The 500th anniversary of the Reformation aims to bring fresh momentum to the church and society. As of 31 October 2016 people from Germany, Europe and the whole world can look forward to a full twelve months featuring festive worship services, Kirchentag gatherings and many other events to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his 95 theses. The EKD und DEKT have founded a special association (“r2017”) to organise the quincentenary.
A Signal of Reconciliation
The celebrations will differ greatly from those of previous centenaries. “The 2017 Reformation Year will be international and ecumenical,” says Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). “Clearly differing from all other centenaries in past centuries, we will send a signal of reconciliation and herald a new departure.” The 500th Reformation anniversary will put Christ in the centre. “After all, the Reformers did not want to found a new church, they wanted to point to Jesus Christ.” Bedford-Strohm said he was confident that during the anniversary year with its wealth of highpoints, many people would become enthusiastic about Christ just as Martin Luther had done. “Then they will begin to work for reconciliation,” Bedford-Strohm adds. “Celebrating 500 years of Reformation means intervening in public life.”
You see me
Swiss theologian Christina Aus der Au, president of the 2017 Kirchentag, recalls that Reformation always meant a courageous departure and turning away from old, familiar customs. Only “rethinking and taking consistent decisions can lead us through critical times,” she stated, in view of current social challenges. The theme of the 2017 Kirchentag is “You see me”. Christina Aus der Au explains: “It is Christian belief that we can and must carefully look and see, because God first looked at us.” The Kirchentag seeks dialogue with other denominations and religions but also “conversation with secular citizens”, she adds. And: “Struggling to find language that can be understood here and now is likewise a legacy of the Reformation”.
Confidence and Courage
Gerhard Robbers, Chair of the Steering Committee of the “r2017” association, emphasises the opportunity offered by the Reformation anniversary to make faith questions appealing to young people. He hopes that the wealth of events in summer 2017, and particularly the confirmand and youth camp for 20,000 teenagers, may even contribute to shaping a ‘Generation 2017’. “Confidence and the courage to try new things are at the heart of Reformation theology,” he believes. Giving the camps the motto “trust and try” meant inviting young people to “dare to trust – both God and themselves and their fellow humans”, says Robbers, who is also minister of justice in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Gates of Freedom
For Margot Kässmann, EKD special envoy for the Reformation anniversary, the “Gates of Freedom” of the World Reformation Exhibition in Wittenberg particularly express the outward-looking ambition of the Reformation anniversary. “Open doors are a vision of a peaceful future,” she said. For people in a secular age, worship could also be such an open door. Gates to faith are always also gates of longing for God and for peace and justice. “Those who perceive Reformation as situated in this wide, open space and in an international and ecumenical context will experience this as a new departure into the 21st century.”
It starts in autumn 2016
In autumn 2016, Protestant and Catholic Church leaders will first go on a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine in order to be reminded of the sources and roots of their common faith.
This ecumenical launch of the Reformation Year will be supplemented by an ecumenical Bible conference on 9 February 2017 in Stuttgart on the topic “Scripture as the basis of the Festival of Christ”. Finally, under the heading “healing of memories” the Protestant and Catholic churches will hold a joint service of penitence and reconciliation on 11 March 2017 in Hildesheim.
The international dimension of the Reformation comes out particularly clearly in one of the major events: the European Reformation Roadmap. On 3 November 2016 a visitor group will start out from Geneva and link up European cities with a Reformation connection. Via Central Germany it will end up at the World Reformation Exhibition “Gates of Freedom” in Wittenberg (open from 20 May to 10 September 2017). The opening of the exhibition, with viewpoints on the Reformation contributed by churches, organisations, initiatives and artists, will signal the “hot phase” (the Reformation Summer) of the anniversary celebrations.
Festive Weekend in Wittenberg
One of the high points will be the Ascension weekend in 2017. Over 100,000 participants are expected to attend the Kirchentag in Berlin from 24 May. With parallel programmes called “Kirchentag on the Way” in eight Reformation cities (from 25 May) a similar number of people will stop over in Central Germany on their way to Wittenberg. All will come together at the festive weekend: hundreds of thousands will join in worship at a huge service with Holy Communion on Sunday 28 May 2017, on the Elbe meadows just outside Wittenberg. From October 2016, the 360° Panorama by artist Yadegar Asisi “Luther 1517” will give an insight into the life and times of the university city of Wittenberg in the 16th century.
Many celebrities are expected to serve as Reformation ambassadors in 2017, and a pop oratorio on Luther will tour major German cities. All this will focus public attention as the curtain rises on the anniversary year. Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on 31 October 1517, an event since regarded as having sparked the worldwide Reformation movement.