TORRINGTON, CONN (SZS) — Five centuries have passed since German monk, priest, and professor Dr. Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses in Wittenberg, Germany. To observe this 500th anniversary, our synod’s congregations have marked this milestone with celebration, study, and reflection. This quincentennial event has provided us with a welcome occasion to learn more about this 16th century reformer after whom our denomination, as well as some of our congregations, is named. The reformation spark, which began with such pre-reformers as Jan Hus in Prague, ignited into a Reformation which began in Germany in 1517 and spread to many people and churches globally. The Lutheran Reformation is recognized as having a world-wide effect on not only the church, but on society as well. This influence continues even today, as we recognize how Reformation foundations and thought strengthen our understanding of, and commitment to, ministries and relationships both within our own church as well as ecumenically.
Events in our Slovak Zion Synod observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation have taken many forms. They began at our Synod Assembly in September 2016, when we launched a synod-wide study of Luther’s Small Catechism and included several Reformation activities within the assembly. Our synod has also participated internationally at Reformation observances in Slovakia. In addition, Synod pastors have been presenters and preachers ecumenically: the Rev. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson gave a lecture at Yale Divinity School’s Reformation Conference on The Reception of Luther in American Pentecostalism, and the Rev. Thomas S. Drobena preached the Reformation sermon at the Selwyn College chapel in Cambridge, England.
Congregations in our Synod have taken the opportunity to reflect on Luther’s teachings in various ways, including sermon series, newsletter articles, and Sunday School activities. St. John’s in Lansford, PA examined the teachings of Luther’s Catechism through a month of sermons given by the Rev. Marjorie Keiter, while their Sunday School reflected on the significance of Luther’s 95 theses by making crafts and “posting” them to the church door. St. Peter and St. Paul in Blue Island, Illinois, under the direction of Interim Pastor Melissa Kuemmerle, got an early start on the 500th anniversary by incorporating pieces of Luther’s Catechism into their worship service as a litany each Sunday, starting with Reformation Sunday in 2016. This also served to honor Luther’s understanding that even learned Doctors of theological academia need to return to the basics sometimes. A monthly newsletter piece circulated in St. Paul’s church newsletter in Danbury, CT that covered a myriad of reformation information; in it, the Rev. Allen German discussed the history of the Reformation, its continued impact on the protestant churches, the spread of the Reformation and its reach into Slovakia, Luther’s Catechism, and even “outed” many famous Lutherans, from critically-acclaimed actor Bruce Willis to New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady.
While many congregations have meditated and studied the history of our tradition as Lutherans, other congregations in our Synod have boldly shared in the gifts and traditions themselves, including the famed American Lutheran propensity for food, fellowship, and special programs. Dr. Martin Luther in Brooklyn, Ohio, under the direction of their Women of the ELCA group held a luncheon to mark the occasion, while Ascension Lutheran in Binghamton, New York under the direction of Deacon Sandra Kadlecik reached out to members and friends and hosted a special German style meal following a special Sunday worship to mark the occasion. St. Peter and St. Paul in Blue Island hosted a luncheon birthday party after worship celebrating both the 500th anniversary and the congregation’s 110th anniversary. Holy Trinity in Trumbull, CT followed their dinner with a viewing of Luther, the cinematic adaptation of our reformer’s life story and legacy, starring Joseph Fiennes. Both Saints Peter and Paul Lutheran Church in Hazleton, PA as well as St. Peter and St. Paul in Blue Island followed their dinner with a viewing of Rick Steves’ video tour of Lutherland in Germany, and an observance of our history and traditions; this video was a free gift to every congregation this year. Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Manhattan and the Rev. Michal Misina celebrated the Reformation’s 500th anniversary and the congregation’s 115th anniversary with a dinner attended by our Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek, the Slovak Ambassador to the United Nations, H.E. Michal Mlynar, and even a special surprise guest, “Katherina Von Bora” herself; the great reformer’s highly accomplished wife was brought to life by a skilled thespian talent, who gave many insights into the story of “Katie Luther” and what it was like to live in their household in those times.
While these brief glimpses from a few of our congregations highlight how many celebrated this milestone with additional activities, it must be noted that it was especially fitting to the memory and spirit of Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation by celebrating through worship. St. John’s, Charleroi, PA and Holy Trinity Slovak in Manhattan featured special choir music in their Sunday worship, with Bishop Kucharek preaching at Holy Trinity. The congregations in Manhattan and Blue Island also supplemented Sunday worship with the addition of brass accompaniment. How fitting that, as we reflect upon and celebrate the various ways in which those in our Slovak Zion Synod have observed this 500th anniversary, the Rev. Mike Johnson of Dr. Martin Luther Lutheran in Muskegon said: “…the best way to commemorate [the Reformation’s 500th anniversary] is to celebrate Mass according to the Augsburg Confession…”.
Over the course of this year, in initiatives and events across our Synod, the ELCA, the Lutheran World Federation, and ecumenically, we have been inspired by the ways in which Lutherans continue “to be servants; completely attentive to the needs of all”, just as Luther had said about all Christians. Martin Luther’s counter-cultural message and continual insistence that the unconditional promise of God’s love in Jesus Christ frees us to love and serve our neighbors has stood the test of time over these past five-hundred years and is just as fitting for us today as it was for Christians five-hundred years ago.
On this occasion, and into our church’s future, may we be witnesses to the grace we have received through Jesus Christ, proclaiming to a world broken by sin that God has reconciled the world to himself, and is continually at work, even in and through us, re-forming the body of Christ. Thanks be to God.
“Christians live not in themselves, but in Christ and in their neighbor. Otherwise they are not Christians. They live in Christ through faith, and in their neighbor through love.” — Martin Luther