The joy

of the Lord

is our strength.


A new church bell for Seyda 2017.






Dedicated to my mother for her 75th birthday, 19th October 2017



The inscription of the bell is a confession: „The joy of the Lord is our strength.“

It is modeled on the biblical words from the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah gave courage to the people of God, who came home after 40 years of exile, and needed to rebuild Jerusalem. Many houses were in ruins with weeds overtaking the town – and they were only a small force to tackle  a huge project, with limited means, however: “The joy of the Lord is your strength. (Neh 8,10).

Words of the Bible are not usually changed, but you can feel yourself addressed. This is Luther's doctrine: That we are talked about, that I am talked about. Hence: "The joy of the Lord is our strength."

"We are Lutherans" is a reason for the fact too that the good news of God applies to us all and that we should want to seize these words. It does not want to exclude, but to share the joy. And it managed to create and still to this day make connections: in this year of the 500th Reformation Jubilee we can feel it ever more. That is why the inscription on the bell is not only written in German, but also translated into English and Danish: "Wir sind Lutheraner” – “We are Lutherans" - "Vi er lutheranere".

The biggest contrast to the last great jubilee celebration in 1917 is: Nobody wanted to celebrate with "us", with Germany, back then, during a world war. But now, this year, it is different. We are celebrating. The anniversary has brought us together, not only in Wittenberg, but also in Gentha and Seyda.

Bishop Marianne Christiansen from Haderslev in Denmark has been our guest with pastors from her diocese on many occasions. The reason for her visits was the Danish Princess Hedwig, who became electress of Saxony and who founded the church in Gentha. Her image we have only recently discovered. She sits at the Lord's Table instead of a disciple. She shows that we have a place there too, not some strangers, unknown people, from a faraway land but we: This is Lutheran. This Lord is amongst us, where we trust him, to hear His Word and to celebrate the Lord's Supper and Baptism: There is a Church, very deep in the province, far away from the centers and main cities of the world, here, right where we are. This is the great joy, a discovery of the Reformation: and not just a one-day wonder, but by now this belief is over half a millennium old and has proven itself.

The joy of the bell will be represented like this: We are honored to have many people in our town, a church council with 11 people. Each one of our inhabitants whilst not always related to one another, is friendly and neighbors know each other and talk. Everyone is represented here: those who have called Seyda their home for many centuries, in the same way than those families who came to live with us as refugees after the war. Those who came because of love or work belong to the church, as do the artisan craftsmen and workers who actively support it, businessmen as well as academics. Those who have belonged for a lifetime, just like those who have only recently returned to our faith. The fairground staff and the circus artists' families who find each other here again, year after year. They have had their winter quarters in Seyda and the surrounding area for many years. Normally they travel through the country to bring others joy. The young and the old. Great to have one another. These connections are what the names on the bell represent.

And there are the many other connections that we have forged. Some which have existed for a long time, others which have arisen again just recently. We treasure the good cooperation with our city council which can be unusual these days and is credit to the district chairman Matthias Wegener.

Seyda was greatly affected by the first visit of Martin Luther to our church in 1528. He made a strong contribution to the construction of a school. Even today, very good relations between the church and the school exist in our town: together we were able to save it from closure in times when many small schools are fighting for their survival. Many common projects and encounters such as the home coming festivals, or the German-Polish youth exchange are organized together. The credit belongs to no other woman but Jaqueline Meissner, who until recently but for many years taught at our elementary school whilst looking after it as head too.

A beacon of love and a constant reminder to humanity in our midst is the Diest-Hof, the diaconal institution and home for people with mental disabilities in Seyda. The inhabitants and the staff are deeply woven into our church community and our town. They contribute to our lives with color and joy. Deacon Andreas Gebhardt is therefore named on the bell too. He successfully manages the Diest-Hof and shines with his enthusiasm.

Of course, the inscription also has historical references: "We are Lutherans," cried the peasants from neighboring Seehausen, as they went to protest before their vicarage with raised hymn books in their hands to prevent the demise of the familiar doctrines in their songs and catechism by an action of the Prussian king.

Finally, the old bell, next to which the new one will be hung, was poured during the Reformation year back in 1717, that is to say during the 200th Reformation Jubilee. Its inscription also deals with the joy that came after great suffering: after the devastating city fire a new beginning was sought, to augment the "Freudenthon evangelischer Christenheit in the future" (“The sharing of joyous sounds of evangelical Christianity”). On it too prominent community members and church representatives of our town were named.


Why do we need a new church bell? Well, the bell represents a strong piece of home - she calls to us and reminds us of the eternal home that we are allowed to call our own, the acceptance and our place with God in time and eternity, the love of Jesus Christ, which applies to us – to guide us on our path through life.


There were once five church bells: Four in the tower and a "Vesperdockchen" which still hangs in the small tower on the eastern tip. An old image of Seyda before the city fire in 1708 shows this. The fire changed everything. But the bells returned to the towers one by one - even if it took a long time. The church community needed almost 10 years until 1717 to replace them. After all, half the city burned down including the church, so there was much to do and rebuild. But even so, a new bell was purchased.

In the end, we had many again. But then the terrible wars came, the world wars: bells were melted down for armor, a cruel transformation of such a meaningful piece of art. In 1933 there was once again a Glockenweihe (an initiation of a bell) - with a parade from the Triftstraße across the market. We have taken that event as an example for our new parade through the town on the 1st of November.

Of course, it will not be a horse-drawn carriage this time - neither horses nor carriages are a common sight these days - but Frenzel, the carpentry brothers, will lend us their car on which the decorated bell will ride and portray our joy: It is our bell, she shall call us and join us in happiness. The marching band will lead the procession. This time we are starting at the school and the kindergarten, so that the children can be involved and walk alongside it. Even the littlest ones from our community will be able to experience the bell close up – an experience they can share with their loved ones one day in decades to come – the story of how the new bell came to Seyda.


It was a courageous step for the church community in these times, as the cost of acquisition far exceeds the amount that is usually donated to the church community in a year or even two.

But when, if not in 2017, should this have happened?


And again there was this wonderful event that reminds us of the miracle of the feeding of the 5.000: "What do you have?" - "Five loaves and two fish, but what is that for so many?" - In the end, it is enough. It is enough by us using what we have - and the Lord gives his own, touching human hearts near and far. That is the joy!


There was, for example, the diamond wedding couple, the Dalichov’s, who asked their guests for donations for the bell instead of gifts, on top of donating the whole collection passed around at their church wedding celebrations.

There were many large and small donations from Seyda and from people who are connected to Seyda but now no longer live here.

The Wittenberg community, a partner community from Hessen, and (a first!) friends from Mainz have given large sums of money: And so it finally (almost all!) came together.


Back in February already, the church council of Seyda placed the order in the knowledge that it would take a long time to create a bell. Of course, they chose Lauchhammer, after all it is the nearest bell foundry in East Germany: but there were problems. "We cannot do it. We no longer have an artist who can draw the designs,” they were told on the telephone. I started inquiries into different ways of production, ordered hard wax plates and asked my mother who lives in Heiligenstadt to create the drawings. Luckily the church council liked them very much. So after a short time all of our work was presented to the foundry in Lauchhammer. Of course, we assumed that now nothing could stand in the way of the cast.

But this was not the end. "We are also missing a mathematician, who calculates the form the bell should take on." This was a much more difficult problem. After all, it is an old craftsmanship, an art and not so easily done by common people like us. But Christoph Schulz, the bell master for Central Germany, who we had contacted right at the start managed to find a way. But even that was to no avail. A letter arrived - in May! - from the Lauchhammer foundry: The order needed to be returned - unfulfilled. In Lauchhammer no more bells will be poured, they said. What to do? Where could we get a bell, in 2017?


And, of course, questions arise: Why? Why, God? We have worked so hard. We have collected the money, and so much has been given. We are planning something worthwhile, in your honor. Why does it not it work?

"If it is God's work, it will be done. If it is human work, it is going to fail." Famous words said by Martin Luther. They are inscribed on his monument which stands in the center of Wittenberg. They are meant to provide courage: the work of God will reach the goal. Of course, sometimes it does not happen in the way we plan – and it is painful to realize that. And sometimes we can see that a goal can be reached in many different ways. Just like in our case.


The close connection to Mr. Schulz, the bell expert, who, of course, is very well known and connected within the industry, helped us. He had been here and knew of our efforts. "We have already invited the American choir - but without a bell, what should we do?" He stood by us and vouched for us. In the end the oldest (still existing) bell-foundry in Europe, Rinkers in Sinn, agreed to pour a bell for us.

The templates my mother had drawn helped us now: we could already present them - thus saving a considerable amount of money. Very important to us as the bill now exceeded our original estimates because of the change of the contractor.


So, on the 11th of September I went with joy and great expectations in Herr Schulz’ company car to Sinn in Hessen, to commence the "Glockenzier" or bell initiation.

I entered the old foundry, whose age is apparent from the outside. It was a bit gloomy, imagine a blacksmith's shop. In front of me presented itself a large pit with black ash or something thereof. Two white eyeballs flashed at me from the bottom... A black man flipped out the dark mass from the pit and was covered from top to bottom in soot. It was an impressive picture of the hard work of this craft, which has remained the same in its fundamental basics over the last centuries. I later happened to talk to the worker whilst we shared breakfast, consisting of my mother’s sandwiches. He originally came from Cameroon, but was actually an informatics student who earned some money during the holidays with this work...

Behind the pit I could see our "false bell" or a model of it in clay. The letters and wax plates were all prepared, and within several hours, with the help of the employees from Rincker, we brought  the initiation of the bell to life. First, "lines" were drawn to structure the bell, and then the letters added. Read again and again - because a print error at this stage, will be seen for the next 500 years or longer. It cannot be changed later. Luther’s rose with the inscription "Vivit!" ("He lives!" "Jesus lives!") and Martin Luther’s coat of arms were added to the front. On the back a cross and a heart for faith, hope and love were drawn: According to the words of Paulus in the "Highest song of love" these three things will always remain. "But now faith, hope and love remain: these three. But love is the greatest among them "(1 Cor 13:13).

When I came to Seyda almost 25 years ago, the first jubilee confession took place a few weeks later. I wrote to the old pastor, Willy Hagendorf, to ask if he could write a greeting to his confirmors. He wrote exactly these words from the Bible. Since then, I have painted these three signs on innumerable documents and congregational letters: anchor, heart and cross. It is that what remains, which is fixed and which no one can take from us. This is why these symbols are inscribed on the bell, connected with a hinged ring of victory.


Whilst attaching the letters, it became apparent that at times a piece was missing to make a “full round”. Small adjustments and changes were made, like the mention of the place name "Seyda", for example - we had totally forgotten this before, because it seemed obvious to us - but who knows how the name of our town is spelled in many centuries to come.


By the end of the working day and many hours beyond, our work was done. We took advantage of the great experts - who helped us with the greatest patience and kindness - to do something conscious in the knowledge, that this piece of art will last for many years, God willing.


On the way back during the long drive home, I took the time to find out all about the bells and their history. I learned that church bells came originally from Asia, more precisely from China and India. In the end, Egyptian merchants – who carried some bells as merchandise - and Irish sailors met. The Irish bought a bell from the Egyptians and brought it home.

In the eighth century, Boniface, an irish-scottish monk, came to our region in Central Europe. He did not want to remain stuck in the "stabilitas loci" of his monastery in Ireland. He felt compelled to spread the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, to our ancestors. He cut a tree on a mountain and created the "Wotanseiche". He made it clear that the Germanic gods had no power. He built churches, schools and hospitals. He brought the Christian faith and with it, its way of living, founded on faith, love and hope: that for example the sick and the elderly were taken care of. And then he apparently wrote to Ireland: "Bring a bell to me on your next visit." Thus came the church bell to Middle Germany. The oldest one still sounding today, blessed in 1038, can be found hanging in Bad Hersfeld. An even older one has also been found in an old North Sea port; sunk to the bottom of the sea bed. In any case, our traditions today are justified by the fact that the sound of a bell is part of the daily church life.


Even in the 95 theses of Martin Luther, which triggered the Reformation on 31 October 1517, the bells have their rightful place. The 55th thesis states: "The opinion of the Pope cannot be otherwise than this:- If an indulgence - which is the lowest thing - be celebrated with one bell, one procession and ceremonies, then the Gospel - which is the highest thing - must be celebrated with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, and a hundred ceremonies.."

In an interview aired on the German national radio, it was interpreted as such by Katharina Kunter, a historian: "When I read this particular thesis, I actually heard a big bell-flare like for Christmas or New Year. But such things – and that is the amazing part – were unknown to Luther. In the Middle Ages, in contrast to today, only one single bell was rung. I find that fact the greatest miracle about this thesis. It proves that we are dealing with an imagination of the effervescent gospel of Luther himself, even though at the time he knew only the single bell ringing."


On the 6th of October, we were finally lucky enough to experience the bell-casting in Sinn.

At six o'clock in the morning we set off from Seyda. Mr. Hans-Karl Heepe, 80 years old and a resident of the Diest-Hof, wanted to be a part of the voyage. Long before we planned to leave he was patiently waiting outside the house. Otherwise, I had only invited the people of Seyda, who live close to Sinn because they work in Hessen. It was far away and indeed took many hours of driving: 15 minutes before the agreed time we finally arrived.

We got out of our car. All of a sudden sirens howled and two ambulances stopped before the bell-foundry. What had happened? The bell master Rincker was picked up. He smiled calmly at us from his stretcher: "It will happen, it will happen. Only I cannot be there."

Dear God, what will the end result be? But we did not need to fear, there were several masters in the workshop. We were met by a well-established team, who work under the guidance of the brother of Master Rincker, who is also an expert bell maker.

The stove was already heated; loudly it made itself known. 1000 degrees had already been reached in the big vat. The metal was glowing red.

"Like masonry in the earth stands the form, made of clay."

It was just like a hundred years ago. Our form was walled in the pit supported by a brick wall, where the liquid metal was to flow into an opening, which at that point was still closed by a pin.

"Today the bell must be made, quick fellows! To hand. From the forehead hot sweat shall pour, the work is to praise the master. But the blessing will come from above."

This is how Friedrich Schiller wrote it, and many older people have been able to recite the first verse of the poem in the past few days to me. After I had started to say only the first few words. By now, I am very familiar with the poem too. The old element of fire with its power, which melts metal: We were waiting for the air to be soot-black, which affected the photos over which a film seemed to hang.

And then the thermometer broke - 1100 degrees the metal needed to be ... it was replaced by an older one. After all, in the old days they did not need digital technology. Why would we need it today? But the 1100 degrees were still not reached. Better to wait half an hour longer ... Even if the bell-makers went about their craft with an air of patience, there was nevertheless a great tension in the room. Finally, strong men slowly put on their gloves. The procedure needed to start. "But first the blessing comes from above!" The main bell-maker asked us not to talk for too long now. Finally the metal seemed to have the right temperature and the opportunity was favorable.

Pastor Gabriele Geyer from Schönberg in Franconia, who was also there with her congregation, to witness the bell being poured, spoke the prayer and blessing:

"Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. It is a particularly moving event that brings us together here today in the Rincker foundry, an event that we have been working toward for a long time and have been looking forward to.

God, look at this work of our hands and let the cast succeed.

Bless all who work on it.

Lead the fiery streams of the hot metal and let our efforts succeed.

In your hands, God, are my times, my whole life, all days, hours, and moments.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."


And then the hot metal hissed out of the cauldron, the bell-makers strained on the tightly strung bell-shaped form and guided the noisy stream in. Absolute silence was demanded. One heard only the cluck of the liquid mass. Exact timing was necessary. And they succeeded.

Big relief! Knowing smiles appeared in the blackened faces of the workers. "Great God, we praise You," and "Now all thank God." – Thankful relief could be heard from all around.

The tension fell. The master became talkative and introduced all of his staff - often they had been at the foundry for many years – part of the furniture as the saying goes.

He spoke of his grandfather, who was ordered to Berlin during the war to provide information on the most effective ways to suspend bells for the armaments industry. He told them, "When the bells will be released, the war will be lost." Afterwards, he called his wife and told her, "I made a grave mistake today. I spoke without thinking, light-hearted even. I might not return home tomorrow. "But the official did not report him. He did come home - and could later pour bells again.

The grandson explained the components of a bell made from bronze: 78% copper and 22% tin. In the Second World War, it was technically almost impossible to separate copper and tin, and so it was almost never attempted. The reason to take down the bells had been to show power, the rulers wanted to weaken the churches and their power in the land - banish the constant reminders in form of bell ringing from the villages, towns and cities all around.

In fact, in 1942, the bells of Seyda and the surrounding area were released and collected. They stood in the church yard before they were taken to Hamburg and destroyed there. Hermann Göring is said to have proclaimed that only 12 bells shall be left in Germany...

In each of our church towers only one, usually a small bell, remained. Only Seyda and Naundorf succeeded in the 1950s to produce a "replacement bell" made of iron, which normally has a lifespan of only 50 years. Bronze was not available in East Germany during the years after the war.


Let us be grateful for what we can experience in our days: a new bell for Seyda! Ring she shall, through the times! Show that it is worth trusting in God. That his love carries us. That we can have hope through Jesus.

Now the celebrations are being prepared: On the 1st of November, we will move with our new bell through our little town. It is to be adorned with green foliage, with red and white roses.

The 1st of November – a special day - on this day we will begin the next 500 years of the Reformation history!

The event is, of course, connected to the visit of the choir, the Valparaiso University Chorale, from the largest Lutheran university in the U.S.A., who will arrive this time accompanied by its president.


A few years ago, a call came from Wittenberg: "We have so many choirs here, can you not take one?" This choir came to us, warm and memorable encounters followed over the years. We have already experienced many highlights, like the festive celebration at the chapel in Mark Zwuschen, a confirmation in Seyda and one in the small church in Gentha: with the powerful voices of the students under the expert guidance of Christopher Cock. The manager of the choir, Jeff Hazewinkel, has organized many choral trips. Due to the high quality of the choir he succeeded in establishing a partnership with the Thomanerchor. The choir has even been asked to sing at the official act of the Federal Government on the afternoon of 31 October 2017 in the Schlosskirche. Afterwards they come to us – bound by old ties and good relations - to our bell initiation.


The Danish bishop, Marianne Christiansen, cannot come and join us on this day unfortunately. But she has been here before - and will come again, and then we will celebrate with her. She initiated the idea with the many balloons adorned with Luther’s rose, which will accompany our procession. In the spring, she sent us 40 of her candidates for confirmation from her diocese in Bistum, a joyful meeting with our own candidates as we were also 40, with those who were confirmed in the autumn and those who had just been confirmed. How to "bridge the water" –to show what it is like to be a guest and how to be a host to people you have never met before and even speak a different language. It was a warm welcome and a good experience for everyone.

We planted a Luther tree in Wittenberg and sang together – a spontaneous, self-composed song:

"We are Lutherans! Vi er Lutheranere!"(Chorus)

1. If it is God's work, it will be done. If it is human work, it is going to fail.

2. Fear / love / trust in God over all things!

3. Nothing can be done with our power alone. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God!

4. If the world ends tomorrow, I plant an apple tree.

"We are Lutherans! Vi er Lutheranere!"


In German:

„Wir sind Lutheraner! Vi er lutheranere!“ (Refrain)

1.     Ist´s Gottes Werk, so wird’s bestehn. Ist´s Menschenwerk, wird´s untergehn.

2.   Gott über alle Dinge fürchten / lieben / und vertrauen!

3.   Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott!

4.   Wenn die Welt morgen untergeht / pflanz ich heut ein Apfelbäumchen.

„Wir sind Lutheraner! Vi er Lutheranere!“




27.10.: Arrival in Seyda





Thank you to Greg and Katja Cooper for the translation!  30.10.2017