The monuments of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon at Market Square, Wittenberg. Photo: LilGraphie/Shutterstock
A Toronto Anglican priest will head to Wittenberg, Germany, this summer as part of a Canadian Lutheran delegation to help mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
The Rev. Dawn Leger, ordained an Anglican priest in 2006, has been serving as pastor at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown Toronto since last August. (The full communion agreement reached in 2001 by the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada [ELCIC] allows clergy of each denomination to officiate at the services of the other.) Last January, she found out, to her excitement, that she was among a group of five Lutheran clergy chosen to represent ELCIC at a commemoration event held at Wittenberg.
“This is such an incredible story, about how the Lutheran church—and almost the Protestant movement—began, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to experience that excitement, and the beginning of a church that has a very different beginning than the Anglican church,” she says.
Also on the delegation will be the Rev. Mark Kalvaitis, pastor at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Millions of people from around the world, Kalvaitis says, are expected to be in Wittenberg during the event, which is part of a wider commemoration organized by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), a federation of Lutheran and other Protestant churches. The Wittenberg event, he says, will be like “like an Expo ’67, but for the Reformation…It’s kind of like a multicultural festival of all the places that this Reformation message has spread to, [with people] coming back together and saying what has happened over the past 500 years in their place.”
The Rev. Dawn Leger, an Anglican priest serving at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Toronto holds up “Little Luther.” The Playmobil toy, depicting Martin Luther, has become the company’s fastest-selling figurine in history. Photo: Marites Sison
The experience is bound to be festive—but it’s being called a commemoration rather than a celebration for a very important reason, he says. Though much good came from the Protestant Reformation, it also meant a painful split for Western Christendom.
Nor will the event be all back-patting, Kalvaitis says.
“I think there will be a bit of a candid discussion as well: the idea of being ever-reforming is a big part of our faith…have we solidified too much, and are we continuing to reform to be faithful?”
The commemoration will take place throughout much of the year, but the EKD is inviting specific churches from around the world to come and take part at specified times. ELCIC’s week in Wittenberg will be August 8 to 15. During that time, the delegation will put on exhibits and talks, meet people and share stories of ministry in Canada.
Leger says the group is hoping to highlight, among other things, ELCIC’s various ethnic ministries, especially in the Toronto area; the Anglican Church of Canada-ELCIC full communion relationship; and the role Canadian Lutherans and other Christians have played in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The group hopes to conduct a blanket exercise, an ecumenical educational tool meant to tell the story of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in Canada, for other commemoration attendees, she says.
The event will also feature drama, music, the sharing of foods from across the world and an “ecumenical couch” that will allow Lutheran and other theologians present to share ideas with one another and take questions from the public.
According to legend, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses—the treatise some see as setting the Reformation in motion—to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church (commonly known as Castle Church) on Oct. 31, 1517.