratitude for the life and friendship of Geff, and the many wonderful times spent with him within the Bonhoeffer Society circle.  I first met him in Geneva in 1976 and over the years we became good friends, as did all of you.  He was far more than an excellent scholar, he was a warm, gentle and gracious human being, but also a sharp prophetic voice with a deep sense of justice.  And, of course, he had an outrageous Irish sense of humour that turned minutes of Society meetings into "must read" documents.  We will miss him immensely."

John de Gruchy


Life Together: Reflection and renewal in the style of Bonhoeffer's Finkenwalde Seminary

Part of the “Finkenwalde Experiment” at Freeborn Lutheran Church in partnership with The Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens and The International Bonhoeffer Society
Sunday evening June 25th through Friday afternoon June 30th, 2017
Freeborn Lutheran Church and Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens Exit 215, Stanwood, WA
Rev. Dr. Mark Brocker, Faculty
Rev. Erik Samuelson, Chaplain
A retreat for lay and ordained Christian leaders based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s community practice at the Finkenwalde seminary, as outlined in “Life Together” and other writings from that period. The purpose of this experience at Freeborn Lutheran Church and Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens in Stanwood, WA is to engage a community in a week of “Life Together” for personal renewal, learning, spiritual and vocational discernment, and community formation, as a way to begin connecting Bonhoeffer’s insights and work to the challenges we face today.  
Registration is open and spaces are limited, scholarships are available

For more information visit: http://www.freebornchurch.org/life-together-retreat/



Filmed on location in Europe and the United States, Come Before Winter is a docudrama that lifts the curtain on cruel ironies of the final weeks of World War II in Europe and tracks two longtime foes of Adolf Hitler: iconic German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and virtuoso propagandist, Sefton Delmer.

Buy or Rent this film: http://comebeforewintermovie.com/order-dvd/

Access Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/bonhoeffermovie


Title: Come Before Winter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer And His Companions In The Dying Gasps Of The Third Reich

Director: Kevin Ekvall

Producer: Gary Blount

Production Company: Stories That Glow Collectors

Year of Completion: 2016

Length: 75 minutes

Language: English

Genre: Docudrama

Website:  www.comebeforewintermovie.com


Filmed on location in Europe and the United States, Come Before Winter is a docudrama that lifts the curtain on cruel ironies of the final weeks of World War II in Europe and tracks two longtime foes of Adolf Hitler: iconic German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and virtuoso propagandist, Sefton Delmer.



Filmed on location in Europe and the United States, Come Before Winter is a docudrama that lifts the curtain on cruel ironies of the final weeks of World War II in Europe and tracks two longtime foes of Adolf Hitler: iconic German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and virtuoso propagandist, Sefton Delmer.

For years Bonhoeffer has been speaking out against Hitler and the Nazis.  Such boldness has landed him in prison where he is left to consider the moral dilemma of the resistance in the company of his fellow prisoners.  Crushed by the failure of operation Valkyrie, Bonhoeffer discovers that “it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.”

Meanwhile, in a secret location outside London, a team of propagandists gather daily to transmit a fake news radio program into German-occupied Europe, spreading confusion and fooling the enemy into thinking that they are listening to a real German radio station. Leading this team is Sefton Delmer and by his side is Bonhoeffer’s friend Otto John, eventual head of West Germany’s domestic intelligence service and Ian Fleming, British naval intelligence officer and creator of the iconic James Bond spy novels. 

Did fearless German resistance plotters and shrewd Allied propagandists make a difference? And how does Dietrich Bonhoeffer bring into focus ethical challenges during his final days in the dying gasps of the Third Reich?



Come Before Winteris a passion project of Minnesota psychiatrist Gary Blount.  Inspired by Bonhoeffer’s exemplary faith and courage, Blount began researching Bonhoeffer during his college years and has been fascinated with the story ever since.

Over the last few decades Blount researched this beloved theologian, making several trips to Europe to visit Bonhoeffer’s family, interview scholars and experience the places where Bonhoeffer’s life unfolded.



“Our story is about the final chapter in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and what must have been the aching for deliverance by the Allies who were rapidly closing in.  We felt our time frame would extract something of the essence of his life and the perspective which he seemed to seek—’the view from below’.  This view now includes more uncertainty, wartime cruelty, and vengeance.  Bonhoeffer had traded collegiality with thought leaders like Barth and Niebuhr for companionship with an amazing collection of characters, not all ‘pure in heart.’ Sefton Delmer, our story teller, was proud of his frolicking and perverse propaganda.  Delmer’s admiration of Bonhoeffer was overshadowed by his cynicism toward the ‘opportunistic’ German Resistance. His broadcast had not only been heard extensively but had, he believed, contributed to the war effort.”



“I was asked by Gary Blount to direct this film back in 2013.  We didn’t begin serious work on the film until January of 2014 but during that time I read as much as I could by and about Bonhoeffer.  In addition to doing a tremendous amount of research, Gary had written a treatment of the film and come up with the film’s title.  He wanted to include interviews with Bonhoeffer experts but also start the story from the perspective of a British Intelligence Propaganda team, a daring but intriguing idea.  We decided the movie would be a sort of docudrama.”

“It’s a humbling experience to witness both the passion and effort of those who have been caretakers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s story.  When Gary Blount first approached me with this project, I knew Bonhoeffer was a gifted writer but had assumed his story rather bland.  I was wrong.  His life spun a fascinating tale that adds veracity to his words.”



“A new documentary rediscovers a World War II campaign that was stranger than nonfiction.”

– Smithsonian Magazine,  April 2017

“Many portrayals of Dietrich Bonhoeffer present him as a heroic Christian martyr who single handedly resisted the Nazis during the 1930s.  Come Before Winter manages to avoid this kind of hagiography and shows us the final days of Bonhoeffer’s life within the context of his family and friends in the resistance—essentially his Sanctorum Communio.  The film remains faithful to the Bonhoeffer of history and current research on the final days of the German resistance.  A must see film!”

– Dr. Jeffrey Gang, Loma Linda University,  School of Religion

“…a touching blend of documentation and life stories…a remarkable monument to the German Resistance!”

– Dr. Christian Weber, Study Secretary, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland

“Masterfully explores the tragic last chapter of the young theologian’s life.”

– Martin Doblmeier, documentary filmmaker

“Great story! Not preachy.”

– Kelley Carlson, teenaged movie critic

“Living in an age where our own comfort and security seem paramount in the values of so many in our society, Come Before Winter is a powerful affirmation of the eternal values of putting our lives at risk rather than seeking our own.  Rather than choosing the comfort of living in the United States, Bonhoeffer chose to return to Germany.  The example of his life speaks to us today through this evocative documentary.”

– Richard Osborn,  Vice President,  WASC Senior College and University Commission




Gus Lynch was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was raised in New York City. His first language was Spanish. He currently resides in Los Angeles while pursuing his acting career.


Aubrey Wakeling (SEFTON DELMER)

Aubrey Wakeling was born in St Albans, England. Classically trained, he has numerous film and TV credits to his name, including the lead in the Emmy winning Power of Art (BBC). He has lived in Los Angeles, California since 2010.



Rebecca Summers was born in Hampshire, England. She studied theater at Queen Mary's College and screen acting at the International School of Screen Acting in London, UK. She has appeared in many feature films, award winning shorts and international commercials. She made her theatrical debut playing the lead role in the psychological thriller The Spell; followed by The Gridiron, Silent Retreat, The Lovaganza Convoy, Black Hearts and Advantageous. She is currently living in LA.


Scotty Ray (IAN FLEMING)

Scotty Ray is an adjunct Professor in Drama at La Sierra University. Scotty holds an MFA in Acting from the American Repertory Theater/Moscow Art Theater School at Harvard University and a BA in Mass Communication with minors in drama and religion from Walla Walla University. Improv Training from The Groundlings Theater in Hollywood.


Kelly Reed (OTTO JOHN)

L. Kelly Reed is a professor of English at La Sierra University in Riverside, CA. He has been teaching there since 2002 and has been acting on stages for even longer. Come Before Winter is his first feature film. Kelly also edits fiction for Red Adept Publishing.

Thank you to the people at Plough Quarterly Magazine, who gave permission for us to reprint a portion of this article. 

Bonhoeffer in China

Yu Jie: On October 8, 2010, it was announced that Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident writer, had been chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time, he was in prison serving an eleven-year sentence for inciting subversion (he remains a prisoner today). The authorities knew that Liu and I were good friends – we had known each other for twelve years and I was writing his biography. Immediately after the announcement, my wife Liu Min and I were placed under house arrest.

The ceremony to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu in absentia was on December 10. The day before this was the darkest of my life. Plainclothes agents of the secret police kidnapped me from my home, pulled a black hood over my head, and brought me to a detention room. For six hours they tortured me almost to death. They told me: “If our supervisor gives the order, we will dig a hole and bury you alive.” I was stripped of all my clothes and beaten badly as they took pictures. Then they forced my fingers backward one by one, saying that they would break the fingers I had used to write against the Communist Party. Eventually I lost consciousness.

The first hospital they brought me to refused to treat me. So they brought me to a more advanced hospital, where physicians told me that if the torture had continued another half hour I would not have survived.

Do you remember what you were thinking during the interrogation?

Before I lost consciousness I prayed to God in my heart. I clearly sensed his presence and felt the assurance: without the permission of God, not one hair of my head will fall. These words came to me as well: “Do not fear those who can kill the body, because they cannot kill the soul.” Those two promises of Jesus were my prayer.

After my kidnapping, my wife was still under house arrest. All phone lines and the internet were cut off, and for five days she had no way of finding out where I was. She was under such stress that she lost half her hair. Fortunately, by divine providence, we had sent our two-year-old son for a visit to his grandparents shortly before, so he was spared this experience.

After my arrest and torture, they tried to bribe me – they promised that if I would stop criticizing the regime they would provide a platform for me to write popular literature, and I would get rich.

Even after my release, the harassment and periods of house arrest continued. I could not go to church or attend Bible study; I was cut off from my Christian brothers and sisters. I looked in my son’s eyes and asked myself what kind of father I could be to him if we remained in China in this impossible situation. And so in January 2012 we came to the United States.


You weren’t raised as a Christian. Were there influences in your childhood and youth that laid the groundwork for your conversion later?

I was born in the city of Chengdu in the province of Sichuan, a beautiful, mountainous region with a long history of resisting the imperial power in Beijing. So from the beginning of my life I drank in a dislike for centralized power.

My father is an engineer. His thinking and lifestyle were quite westernized, and even as a young boy he treated me as an equal. In a Confucian culture that emphasizes hierarchy, this was rare.

The moment of my political awakening came when I was sixteen and attending high school. I still remember hearing the news of the mass murder of students protesting on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. That day, June 4, 1989, marked a turning point for me – I began to realize the true nature of the Communist regime. I would never believe their lies again.

Three years later, I arrived in Beijing myself, as a student at Peking University, China’s oldest and most selective institute of higher learning. I studied there for eight years, earning a master’s degree. But far more important to me than my formal coursework were my independent studies in the library. Thanks to a friendly librarian who bent the rules, I had access to restricted books published in Taiwan. I read accounts of the campaign of civil disobedience against Taiwan’s authoritarian government in the 1970s and 80s, and learned how a pro-democracy movement can be successful. What especially impressed me was the prominent role that Taiwan’s churches played in this movement.

But you were still just a secular observer.

That’s right. In 1998, while still a graduate student, I published my first book, Fire and Ice, a collection of satirical essays criticizing Chinese society. Looking back, it amazes me that the book ever made it past the censors. But that was the year Bill Clinton visited China – the first US president to do so since the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese leadership wanted Western media to portray China as a free society. What better way than to allow publication of a book critical of the regime?



Christoph Von Dohnanyi, is director emeritus of the Cleveland Orchestra and son of Hans Von Dohnanyi, one of Bonhoeffer's fellow conspirators killed by the Nazis.  

Four men in my family were executed by the Nazis. Hans von Dohnanyi, my father, honored in Yad Vashem, was killed in the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen short before the Second World War ended. At the same time the world-renowned theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, brother of my mother, my godfather, was executed in the concentration camp Flossenbürg. In 1930 Bonhoeffer began his studies in New York City at the Union Theological Seminary and learned to love and admire the United States of America.

I know today he would be extremely unhappy observing a tendency of religious intolerance in the country he once admired so much for its freedom and acceptance. He never could have imagined that this strong, great nation would find itself in the political and ethical crisis it now faces. A nation’s heart may race when it feels threatened, fearful, or even terrified. But this heart, no matter how “devout”, should never tolerate walls nor turn away those seeking help. People died at the Berlin Wall. Many people died in Hitler’s concentration camps for their unwavering beliefs in the value of their ethics and in their fellow man. These beliefs are now endangered in many Western nations including, sadly enough, the USA. This is unimaginable.

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