A once-in-a-lifetime event

500 years is a long time. Only a few buildings make it that far. People whose births are celebrated 500 years later are long dead. Yet the ideas of the Reformation have helped shape the world for over 500 years.

Celebrating 31 October 1517 - the day on which Martin Luther made public his 95 Theses on true repentance and against trading in indulgences - has grown up over time. Martin Luther is not the sole actor in the Reformation. Attempts at reform had been made before he published thoughts and ideas on the matter, and they came from his contemporaries as well.

500 years since the posting of the 95 theses in Wittenberg in 1517 is a reason to celebrate: ecumenically with all Christian confessions, with social awareness, because the Reformation did not just change the church; conscious of the dark side of the Reformation and burden of guilt that churches and Christians have incurred in those 500 years, in gratitude for God's presence and praying for God's blessing.

 

Celebrations are better together
That's why the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the German Protestant Kirchentag (DEKT) are calling together people from Church and society to help plan events for the Reformation Summer 2017. Starting with the 36th German Protestant Kirchentag in Berlin, these events are for people who - apart from the historical interest - also want to continue to change the church, the world and the society with the basic ideas of the Reformation.

 

Steering Committee
This Steering Committee consists of representatives of the EKD Council and the Kirchentag Executive Committee, and also of EKD member churches in Central Germany, the Council of Christian Churches in Germany, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, the Lutheran World Federation, the Association of Free Churches in Germany, and the Central Committee of German Catholics. Chairman is Professor Gerhard Robbers, former Minister of Justice in Rhineland-Palatinate. This steering committee is responsible for the content of the events.

 

Plenty of participation
To plan the central events, the Steering Committee has appointed project teams, representing both church-related and social groups, and programme committees with regional representatives for the cities hosting a Kirchentag on the Way. 

 

Reformationsjubiläum 2017 e.V. Association
To plan, organize and implement the events, the Kirchentag and the EKD founded a registered association, Opens internal link in current windowReformationsjubiläum 2017 e.V. (Reformation anniversary 2017). Its management board is chaired by EKD Council member Marlehn Thieme. The organisation has two executive directors: Hartwig Bodmann and Ulrich Schneider. In January 2016 it moved its head office to Wittenberg and now has around 50 staff members.

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Prof Dr Dr h.c. Margot Käßmann

Special envoy of the EKD Council for the Reformation anniversary in 2017

2017 will be a special year. All over the world, people will remember Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses. Of course, there are discussions about whether he really did nail them to the door of Castle Church or whether they were just duplicated as tracts. Also about whether the church can celebrate a division or whether it is the right date for a festival. However, despite such considerations, it is becoming ever clearer: Oh yes, we will celebrate Reformation. Not as a history of division but as a common history of churches, as ecumenical history, as the history of our country and our culture, as an international event, as a history of learning.

It is particularly important to me that the World Reformation Exhibition, taking place in and around Wittenberg from May to September, avoids using the definite article. It is not just an exhibition on THE Reformation. Reformation, we have learned, was a broader process, that began back in the 15th century with different reform movements, e.g. with Jan Hus, or even with John Wyclif in the 14th century. And this process comprised many people: Philipp Melanchthon and Ulrich Zwingli, Katharina von Bora and John Calvin, Argula von Grumbach and Martin Bucer, to name but a few.

However, Martin Luther remains the central, symbolic figure. It was his particular gift to hit the nail on the head; his enormous linguistic gifts and sometimes also his stubbornness were certainly crucial. And yet no one needs to fear that there will be a “Luther cult”. The Reformation know about his dark sides, particularly his anti-Judaism. That will not be passed over in silence.

It is also clear that 1517 is only ONE date. The Reformation sprang up at different places. Some say that in 1517 Luther was still a whole-hearted, albeit reform-minded, Catholic and that he only became a Reformer in 1520 or 1521. But only a century later, by 1617, the publication of the 95 Theses had taken on a special significance: so 1517 remains a symbolic date. I am particularly pleased that the Swiss churches and also the World Communion of Reformed Churches have embraced this date and are playing an active part in preparations for the World Reformation Exhibition.

Wittenberg in 2017 will be a place of ecumenical dialogue. There will be theological debates. We can rejoice at the existence of an ecumenical movement in which we have learned that more unites than divides us. And that applies precisely in view of secularization. But the Roman Catholic Church has taken up ideas from the Reformation.

The worldwide ecumenical movement and the challenges of a globalized world will also be topics for discussion. An inter-religious dialogue is, of course, included. The Reformation has taught us that the Christian churches today must be in dialogue because setting oneself apart and disparaging others is not the way forward.

On top of all this, there should be sufficient time and space to reflect on how much Reformation has influenced culture, language and education. So there are to be theatrical performances, musicals and a Luther oratorio. Wittenberg’s Old Prison will accommodate an exhibition on “Luther and the Avantgarde”.

And gates of freedom will be flung open as well. Luther’s concept of the freedom of a Christian sallied forth from Wittenberg into the world. Now, in Wittenberg, we intend to harvest its fruits, i.e. bring together the outcomes in our churches and in society, in culture and in politics.

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Minister of Justice Prof Dr Gerhard Robbers

Chair of the Steering Committee for the Reformation anniversary in 2017

Many topics challenge us to find common answers – ultimately to question about how we can live together in peace and justice, and be mindful of the life of coming generations. Christians seek and find replies to these questions in their faith. That was so at the time when Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and many of their contemporaries called into question the theology and thus the social structures of their time. That is so in our present age, when Christians engage with the challenges it poses.

The Reformation Summer in 2017 will recall not only how people changed the church and the world 500 years ago. It will also offer the opportunity to address the important issues in our society, in discussion, in prayer for one another, and at joint celebrations: at various way-stations in Europe from November 2016, the Kirchentag in Berlin and Wittenberg, and the Kirchentag on the Way in Central German cities, not to mention the World Reformation Exhibition. In addition, the youth camps during the summer will offer young people the opportunity of grappling with issues concerning the future. Together we will worship at the festive service outside the gates of Wittenberg, so that Reformation experiences from the past blossom into a new future.

Picture Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany

Love God and your neighbour as yourself. For Christians, that is what it is about. From tiny beginnings 2000 years ago has grown a great movement, embracing 2.3 billion people worldwide today. What a message!

A message that touches people’s hearts ever anew. In summer 2017 we will together celebrate the fact that the strength of Christian faith can change the world. Back in 1517 the theologian and monk Martin Luther rediscovered the strength gained from God’s love. He sparked a debate and changed society and the world as thoroughly as he changed the churches. Strength from faith helps to “move mountains”. This has become a common idiom not least thanks to Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible.

Together we Christians can shape the world and society and commit ourselves to life. In 500 years of Reformation history we have learned that it helps to work with rather than against one another. That is why we are celebrating the Reformation anniversary ecumenically with all Christian churches. Groups, initiatives and institutions for which the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a world-ranking event are invited to take part – be they in Wittenberg itself, on the European Roadmap or from local churches in other countries. Let us make the Reformation anniversary in 2017 a great festival of Christ, as a testimony to our faith and our hope for a better world!

 

 

Picture Christina Aus der Au

Dr Christina Aus der Au

President of the Kirchentag in Berlin and Wittenberg

The 36th German Protestant Kirchentag is to take place in Berlin and Wittenberg in May 2017 – embedded in a number of other events around the Reformation anniversary. The Kirchentag participants and many other Christians from all over the world will attend a service on the river banks outside the gates of Wittenberg. From there we will have a splendid view of Castle Church and the Town and Parish Church of St Mary, the most notable churches in the town where Martin Luther lived and preached for many years.

But the Reformation and the quincentenary would have been misunderstood if we do not reflect – among ourselves and with many others – on how we draw on this heritage here and now in our lives and faith, and make a difference in the world. The biennial Kirchentag has provided space for that, which has been used by many for over 60 years.

With the World Reformation Exhibition in Wittenberg, the Kirchentag on the Way in the cities of Central Germany and at many other events, the Reformation Summer will offer many other shared opportunities for asking how, on the basis of their faith, Protestants can help to shape the present and the future – and what it means to remember the roots from which they stem.