Day Ten

All good things must come to an end – so someone said. But it’s true. We began the day in Augsburg but leaving there made our way to Munich, the capital of Bavaria and the place where we would end the pilgrimage.

Heading home on the bus

It’s a city that has little to do with Luther, nothing with the man in his own day and hardly anything with Lutheranism today. Munich is a Catholic city and there we saw the evidence as an outside altar was being set up in front of the majestic Rathaus for the outdoors Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Cathedral is vast but there I saw what I thought I would never see – ostrich feathers! They were on the top of the poles that would form the corners of the canopy which would be carried over the Blessed Sacrament as it was carried through the streets of the city. They were a sight to see.

Resplendent ostrich feathers

I took the advantage of indulging in a plate of Goulash in which was set a large dumpling. It was all washed down with half a litre of Munich beer. The rest of the group of pilgrims were by this stage full of sausage and beer – but I was catching up with them.

An Augustinian pint

I was sorry to get only a taste of this experience of Luther but glad to get a few days of it. The rest of the group were delighted at having had such a fantastic time and having the opportunity to learn the fact and fiction about a man who helped to change the face of the church. We will continue with our commemoration of the reformation at the Cathedral as this year progresses. But for now we just pray as we did at the beginning.

O God, our refuge and our strength:
you raised up your servant Martin Luther
to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word.
Defend and purify the Church in our own day
and grant that, through faith,
we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace
which you have made known
in Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who with you and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Day Nine

One of the distinctive things about the Church of England and therefore Anglicanism, and something which is a problem to our critics, especially in gatherings and groups like GAFCON, is that we are not a confessional church.  There were attempts to make it so and I suppose that the presence of the 39 Articles of Religion at the back of the Book of Common Prayer are a real indicator that there were reformers on our side of the channel who wanted for us what they had on the Continent.  After all, setting out what the church believes in and how it operates from that theology and ecclesiology seems on the face of it reasonable.  But in England it was decided that doctrine would be held in the liturgy and through the Book of Common Prayer and that our life would continue to be regulated through Canon Law.

A plaque marking Luther in Augsburg

So it was great on this final day of touring that we arrived in the city of Augsburg.  There are two links with this mainly Protestant city set in mainly Catholic Bavaria and Martin Luther.  Luther came here from 12 – 18 October 1518 to meet Cardinal Thomas Cajetan who insisted on examining the teachings of this troublesome northern monk. Then on 8 April 1530 the Diet of Augsburg met in the city to debate an agreement with the protestants, what is known as the Augsburg Confession.  That document is an important statement about the beliefs of the ‘Lutherans’ as opposed to the Catholics.  It was a compromise.  Luther was not allowed outside Saxony and so couldn’t be in the city to argue his case for a ‘hard’ Confession.  But the more diplomatic Philipp Melanchthon, a close friend of Luther and first author of the Confession, knew that a ‘soft’ version would achieve more.  Sounds familiar!

The truth of course was that many priests were now married with children, monasteries had been dissolved, the translated scriptures were in people’s hands, people were receiving the sacraments in both kinds, and much that was superstious in former religious practise had been debunked.  There was no going back.  The only way was moving forward and so the interim agreement agreed in Augsburg with the Roman Catholic authorities allowed a more peaceful situation to develop.

The stairs to Luther’s Room at St Anna’s

Much of this early version of Brexit, the hard and the soft versions, centred on the beautiful church of St Anna.  It was here in what is known as Luther’s Room that the meeting with the Cardinal took place.  It was in this area that the Diet met.  It was here that peace was declared.

Frescos in the Goldsmiths’ Chapel

The church itself is beautiful.  The Goldsmiths’ Chapel still has pre-reformation frescos depicting the passion and the finding of the true cross by St Helena.  It is ironic that in a church that Luther visited this particular story is still depicted.  Luther was no fan of holy relics and was disdainful of the relics of the true cross which gained their legitimacy from the story of Helena.  Luther wrote

The chapels in forests and the churches in fields, such as Wilsnack, [where the blood of Christ could be found] Sternberg, [more blood of Christ] Trier, [the seamless garment, recovered by Helena, mother of Constantine and housed there at Trier] the Grimmenthal, [where an image of Mary cured people of syphilis] and now Regensburg [various relics and a bit of the ‘true Cross’] and a goodly number of others which recently have become the goal of pilgrimages, must be leveled.

The chapel though is well worth visiting.

A street in the Fuggerei

So is the beautiful Fuggerei in another part of the city. This huge ‘almshouse’, a complex of houses built by the local wealthy merchant and banker Jacob Fugger in 1516, is the oldest social housing project that is still in use and has been continuously since its foundation.  Fugger established it because he was concerned for the poor in his city and concerned, as a banker charging interest on loans to the Pope and the Emporer, for the state of his own soul in eternity.  So residents then and now have to fulfil three requirements – be citizens of Augsburg, be poor and commit to praying three times a day and for the soul of the benefactor and founder.  If they met those requirements they were given lovely accommodation for 88 cents a year, in modern money, and that remains the annual rent.  The residents are young and old, male and female, lone parents, widows and widowers, people in need of all kinds.  It’s a complex story really which in itself describes what lay behind so much of the reformation – justification by good works, a belief that prayers could get you out of purgatory and away from judgment, the whole concept of buying indulgences through benevolent acts.  But the good results can still be seen in an idyllic community.

A three-legged stool as a reminder of Anglican stability

The diplomatic compromise arrived at in Augsburg had to be achieved.  Perhaps there are lessons for us in the Anglican Communion and the presence of a three-legged stool in a kitchen in the Fuggerei was a sign to me that we have to keep looking for a truly Anglican way forward.

Lord, guide us to that middle way along which your people may continue to walk together. Amen.

Day Eight

Most of the people didn’t know that this was going to happen but on Sunday afternoon, after being in the Cathedral in the morning, I was able to get on a flight from Luton to Munich and finally join them. By then they were in Regensburg.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be able to join them after everything that’s we had been through. I had a great welcome when my taxi finally rolled up at the hotel.  There was a group having a drink and they were as thrilled to see me as I was thrilled to see them.

So I woke up on Day Eight ready to spend a great day with everybody. To be honest most of the Luther visits had been done. So we were to spend the day in the area of the city where we were staying. After breakfast we went a short drive into the city itself and to what since the beginning of the 19th century has been the palace of the noble family of Von Thurn und Taxis. They were an entrepreneurial family who had set up a European postal system which was then taken over by the state.  In compensation they got what had been a Benedictine Abbey which had been dissolved.  It was a good property to get – 500 rooms, a nice cloister, a good place to raise a family and make a name for yourself. The family made it palatial and I mean palatial and it remains their private home to this day.


We were told all about the family itself.  They weren’t originally German but Italian.  They were the Taxis family, a name which means Badger.  As they rose through the ranks they needed a better name and a better story. So they found another local family and a connection to them, whose name was ‘Tower’ and, ending up in Bavaria, they became the ‘Thurn und Taxis’, the ‘Tower and Badger’ family.  It would make a fascinating edition of the BBC programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ Around the palace were wonderful tapestries hanging on the walls doing just that thing – telling the visitor who the ‘Tower and Badgers’ thought they were! In one they were in the foreground of a battle as though they were the victors yet in fact they had lost it.  But history is always told by the ultimate victors and as it suits them.


That theme was followed up in the afternoon when, after a short cruise down the Danube, we arrived at Walhalla.  This replica of a Greek Temple built on a promontory over the river by King Ludwig I is a wonderful sight.  Inside its walls are full of plaques and busts of all the famous Germans – well the ones who made it into the room! So there is Goethe and Einstein, Hildegard and Mozart.  We found the bust of Luther, very recognisable and Edith Stein.  By the door is Sophie Scholl who at 22 was executed for non-violent resistance to the Nazis. 


Edith Stein wrote

‘My longing for truth was a single prayer’.

The whole concept in Walhalla was to create a national story.  It was the same for the family with their palace and exotic name.  The story around Luther is one that the pilgrims have been learning – much of it true but much of it not.  We create the story we need and hope that truth survives the process. Or maybe we don’t, maybe the story for some is more important than the truth. Edith’s prayer has to be ours as we long for truth whether that be in church, society or politics.  We know how dangerous the national story can be and Sophie’s image next to the door of Walhalla is a poignant reminder of that.


By the door of that mausoleum is an empty shelf waiting for more images of more people who will add to the story.  Who will go there?

Lord Jesus, may you be part of my story and may I be part of yours. Amen.

Day Seven

Our latest correspondents are Zanna and Keith.

On Saturday night Mark informed us that the Dean would be leading a minute’s silence in Bedale Street by the Cathedral at 10.10pm, one week after the terrible events of the previous Saturday’s events. We were invited to join them in the silence (at 11.10pm local time) as a mark of support and solidarity; a further opportunity to reflect and pray for those so tragically caught up in that atrocity, hose in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Accidents of time and place: Luther was perhaps the right man in the right place at the right time. A professor at Wittenburg, the top university of its time, a time of bubbling concerns about elements of the established church, disparate strands of concern found their focus in a man who had the ability and character to argue them through fearlessly and steadfastly and with the protection, despite a very different theological perspective, of Frederick the Wise.  In addition, it was a time of advancements in printing, which allowed widespread dissemination of Luther’s work.

Today, on the continuation of our tour of Leipzig, we could draw more ‘time and place’ parallels in the centuries later context of the aftermath of the Second World War.

As we drove into Leipzig centre, Silvio explained with compelling passion and knowledge about living through the last years of the GDR regime and the way the 1989 revolution bubbled up. Our walking tour started in Augustus Square, the Gewandhaus at one end and the Opera at the other. Both buildings rebuilt under the Stazi regieme following devastating bombing in WWII. The old monastery, latterly the university church of St Paul, consecrated in 1240, survived the war but was blown up by the GDR. The modern (2009) university buildings at the site have an echo of the old church’s east end with the replacement university church inside.

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The new church

Nearby is a modern and controversial sculpture parodying five elements of life under the Stazi regime depicting five people perverting the professions in the interest of the state.

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The perversion of professions

Silvio showed us photos showing how run-down Leipzig had become under communist rule; it was easy to appreciate how, for the patriotic citizens of a once beautiful city of culture, this was part of the ‘touch paper’ which led to the October 1989 uprising, centring on St Nicholas’ Church.

A students’ service had been held every Sunday following the destruction of the University church. This led on to the Peace movement, started in 1982 as a result of short-range nuclear missiles being stationed nearby. The Pastor initiated Peace Prayer Services. Numbers increasing throughout the 1980s – they became a lawful expression of unrest. At the same time, although movement from East to West Germany was a difficult and daunting business, East Germans were able, through TV media and other means, to see a very different way of life in the West. This culminated in the peaceful protest of 9th October 1989 when 70,000 people walked around the city centre from St Nicholas’ Church carry candles whilst singing and praying. Four weeks later the wall came down – this was the People’s Revolution. The key message is that the Stazi were ready for violence but did not know how to handle mass peaceful protest.

Leipzig is a beautiful city, full of historic, cultural and artistic connections, which we were only able to sample in small part, and which was to play an important part in the major global political changes at the end of the 20th Century.

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The concert hall

After an afternoon’s drive to Regensberg, we celebrated the Eucharist in Neufarrkirche. This church was built on the sie and using stones from a demolished Jewish Synagogue in the middle ages. A larger church was planned but the rest was not built. As Luther’s influence spread this church owned by the civic authorities was turned into the first Lutheran church in the now Protestant city.

Day Six

Today’s correspondent from the pilgrimage in Germany is Alison.

A day of sunshine, and dazzling culture, first by coach to Wittenberg and Luther’s house – initially an Augustinian monastery and then a home for Luther and his wife Katherine. Their marriage had a pragmatic beginning. She was one of twelve ex-nuns needing homes and husbands – there was no such thing as an unattached single woman of good character in the Middle Ages. She would only marry Luther, so when she was 26 and he was 42 they were wed. Six children later, 3 boys and 3 girls, Luther was writing to her as “my dear Lord and Master, Katie”. When he died aged 56 his friend and colleague Melaucthan became her legal guardian. Katherine was a good manager and business woman who made her family well off.

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Luther’s house is also the home to the largest Reformation Museum. It was in this house preparing his lecture on Romans that Luther formulated his key doctrine of “Justification by Faith alone.”

In the museum there is an actual Indulgence Chest for collecting the money from the sale of Indulgences (letters granting time off in Purgatory guaranteed by the Pope). The chest was recently restored and when opened contained over €600 – so people still think they can buy Indulgences!

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Around the family table, friends and students gathered with Luther to talk and discuss – and six volumes of the table talks were produced!

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The museum repays multiple visits.

Wittenberg is home to a famous University. Shakespeare’s Hamlet studied here and Marlowe’s Dr Faustus lived here. The painter and apothecary Cranach painted over 5,000 paintings here of which 1,000 remain as bright as they were on the first day. He made his own paints and had a secret recipe.

St Mary’s, the town church, also known as Luther’s Preaching Church – where he preached 1,700 sermons – is at the end of the main street. Luther said “One can preach over everything but not over 20 minutes!” Some of his colleagues preached over two hours.

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The town was full for the annual re-enactment celebration of Martin and Katherine Luther’s wedding – providing a kaleidoscope of music, marching, craft stalls (with delicious street food).

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We finished our visit by Luther’s grave in the Castle (University) Church – where the famous 95 Theses were supposed to have been nailed to the door. Though both church and wooden door have been renewed since.

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Then by coach to the cultural hub of Leipzig – home to J S Bach for 27 years as Cantor at St Thomas’ Church. Leipzig is also the birth place of Wagner, home to Felix Mendelssohn and Schiller (who wrote Ode to Joy here), Mahler, Grieg and Schumann and also still home to one of the world’s best orchestras!

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Day Five

Martyn is our Germany correspondent on Day Five on the Luther pilgrimage.

 

We awoke to the results of the UK election and found we were once again living in exciting times! We left down-town Erfurt which emerged as a Lutheran City with a sunny, relaxed atmosphere.

The day lay open before us as we said Morning Prayer and welcomed Rosemary Nutt from McCabe Pilgrimages for her first day with us on the pilgrimage bus heading for Eisleben.  Here we learnt that Luther had been baptised at the bottom of the tower of what was to become the beautiful church of St Peter and St Paul with its modern immersion pool in front of the congregation before the Bible on the altar. Here we all renewed our baptismal promises.

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Renewing baptismal promises

 

We also visited the site of the house where Luther was born in 1483, which burnt down two centuries later to be rebuilt as a school house and (in 1693) the first public museum devoted to Luther’s remarkable role.

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The site of Luther’s birth

 

We also had time to see the Church of St Andrew where Martin Luther gave his last sermon before passing away without elaborate rites but many of his family and close friends and supporters around him in 1645.

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The Church of St Andrew

 

Our bus then took us the short distance across undulating countryside with occasional slag heaps to remind us of the mining history of the region to the industrial City of Halle with its medieval centre. Here we viewed Luther’s death mask in the vast, tall church called the Market Church with its twin spires.

Day 5 4
Behold the man

 

Before driving on to Leipzig, we had a fascinating visit to a fine museum about the life and work of Handel (who was born in Halle and of course died in London) and listened to his music. We were reminded of what Martin Luther was recorded as stating – ‘The devil is a sad spirit and likes sad people. Therefore he cannot bear merriment. This is the reason why he flees as far as possible from music. He doesn’t stay where people sing.”

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Day Four

Today’s correspondent from Germany is Vanessa.

The pilgrims spent today in the city of Erfurt, named by St Boniface who established it bishopric in 742. The name means “ford over the muddy river”. The river Gera branches a great deal within the city, so it is sometimes called “Little Venice”. One of the most famous sights is the Merchants’ Bridge, where the river is crossed by a row of medieval houses, still inhabited today.

An inhabited bridge

As the UK went to the polls, we began today’s walking tour by an imposing statue of Luther over the words (in German) of Ps 118: v7: “I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord”.

The great man

With that in mind we proceeded to the day’s highlight – the visit to the Augustinian Monastery where Luther spent his first years as a monk. I felt a little ambivalent (as a keen supporter of a monastic community) about the prospect of an insight into the life which Luther later rejected. However, it was moving to see a reconstruction of Luther’s cell in one which he would certainly have used.

Luther’s cell

The church had towering stained glass windows at its west end. Remarkably, they were 700 years old (with some restoration). The central panel showed the Nativity and the Virgin Mary was dressed in brown! She could not have been shown in blue in Erfurt, a city whose wealth came originally from trading in woad. Brown signified her humility.

Beautiful glass

Our mid-morning devotion was held in the Chapter House. Pope Benedict VI met Lutheran church leaders here. As we worshipped we stood on the same tiled floor as Luther before us. It was pointed out to us that it was here in his monastic life that Luther discovered the truth that the love and grace of God are freely given to us and to be lived by us.

The Chapter House

Nearby, a crypt area commemorates the cellar in which 267 people died while trying to shelter from a World War Two bombing raid. Only a small girl and a dog survived. In the corner was a votive stand in front of a Cross of Nails given by Coventry Cathedral.

Nails that are links to Coventry and the cross

A free afternoon provided a chance to visit the Old Synagogue dating from around 1100, and converted into a store room after the pogrom of 1349. It now houses medieval manuscripts and a treasury of remarkable silverware and jewellery, the most memorable being an elaborate early 14th century Jewish wedding ring.

O God,
You pour out your love upon us freely,
help us to meet all the changes and challenges on our life’s pilgrimage
in the strength of your abundant grace,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Day Three

Another Gill wrote this blog on her experiences on Day Three.

An early start for the pilgrimage this morning as we left at 8:30am for our visit to Eisenach, the western-most town in the former East Germany. Bill Clinton came here in 1998 as the first US President ever to visit East Germany and spoke of freedom and opportunity to the enraptured mass crowd. We learnt that the 1989 revolution when the border wall came down was actually spearheaded by Lutheran pastors – a wall built as an “anti-fascist protection mechanism” for East Germany. En route we passed Marburg, the place where Luther and Zwingli met to try and form one reformation movement, but without success. Their differences over the interpretation of the Eucharist (Christ’s actual presence in the bread and wine as opposed to the symbolic nature of bread and wine) proved unresolvable.

A delicious lunch

Soon we were crossing into the former East Germany and glimpsed the light tower and watch tower at the former border. Many of us felt a frisson of unreality as we passed into an area that had for so long remained inaccessible to so many.

Brooding skies

After a speedy lunch we made our way to Wartburg Castle, begun in 1067 and located 660ft above Eisenach. Some of us clambered up the steep stairs and paths to the top; others, perhaps more sensibly, arrived by minibus and less out of breath! The views across the Thüringen landscape were stunning, albeit shrouded in cloud with occasional ferocious downpours.

Luther hid in Wartburg Castle after being declared an outlaw (literally outside the law) at the Diet of Worms. It was here that he translated the New Testament into German from the Greek – a task he completed in just 11 weeks. A remarkable achievement for a man who knew little Greek when he started. He took a further 12 years for him to translate the whole Bible into German. Today, 60% of Luther’s translation still feature in the German Luther Bible.

Bach’s house

From Wartburg we returned to Eisenach, the place of Bach’s birth in 1685, his Baptism and where he lived for the first ten years of his life in the “Bach haus”, one of the oldest residential buildings in the town. Next door, the Bach Museum provides a wonderful opportunity to listen to his music and understand more of his life story. We were treated to a short recital of his music played on 200-300 year old instruments including organs, clavichord and harpsichord.

To conclude our day we enjoyed a short service in St George’s Church where, rather wonderfully, we came across a group of Norwegian Pastors and friends travelling on their own Luther tour!

Worship

Our band of weary but enthusiastic pilgrims then made their way to Erfurt to be greeted at the hotel by Rosemary Nutt from McCabe Pilgrimages – wonderful to see her.

Day Two

Jill is one of the group of pilgrims.  She wrote this.

Following our visit to St Stephen’s Church yesterday where we were treated to an array of beautiful blue stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall we set off on foot from the hotel to explore Mainz.

Pilgrims
O happy band of pilgrims

 

Passing the Carnival Fountain en route we visited the Gutenberg Museum. Johannes Gutenberg was born in 1400 and was the first to use a printing press with moveable metal letters, thus introducing the era of mass communication. He first adapted a wine press for use as a printing press and one of our group volunteered to show how this was done following a detailed demonstration.

Printing
Having a go at printing

 

Gutenberg was considered to be “Man of the Millennium” in terms of the impact of his invention followed by Columbus and Martin Luther in third place. We visited St Martin’s Cathedral where we observed a minute’s silence as 12 noon (11am UK time). We then dispersed to seek out lunch, first visiting the banks of the Rhine.

After lunch we travelled to Worms and visited the main Lutheran church there which was originally built in the 18th century on the place which was thought to be where Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms. Much of the church had been rebuilt following the Second World War.

We took the opportunity to enjoy an ice cream and then a group photo in front of the Luther memorial before moving onto the site of former Archbishop’s Palace where it is believed that Luther refused to revoke his writing in front of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

“Here I stand, I can do no other” are the words attributed to Luther and have meaning for the German people today, by standing in his big shoes.

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Big shoes to fill

Our next stop was St Peter’s Cathedral and then the Jewish Cemetery which survived the war and house some ancient graves.

 

Then finally back to the coach where we could reflect on an interesting and thought-provoking day.

A Letter from Germany – Day One

This blog was written by Mark, one of the pilgrims in the group.

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Some of the pilgrims

 

Having arrived at Frankfurt airport, we made our way by coach to Mainz and the Roman Catholic Church of St Stephen which was founded about 900 – established as a collegiate establishment of secular canons and was the imperial oratory for the Holy Roman Emperor. The existing church was severely damaged in the Second World War. It was restored after the war and is now noted for the wonderful stained glass by Marc Chagall.

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Church and cloister

 

They are dedicated:
To the glory of God – and in appreciation, joy and hope of man.
Sign of the bond between Jews and Christians, the friendship between France and Germany, the understanding between all peoples.
Praise the Lord, all ye works of the Lord.
Praise the Lord, light and darkness. (Daniel 3)

Following a tour of the church we held a short service of prayer in the Chapel of St Pankratius off the cloister. This is a prayer of Fr Klaus Mayer, the parish priest who approached Chagall to design stained glass for the church:

God of our Fathers,
in Thy goodness Thou hast revealed
Thyself to us and given us
Thy word as light on our way to life.
We beseech Thee:
Let us be touched by these church windows
which were created to Thy glory
and to strengthen our faith
and bring joy.
Open our own ears and hearts
and those of all visitors to this church
to receive the message of the Bible
which radiates from this work of art.
Let it be a symbol of peace,
a call to love of God and mankind,
understanding and reconciliation.
Lord, hear us and be merciful to us.
Amen

PS

The pilgrims in Germany have offered to write the blog.  Thank you.  So watch out for posts from those who are making this pilgrimage.  I’m looking forward to reading what they’re up to.

Luther – but in London

The pilgrimage began today.  The group from London flew from Heathrow, others flew from Bergen, a couple headed off on the train.  Eventually all arrived in Frankfurt.  All, except me.  The terrible events of Saturday evening, the terrorist attack on people on London Bridge and in the Borough Market, has meant that I had to make the difficult decision – stay or go.  In the end I had to stay.  The Cathedral cannot open.  Being at the centre of all that happened we are at the heart of the cordon that the Metropolitan Police have established so that the forensic investigations can take place.

To be honest it feels, well, weird.  Being unable to get into the place where we worship and work and, day after day, welcome people constantly through the doors is like being made homeless.  I have realised how much our ministry is about reflecting the hospitality of God.  Open doors, space for people to pray, or sit, or cry, or whatever they need space for is fundamental to who we are and what we do. Of course, we can worship outside, visit people where they are, go out rather than welcome in, but there is something that is lacking.

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (Isaiah 56.7)

That was a prophecy quoted by Jesus as he cleansed the Temple and effectively welcomed all the nations in.  That is our vision, not just in the Cathedral but in the community around it.  This is a house for all peoples, a community for all peoples, restoring that as a reality is the work that lies before us.

I need to be here, to work with my colleagues in holding the community together and seeing us back into the Cathedral. Please pray for us as we endeavour to do that.

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My mini-Luther

 

I hope that I will be able to post some pictures from the Luther Pilgrimage and share some experiences that others are having.  In the meantime, I do have my model Martin Luther to keep me company.

God of the nations,
wherever we are,
whoever we are,
you welcome us.
Your house is our house,
your house our home.
Bless us in the journey
that lies before us.
Amen.

Reformation

I had to vote last week – in the General Election. When the snap election was announced and the date was set I realised that for once in my life I was not going to be in the country on election day. So I sent off the form for my postal vote, duly received the papers and had the weird experience of standing in the kitchen with my pen – I wish the envelope had contained one of those stumpy pencils obviously only manufactured for UK elections – and made my cross in the box. On the radio the arguments between the parties were continuing. The campaign hadn’t ended but I had to make my choice, one way or the other, or the other, or the other ….

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Martin Luther

 

The reason that I won’t be here on Thursday is that that will be Day 4 of our Cathedral pilgrimage in the steps of Martin Luther. Monday sees over forty of us from the Cathedral and its wider community flying off to Frankfurt to begin tracing the life of someone who had an amazing effect upon the life and shape and beliefs of Western Europe and, indeed the world. To be honest I knew very little about Luther or indeed Lutheranism. Southwark Cathedral has had a very long link with the Norwegian Lutheran Cathedral in Bergen and has an even longer association with the work of the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. But, as I have discovered, Lutherans are even more complicated than Anglicans (though as yet I don’t think they consecrate curates as bishops!) and knowing the churches of Porvoo doesn’t mean that you know or understand Lutherans. My formation as a priest at Mirfield prepared me for lots of things that would be vital in my priesthood but Martin Luther was not one of them. I do remember one lecture by Fr Norman Blamires CR, now long since gone to his rest, in which he seemed to suggest that Luther had his best ideas on the loo. But just as people often only remember the most insignificant part of a sermon I can’t remember much more than that, or the point he was trying to make.

So I’m looking forward to travelling around Germany, with an expert guide and learning a great deal more about some hammer blows in a door that became hammer blows on a church. Of course, we shouldn’t talk about reformation but reformations because it wasn’t one movement but a whole series of movements that manifested itself differently in different communities, in different churches at different times. No expression of church in the west remained the same, we all reformed in one way or anther, to one degree or another. Neither is it a process that has ended.

In preparation for this year of commemoration the Lutherans and Roman Catholics produced a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’ and at the end of that there are a series of ‘Five Ecumenical Imperatives’ the second of which is this

Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.

It’s that process of continuous transformation that should excite us. The church, as we understand it, is never static, it changes, develops, but never loses its essential character as the Body of Christ.

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The transforming Spirit

 

We travel to Germany the day after the Feast of Pentecost, the great day of transformation for the church as locked in, frightened men were emboldened to become witnesses, as wind and fire brought energy and life, not just into them but into those who heard them. The crowds who heard the hubbub, people from every nation, hearing in their own language, asked one question

‘All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ (Acts 2.12)

That gave the opportunity for Peter, with a new found voice and confidence to stand up and preach the first sermon. Thousands of lives were re-formed, transformed as a consequence. I hope that as we travel around Germany we can experience some of that transformation that continuous process of change through encounter.

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This is the prayer we will be using throughout the pilgrimage.

O God, our refuge and our strength: you raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.