In late September, 14 leaders from Lutheran Schools across Australia set off on the LEA Study Tour to Germany. What a rich experience and absolute blessing it was. Reconciliation and Reformation were two key themes that emerged strongly in the 15 days we travelled together. The study of some of Luther’s writings, the lectures from theologians, the historical site visits, and carefully selected learning engagements renewed my commitment to sharing the message of John 3:16 with all in my College community. The very same message that Luther himself defended in Worms in 1521. Lutheran schools are built on many of the same things Luther held dear. Such things as reconciliation, hope, care, connection, love and forgiveness. Things that shape the culture of our Lutheran schools and underpin what is written about in Growing Deep. A culture that is felt in every learning community no matter where in Australia it is. And it began in 1517, where one man – Martin Luther, commenced his work and shaped what would be tangibly felt in our schools to this day, in the most profound way.
From the start of the tour where we stood together inside the Church of Reconciliation in Berlin (just metres from where the Berlin Wall tore a congregation apart) to the final reflections at St Stephens (a church that has been praying for reconciliation for 1000 years), we were provided with opportunities to think about and discuss how we too, can be ambassadors of reconciliation back in our learning communities.
Five days in Wittenberg being hosted by Lutheran World Federation was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We worshipped in the Castle Church where Luther allegedly nailed his 95 theses to the Church door, we toured historical sites led by ‘Katherina von Bora’ and learnt more about the religious and political influences at places like Lutherhaus, Katharina Portale, Philip Melanchton Haus, Cranach Haus and Luther’s church (Town Church). We visited the Melanchton School and worshipped with them in the Reformation Garden. (This garden consists of 500 trees – one for each year of the reformation, planted in 2017 by representatives of Lutheran Churches all over the world.)
We visited Wartburg Castle in Eisenach and saw where Luther had been hidden away after refusing to recant his beliefs at an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire. In this castle, Luther spent his time translating the New Testament into ‘people’s German’ in just 11 weeks. Having experienced the painstaking effort of writing using the tools Luther would have had at his disposal combined with the labour-intensive printing press, this would have been no mean feat!
We visited Leipzig and attended a concert of Bach cantatas in St Thomaskirche. It made me appreciate Reformation was still happening 200 years after Luther first posted his 95 theses to the Church door in Wittenberg! In Bach’s cantatas he wove the words of the Bible into beautiful music, to be shared with the people each Sunday.Another highlight was standing in the place where Luther had been summoned by the political and religious leaders of the time to renounce his views and reaffirm his support of Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor.
Some lessons I took away from the Study Tour:
- Education has always been valued by the Lutherans.
- Luther was prepared to be wrong and refine his theology by continuing to go back to the original Latin and Hebrew documents. This led to refining translations of the Bible which Luther was still working on when he died. His work modelled continuous learning and growth. Aren’t we called to do the same in our schools?
- Luther’s practice of engaging women, students, scholars, and others in discussions and debates highlighted the inclusivity of the Reformation movement. (Just like the Dresden missionaries we learnt about in Leipzig who valued the Aboriginal people whom they had felt called to minister. Reformation in action again!)
Despite the great man Luther was, the wonderful work he did in reforming our church – he was very much a flawed human being – we learnt lots about that too! (Some of these sessions were most confronting!) Just as it says in Romans 3:23 “All are sinners by nature and fall short of the glory of God.” Just as God equipped Martin Luther, Philip Melanchton, Katharina von Bora, Lucas Cranach, JS Bach, the Dresden Missionaries – he will equip us too.
As Rob Bell writes:
“…Luther was taking his place in a long line of people who never stopped rethinking and repainting the faith. Shedding unnecessary layers and at the same time rediscovering essentials that had been lost. Luther’s work was part of what came to be called the Reformation…And this process hasn’t stopped. It can’t… as a part of this tradition, (we must) embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming… “
Bell, Rob (2012-08-02). Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith . HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition
Author: Tori Weiss, Head of Junior School, Encounter Lutheran College SA