We are Lutherans
Following Martin Luther in and around
Thank you to Mrs. Katharina Körting, the coordinator for the 500th
reformation jubilee in the church circle
Before writing the thesis that resulted in the Reformation, Martin Luther’s name was Martin Luder. Following the widespread tradition of that time where authors would adopt a Greek name to be used in relation to the book, he adopted as the author the Greek word - “Luther” for his name. Luther means “freedom”. He adopted the Greek for “freedom” to demonstrate his belief that with Grace he was free; free to live in God’s love enabling him to follow his conscience in the face of all opposition and free from the fear of purgatory.
Ever since, we have known the man as Martin Luther.
The start of the Reformation took place near Seyda, which is situated
between Jueterbog, where Tetzel was taking money for the indulgencies, and
Martin Luther knew Seyda. In one of his sermons he said: “Dear
congregation, Moses went into the desert a distance like from
On November 13th, 1528, “Friday after Martinsday”, Martin
Luther was personally in Seyda. (Martinsday is November 11th, the
day of St. Martin of Tours, who cut his coat in half to share with a poor man)
for one of his first church-visitations. Ten years after the reformation Martin
Luther and his friends were looking to the congregations around
They had some very bad experiences- not in Seyda, because there was Rieseberg, but in other villages they visited. For instance sometimes the Pastor could not recited the Lord’s Prayer without reading it, as up until this time it was enough for a Pastor to be able to “read the Mass” (the service was still called the Mass).
The visitors were like inspectors, examining the conditions in Seyda so that they could make recommendations to bring about Luther’s vision. Seyda did not have a school or a hospital so they ordered a school and hospital be built. Also, they required that a “common box” be established that would be spent to help the poor.
At that time smaller villages were aligned with larger villages for both
civil and religious administration.
Labetz, a small village near
The Pastor of Mellnitz, another village 2 miles from Seyda, had its own Pastor. But it was a very small village with not enough income to support him. The Pastor could “not live and not die” in such a village. So the Visitors said Mellnitz now belongs to Seyda and transferred the Pastor to Seyda. Seyda from this time had two Pastors; one of them was a Senior Pastor (called a Superintendent). In Mellnitz today, you can see the 850 year old church and its two original doors. An unusual aspect of the church is that it had a door for the congregation, and a separate one for the priest. The priest’s door is very small.
In Seyda, the visitors installed a new office: A “Superintendent” Pastor would now be responsible for the education and working of ten Pastors in Seyda and the region around. This Superintendent-office existed in Seyda until 1877 and until 1919 Seyda had two Pastors: One “Oberpfarrer” (like a senior Pastor), and a “deacon” (like associate Pastor). They lived in the two houses adjacent to the church. The present Pastor’s house was built in 1846 and the other was built in 1744 and both are still used today by the parish.
After Luther’s visit to Seyda, he wrote the Big and the Small Catechisms to help educate both the Pastors and congregations. Short and precise, he addressed the main beliefs of the Christian faith. The Small Catechism was to be used in “house, school and church”. The Big Catechism was for instruction of the Pastors. Today the Small Catechism is in the German Lutheran Song Book, in dialogical form: Question and answer. It is broken down into five parts: Commandments, Faith, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and Communion. For hundreds of years, even to this day, the Catechism has been taught.
For a long time on Sunday in Seyda, there was both a main service in the morning and in the afternoon a catechism service. From the Small Catechism and instruction from the “house, school and church” it was normal, that – like Luther wrote – “a child of seven years knew what the church is”.
In the Big Catechism Luther gave background knowledge for Pastors, e.g. “What is God?” “God is where your heart depends.”
This visit was not the last one. They came back to see how the recommendations were implemented. In Seyda they found the new school, but not a hospital. The Seydians apologized: They had given money for the hospital in the neighbour-town of Zahna!
So we can see here how the reformation worked in Seyda with visits and recommendations with a follow up visit to see if they are implemented. Otherwise, it shows how careful they were with pre-existing religious traditions when they did not contradict the Bible. You can see today in the churches in Arnsdorf and Ruhlsdorf old carvings. In Ruhlsdorf there is a carving of the “holy family”: Mary and Joseph and Anna the grandmother of Jesus and mother of Mary. Anna has the baby Jesus on her lap, she has a cloth around her head as a married wife, and in the background her three husbands (a medieval legend held they died consecutively). The medieval legend is a correspondence to the visit of the Lord by Abraham. The people at that time looked for such similarities between the Old and the New Testament. This holy carving had no more importance then they had before the reformation - to be an intercessor of healing (Luther as a young man cried: “Holy St. Anna, I would like to be a monk, if I survive this storm”). The visitors didn´t take away the carvings from the church. They moved them from the centre: where now there is Jesus and the cross. But beside this we can see also today Anne and some other holy art. In Arnsdorf, the holy Sebastian was taken away from the middle of the Altar to the sidewall. Replacing it in the middle is now the pulpit.
Long is the line of Lutheran Pastors who have served in Seyda. They were
often well educated with good relationships to the University in
The congregation in Elster, another small village near Seyda, was assigned a Pastor with the help of
Luther. (Elster’s name is derived from the
“Elstertor”, the gate of
In 1521 Luther stood in front of the “Caesar”, the Holy Roman Emperor of
the German Nation, Emperor Karl V. of the “Holy Roman Reich of German Nation”. He
was all powerful in
The Lutheran kings of Saxonia, Hessia and
Hedwig’s gift is an expression of Lutheran faith. Recently, in 2013, we discovered another expression. In the Gentha church there is picture of the Last Supper on the front of the altar Hedwig. One apostle is absent, and Hedwig is sitting in place of him there. A woman pictured sitting at the table of the Lord! No one in recent history realized this. This is typical Lutheran thinking: All of us have a place there, by Jesus.
Faith is confirmed in action. This was shown at the beginning of the reformation (e.g. when Luther and his friends visited Seyda with the call for education to all and for the care of the weak, poor and sick). Another example of this occurred in 1708 when a fire destroyed most of the houses in Seyda, including the church. Then the Saxonian Christian community joined together to help Seyda. A “Love Tax” and a “Voluntary Love Gift” from Saxonian towns helped to rebuild the town and the church. This is the reason that Seyda is still exists; the Christian “love for the neighbour”. In 1711 the new church was ready. By 1717 the congregation had collected enough money to buy one bell for the steeple (before 1708 there were 5 bells). The bell from 1717 (the 300 year anniversary of the Reformation!) is ringing still today. On the bell is written: “Bringing the voice of joy of Lutheran Christianity to the future”.
Other bells were added but the old bell from 1717 was the only one that survived WW II when all other bells were taken to make war material. Currently the congregation is collecting money to bring a second bell to the steeple in 2017.
In the 18th century the typical Lutheran “Pulpit-Altar” came into the church. It shows the “Lutheran program”: In the center of the altar are the Word and Sacrament demonstrated by building as part of the altar, the altar pulpit and baptismal font. The pulpit is above the altar and is reached by stairs in the back and comes to a small window from where the Word is read and explained from above. On either side of where the small window there is an open red curtain painted on the wood just like shown in the picture of the Last Supper painted on the altar. In this picture, the Lord is sitting with his disciples at the table offering the Holy Communion; a similar open curtain surrounds the preacher in the pulpit. The open curtain means that the Way is revealed by the Lord through the Word and Sacraments. Remember also the curtain in the temple which was torn when Christ died on the cross.
He is present here and today at this table and in his Word.
The carved picture of the Last Supper in the altar is an invitation. It looks like we – coming to the sacrament – are all in one circle together with Jesus and the disciples. The bread is on the table - for us. In the Common Lutheran Song Book for Germans is a song by Martin Jentzsch, who was born in Seyda. The song (Nr. 418) talks about this picture, we will hear later about this.
Another basic of Lutheran theology is to make a difference between “Law” and “Gospel” in the word of God. This is to seen on the altar too. Surrounding the cross on the very top of the altar is on the left side is Moses with the ten commandments meaning it’s the “Law”; and to the right side John, who wrote: “God is love”, the Gospel. Both are pointing to Christ on the cross. The big figures right and left of the pulpit are Peter and Paul, the patrons of this church since 1711. They changed places 100 years ago, but in 2016 they came back to their right places. This is also a message of the reformation: To change when you discover when something is wrong. Paul is now pointing with his finger not to the blue sky, but to the cross of Christ; and Peter is not telling us to go away from the altar but to come to the table of the Lord.
Another basic of the Lutheran church is the cooperation between state, the civil authorities and the church. Until 1918, the King of Germany was the first bishop in the Lutheran church at which time he was required to abdicate and the practice ended. Our church reminds us of this with placement of the seats for the government officers in the balcony left of the altar. The balcony is marked with the Saxonian-Polish Crest and on the right balcony is the grave-stone of an officer of the government who lived and was in charge of the Seyda region for 50 years. On it in Latin is written: “Serve like I did, then we can speak about it!” Also on the old bell from 1717, are the names of state officials and church men. The old school near the church was built 1881, 33% of the money was given by the church congregation, and until 1918 the Superintendent was the Supervisor for the school. Education was an important thing for the Lutheran congregation at all times, following the example of Luther.
On an oil picture of the superintendent on the balcony you can see also
the “Luther Rock”, the robe which Martin Luther wore as a professor in
For many centuries Lutheran Pastors wore the vestments that Catholic
priests used for
After the war from 1812 to 1815 against Napoleon, life changed a lot in
Seyda. Saxonia fought with
In the church plaza in front of our church in Seyda we find a “Freedom Tree”, a White Linden Oak, remembering the coalition between Russian and Prussian troops in 1813 that defeated Napoleon. The tree is over 200 years old now. Another tree we call the “Luther Oak” was planted in 1883 on the 400th birthday of Martin Luther.
In 1883, a new Christian charity was established in Seyda. The idea originated
with the important Lutheran theologian Friedrich von Bodelschwingh. In Lutheran
tradition, he started a good charity in
“Break with the hungry your bread who are walking in darkness. Invite them
into your house; take the burdens of the others unto yourself!” So in memorizing
the verses from Joshua, the prophet, Martin Jentzsch wrote verses for a song.
This song can still be found in the present Song Book for Lutherans in
Lutherans did also missionary work in Africa, in
The Luther Church in a town in
In 1886 the church in Ruhlsdorf was built. The patron was like a little
king in the village, who was also responsible for the church – gave the money
for the new building. By his life he was
an example of the Lutheran faith. Not only did he give money but also his time
by visiting his poorest farmers, when they were sick, to pray and to sing with
them. The Pastor said at his funeral: “No door was too small for him.” He also
founded a mutual fire-insurance company for the farmers in the
At the Ruhlsdorf church is the grave marker of this man whose name is Carl Traugott (Trust God) von Hülsen, with the verse from the bible: “Jesus Christ speaks: I live, and you should also live!” With building the church he also donated the Cup and the Plate for Holy Communion. His great grandchildren in 2015 helped us by giving a large donation to redo the roof of the church, in the good Lutheran tradition of their ancestor.
In our churches in and around Seyda you can see what was important to the congregation. In Naundorf, 4 miles away from Seyda you can see a “pulpit-altar” like in Seyda. Also Gentha (3 miles away) had one, as shown in an old photo. In Gadegast in the middle of the altar we see a picture of Christ, who comes with wide spread arms to us. In Zemnick in a window behind the altar, the Easter story with Maria Magdalena at the empty grave and the Lord coming to her. You can feel the contrast to “reformed” churches when you go in other regions of Germany, For instance in the reformed churches in northwest Germany there are no pictures, no altar, no candles - only a pulpit in the middle, and a table in a corner with moving legs, used only for Communion.
A small paper with “Information for the Congregation” printed in 1928 was
found in Gadegast under a bench while cleaning the church. In it you can read
from the “confession for the youth”. In Gadegast behind the altar is a
Confessional seat. Luther did not break the tradition of confession. In 1817 during
the renovation of the
The congregation is constituted by Word and Sacrament. This is written in the “Confessio Augustana” written in 1530, the Lutheran “Credo” (CA VII). This is visible for instance in the building of the church in Meltendorf, 3 miles from Seyda. This small village had no church. The richest farmer, Broese, built a new farmer’s house in the middle of the 19th century. In the centre of his house he built a church room. Later, in 1896, the farmers of the village worked together to build a small church for their village. Because the village built it, the building has never been the church’s property but it is the state’s property. The assigned Pastor did not come often, that’s why the farmers invited Pastors sometimes from far away to preach in their church: To hear the word of God. In this small village they didn’t have a church choir. The choir for about 30 years Sunday to Sunday also did his work by song.
The anniversary of the reformation in 1917 was during the time of WW I. In the Gadegast church we have from 1915 a “Nail-Cross”. For every nail a donation was given for the soldiers fighting in the war. Luther as a server of nationalism would have supported that.
The paintings in the church in Seyda in 1935 showed the signs of Luther and Melanchthon, and the Song “A Mighty Fortress” and some verses of the bible. There are similar paintings in Ruhlsdorf. Recently, the congregation by itself repainted the church. We had permission to do this in spite of the requirement for historical accuracy because we had a professional restorator mix the colors for us to match exactly what had been used previously. But for the sentences and signs of Luther and Melanchthon beside the altar we did not get permission for a non-professional work and it was left as it was. As a tribute to 2017 we would like to fix these pictures and are collecting money for this. There is written under the Luther Rose: “The Christian heart is going on roses, when it is behind the cross.” And on the other side by the sign of Melanchthon: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, so you are saved.”
Pictures painted around 1900 of Luther are to be found in Gadegast, Elster and Ruhlsdorf (and also of his friend, Melanchthon), and from the 18th century an oil picture of both by the famous painter Siebenhaar.
The example of “courage” of Lutheran faith can be found also in the life and the work of Pastor Hagendorf, in Seyda from 1938 to 1954. He first came under the observation of the Nazi Secret Service, the Gestapo, because he made requests for donations for Jewish Christians in letters he wrote. He was questioned, why he was soliciting donations for someone who had Jewish grandparents (the source of such information was the Baptismal records of the church), and he answered that he never wrote, that he found something and passed it on. Later he was sent to a concentration camp after he publically criticized Hitler. He survived and came back to serve in Seyda.
In June 1953 a revolt against the communist power took place in
In 2003 something unusual happened that provided evidence that we belonged
to the Lutheran World Family. At that
time a pastor exchange program took place. Pastor Keith Hardy from
A congregation group from
We have some contacts in relating to the 500th anniversary of
the reformation. Year after year a choir from the biggest Lutheran university
Other friendly visitors are from
At a village anniversary, in Naundorf near Seyda, the church’s
congregation made a play about the history of the village and in one of them
was “Luther”. Bernhard Naumann from
Special meetings are held at the Lutheran World Foundation in
Finally, the arrival of the refugees from
Luther’s spirit is alive in our congregations. An example is the new chapel in Mark Zwuschen, built between 2009 and 2012. On top is written “Vivit”, Latin for “He is alive!”. This reminds us of the famous painting by Cranach the Elder ”Christ on the Cross” with Jesus’ grave cloth flying as a sign that he has conquered the grave. “Vivit”, “He is alive” is written also on the Luther Rose, the sign of Martin Luther. The message “He is alive” is going through the times and makes happy and free.
The idea for this booklet came through the visit of Mrs. Katharina
Körting, coordinator for the 500th anniversary in the
A lot that is “Lutheran”, we don’t recognize, like a fish, who is swimming in the water doesn’t know he is in the water until he is out of it. An example of this is that we get presents on Christmas Day – and not, like earlier, on the feast day of St. Nikolas (December 6th). Martin Luther did that because he said: Christ’s birth is more important. Also celibacy was not required and Lutheran pastors could marry. All these make the Martin Luther we know today.
The memories of Luther are alive in Seyda: that eternal life is from God’s mercy; freedom from other teachings of salvation (like salvation through money like Tetzel did); that the Bible is available for everybody to read himself; to provide help if our neighbour needs practical help; that we can have joy by the good gifts of God – and, especially in our days, that we have hope such as when we believe that tomorrow the world is going away and we plant a apple tree today.
God give us all
your mercy´s blessing!
That we follow your ways
in true love
and brotherly trust that
we think the best of each other.
Lord, your Holy Spirit
Do not take away!
Holy Spirit give us the right portion,
Of your love that we may
live in peace and unity.
Song for Holy Communion,
Sung in Seyda for 500 years; German Lutheran Song Book Nr. 214,3.