Profile: Bishop Gottfried Forck

It was the synod "masses", not the church's political movers and shakers, that elected Dr. Gottfried Forck Bishop of the East German Berlin-Brandenburg church in 1981.  Doubters had then accused him of "liking to pour coffee"; more recently, his willingness to "waste" precious office time in conversation with custodians and delivery persons was criticized.

Diplomatic convention never has been Forck's strong point; indeed, he claims that diplomacy "dilutes the Gospel."  In 1983, when the government's campaign against the Swords-to-Plowshares symbol was at its height, he pasted such a sticker onto his briefcase and maneuvered it into view when negotiating with government officials.  As Bishop, this West-educated native of Thuringia was among those who fought for the right of the secular anti-government opposition to assemble in church quarters.  He is said to have been the first prominent East German to publicly demand the legalization of a political opposition.


When the Greifswald cathedral was reopened in June 1989, Forck remained the sole uninvited evangelical bishop.  Rumors surfaced that East Berlin's Bishop intended to produce a scene by handing top political brass documents proving that elections had been rigged.


But after Erich Honecker's fall from power, it was Forck who arranged housing for him in a parsonage and defended the move against a national outcry.  In recent weeks, the Bishop has defended the view that the socialist dream contains the potential for a more humane and just society and cautioned believers not to participate in the present massive, anti-communist campaign.  The past exclusion of Christianity should not be countered with an exclusion of Marxism today.


A perennial preacher in the wilderness, this former German submarine sailor -- he was an American POW until 1946 -- is now highlighting Third World concerns.  Last summer, he protested against the salaries of members of East German's parliament and assured his countrypersons that their standard of living may already be high enough.  Forck, whose salary hardly exceeds $1,000 per month, begs the West's EKD to refrain from deferring any funds intended for the Third World to Eastern Germany.  "It cannot be our intent to secure our own financial security as quickly as possible, then sit back and wait for further developments to run their course."


Incredibly, this anti-diplomat was the all-party favorite for the position of state president last April.  His "integrity, credibility, independence and courage" had won him countless admirers.  Forck refused, citing his responsibilities to the church.  A widower, he was scheduled to retire at age 65 in 1988, but did accept the plea to remain in office until September, 1991.  That's impressive progress for a dispenser of coffee.


Bill Yoder

Berlin, October 29, 1990


Written for “The Lutheran”, Chicago, 434 words


Note from December 2020: Gottfried Forck (1923-1996) did indeed retire in 1991; he passed away five years later.