31 October 2009

Reformation and Revolution in Wittenberg

Today marks the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, which he is reputed to have nailed to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, thus setting in train what has been described as the Protestant revolution. 20 years ago in this town about 90 kilometres south of Berlin, Christians organized the fourth of their "prayers for renewal" ("Gebet um Erneuerung") calling for civic rights and reform in East Germany. For the first time, the service since the "prayers for renewal" began, was followed by a "demonstrative procession" from the Schlosskirche to the Marktplatz, where 7 theses were stuck onto the door of the Town Hall. Jane was then studying at Wittenberg and she wrote in her diary:
The Gebet um Erneuerung in the evening was preceded by a certain amount of tension - what if there was violence, how would we cope? ... It went well. Over an hour before the start, the church was full and the courtyard outside was packed. Hans Treu, the dean of Wittenberg, had written a very good meditation and hand led the intercessions so there was no clapping of speechifying. As we sang the Kyrie, suddenly he atmosphere changed and in the gallery, people started lighting their candles. It was very moving. The demonstration was terribly orderly. I was one of two people carrying a banner reading, "You can't fill a hungry soul with prosperity". We were very near the back. I felt rather uncomfortable that I and not a GDR person was carrying something. Our candles dribbles wax everywhere, of course, making weird and wonderful sculptures on our hands.

In the distance it looked as if a small group of police were watching the demonstration from the corner, but as we got closer it turned out to be a group of Soviet soldiers who had turned up to watch us. Someone had even handed one of them a candles. One of the students greeted them in Russian and they returned the greeting with a smile. It was a small sign of the kingdom of God.

The market place was full, the local council had supplied (spontaneously) a proper P.A. system. It was all a bit calm, still a church service really. People no doubt expected a bit more. Some shouting at the town hall, "Come out". We sang a bit more, things were read about Luther and Melanchthon. Demokratischer Aufbruch and Demokratie Jetzt read their programmes out. DA sees socialism as the dominant force in the GDR. DJ sees no role for socialism except with a (modern) democratic set-up. DA is like a left wing Social Democratic Party and DJ like a left wing Dree Democratic Party. It's all really weird. No doubt they will all start splitting rather than merging in the coming years. There's supposedly a meeting of the United Left coming off soon, which really of course means a meeting of the Un-United Left. Once everyone had finished talking and it was agreed that we'd meet again next week and invite the Burgermeister as well. The market place was covered in candles, really very pretty. Many were on the steps of the Rathaus where the 7 Theses (thank goodness not 95!) had been attached to the door as a reminder of Luther.

It was stressed throughout the evening that this was not a church/state conflict but a people/state conflict. Quite an important difference but for how much longer can the church speak for the people, will it be able to give up that role? ...

Discussion over supper indicates that the local newspaper carried pictures and a full article about yesterday's demonstration, over 8000 people they reckon. In Prague many arrests have been made in the past fortnight. Havel is in jail again. If the world markets are about to go through a sticks patch then it's really worrying to think what the effect on Glasnost and Perestroika might be.
The German theologian Kay-Ulrich Bronk has written about the Gebete um Erneuerung in Wittenberg in autumn 1989 in his book, "The flight of the dove and the fall of the Wall", in which he quotes from Propst Treu's meditation:
Martin Luther did not discuss his theses with a small group of his students and colleagues but published them on 31 October 1517 so that they would be known to all and so bring renewal to church and society. We want to reconstruct this move to the outside world. We want to take renewal from the church through the streets of our town to the market place and from their to our homes and families, to where we work and - especially importantly - into the schools of our town (applause) ... This is the way we are going, creating conditions that have been renewedl relationships through people who have been renewed ... I want to mention something that has been mentioned in the previous three Tuesday evenings ... We have been brought to our current crisis and plight because a single party has claims the monopoly of power and truth, that must be changed (long protracted applause, stamping of feet) Dear friends, the Bible says: only people who have been renewed have the power to create conditions that have been renewed.
Bronk then continues himself:
The prayers for renewal ... were oriented towards specific issues like the political worship of the 1968 generation and inductive like the ecumenical assemblies of the conciliar process ... Before the people leave the church and move through the streets of Wittenberg in a "demonstrative procession", the final hymn of the prayers for renewal is sung, "Bewahre uns Gott" ("La paz del Señor"). I have already noted how this song had the character of a a song for sending out. But on no other evening did it have this character as on this occasion. Many of the participants probaby understood the refrain, "Sei um uns auf unsern Wegen", was probably understood by many of the participants as a direct reference to the march through the streets to the Marktplatz in front of the Rathaus. Then although the walk had been agreed with the town bosses, it was without any precedent ..,The demonstrations in other towns that had passed off peacefully could serve as an encouragement, but the first step from the protective space of the church had to be done anew in each town, and as such was accompanied by uncertainty ... As the people left the Schlosskirche and the Stadkirche the bells of both churches were rung. This had not only a liturgical but also a psychological function: a psychological in that this helped to overcome inner anxiety, a liturgical function in that it signalled that the move out of the church was not simply a political affair, but was a consequence of what had happened inside the church. Noah's dove had found dry land. The people left the Ark.
This year the Reformation celebration is going to be marked by a tree planting ceremony in Wittenberg, as the first trees are planted for the Luther Garden, in which churches worldwide are to be encouraged to adopt one of the 500 trees that are planned for the Luther Garden and also to plant a tree themselves to denote a link with the birthplace of the Reformation.

Meanwhile, over on the StranzBlog, Jane is blogging about the prayers for renewal being a spirituality of civil society.

(Photo is from Friedrich Schorlemmer's book, "Die Wende in Wittenberg")


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