~Written by Thomas Cogdell....photos by Ryan and Noleen Thurman
This year’s Wittenberg 2017 gathering was our first meeting held in the town of Wittenberg - the epicenter of the Reformation. More than 100 people participated from June 14-18 in the Leucorea (shown on the right), which is the same building in which Martin Luther likely formulated many of the 95 Theses, since in 1517 it housed the University of Wittenberg where Luther taught. Our meeting room was on the first floor, and with the windows open passers-by on the main street of Wittenberg could easily hear the worship & teachings.
Naturally, we had many German Lutherans in attendance. There were representatives from Argentina, Austria, Poland, Holland, Israel, Italy, Uganda and the USA . There was beautiful unity among the many Catholics and mainline Protestant Christians, non-denominational and free church representatives, Anglicans, and our largest contingent yet of Messianic Jews. This gathering was uniquely blessed with participation from every generation, from the joy of children leading us in worship to the rich wisdom of our elders expressed in teaching.
Our two previous gatherings in Italy were more focused on the woes of the Roman Catholic Church which led to the Reformation. This meeting explored the “Light and Shadow of the Lutheran Reformation” -- both the blessings and burdens of Luther’s legacy.
In retrospect, perhaps the major theme that developed during this meeting was working to break through obstacles that we believe stand in the way of God’s purposes for the 500th anniversary in 2017.
One significant obstacle that was addressed was: “Can Roman Catholics truly join in a celebration of the 500th anniversary?” Fr. Peter Hocken, a Roman Catholic priest, historian and theologian, spoke powerfully about celebrating together, whole-heartedly, what the Holy Spirit did in the Reformation – while also looking at the new things the Holy Spirit is doing now. Listen to his teaching here.
Another obstacle we confronted was: “How can Messianic Jews participate when there is an offensive Jew-Pig sculpture on the wall of Luther’s church, put there by Catholics, endorsed by Luther himself with a blasphemous inscription?” Dr. Richard Harvey, a Messianic Jewish historian and theologian, opened himself up with a passionate, painful, and ultimately forgiving talk on the Judensau. Listen to his teaching here.
A third obstacle that was addressed was a lack of understanding for how to grieve appropriately. Grieving together is a core principle of Wittenberg 2017. Yet our Western culture does not give us permission to grieve, and instead teaches us to remove or numb pain, or become unfeeling and cynical. But the Bible teaches us that God grieves, and we are invited to join His grief. Amy & Thomas Cogdell spoke from both the Old and New Testament on the subject of grieving and how it leads to intimacy with God. Listen to their teaching here.
friendships went deeper as we shared meals together and went on walks together and
encountering God during the powerful times of worshipping together formed the foundation of all that was accomplished.
Summary of some of the other key events.
On the first day, George Miley, an Anglican priest, spoke on the topic of “Christian Unity: A Fruit of Christlikeness.” That afternoon, Sr. Joela Krüger addressed the first division in the Church between Jews and Gentiles which set the stage for Christian anti-Semitism. The second day included an important talk from a father Messianic Jews, Benjamin Berger. Benjamin spoke on the topic of “Israel as a Sacramental Sign” which was a glorious reflection on God’s great story, from beginning of this age to the beginning of the next.
The third day was given to German Lutheran pastors to directly address Luther, the Reformation, and the current state of the German Lutheran church. Three precious brothers spoke about the blessings of their Lutheran heritage, while warning of the dangers of liberal theology eroding the foundations of their tradition. And the nobility reminded us, in an earlier talk, of the enormous political and social upheaval caused by the Reformation. One third of the population of Europe was killed in the Thirty Years’ War.
Door of the Day
Door of the Day is the primary way we are encouraging daily prayer & study from now until the gathering in 2017. It is a daily reminder of God's call for and work towards reconciliation. It is delivered via Facebook and Instagram, and can also be subscribed to via email.
For example, here is the Door of the Day for today, July 17, which is Day #30 of the 500:
What might be the effect on your spirit if you were to receive and meditate on this quote? It reminds us that Jesus calls us to bless the places that we enter with his peace. You might feel encouraged by the Holy Spirit to take time this week to visit a church in a tradition other than your own, and simply pray "Peace to this house" as you enter it. Or, even better, to speak to one of the parishioners and "pass the peace" from your denomination to theirs!
Are you subscribed to Door of the Day?
Our first month has passed by quickly. We have flown to Rome and back and driven more than 2000 kilometers through Germany and tomorrow will mark the eight different location we have stayed in. We have been packed in one-room apartments and other times experiencing great beauty and spaciousness as we stayed in a gardener's house of a small castle and most recently a former monastery.
We have experienced the pain of hurting each other as we we have at times, poorly handled the stress and challenges, of this journey. At the same time, we have also experienced our family grow closer to Jesus and to one another. Sunday was a beautiful highlight for us, as our children on their own initiative shared a devotional time together, it ended with a nature walk paying attention to God's beauty in creation.
We miss our family and friends greatly, and our hearts go out to the wounds and pain of the world around us, especially in our own nation. We pray that God pours out his grace in these days to continue to heal every division and broken relationship. I came across this quote a few days ago:
and took the below photo in a beautiful monastery last night. I hope they encourage and inspire!
"Do we believe that the Holy Spirit will be increasingly poured out over the church? Do we believe that Jesus comes into our midst, that he opens his heart to us so that we may live as he did and have an influence in society as he did? Do we dare to carry out the task as his church in his coming kingdom, to be a corrective within society through the grace of the indwelling Christ?"
John 17 Meetings in Rome, Italy
We started off our time in Rome participating in John 17 meeting, (Ryan is on the leadership team). Our meetings culminated in a wonderful intimate gathering with Pope Francis, you can read about it in my last post
Connecting with George and Hanna Miley: Gemund,Germany
This friendship spans 20 years. And for the past 13 years we have walked very closely together. They are spiritual parents to us and it was such a gift to have our whole family in the place of Hanna's story and where the Eifelfellowship was birthed
Wittenberg 2017 Gathering in Wittenberg, Germany
This was our largest and most diverse gathering yet, we had many new friends, strengthening both the Catholic and German Lutheran participation. Among the Catholics were sisters from the United States, the Pope's former secretary Julia Torres and an elder statesman of the French Catholic renewal. We also had a strong Messianic Jewish representation and people working in Israel. Most significantly we had some Wittenberg Christians in our midst and were greeted by a Protestant sisterhood who have been praying for Wittenberg. God has given us key people in Wittenberg!!!
"500 years of division are enough
- unity is possible!”
June 18th began the 500 day countdown to the 500th Anniversary and we are inviting you to join with us through prayer, fasting and study and meeting with others from different Christian traditions.
Learn more by visiting
Going deeper with Antioch Network and Wittenberg 2017 team in Trieb, Germany
For almost two weeks we have had the great gift of receiving the gracious hospitality of the Benecke family. We have grown closer together as we have lived together with them and we have sought the Lord together in how we can work more closely together for God's purposes in Europe. Ludwig and Cecily have been key leaders in the Wittenberg 2017 work and God's hand is upon them. George and Hanna Miley also were with us for five days.
"We want this property that God
has blessed us with
to be used for God's Kingdom"
Together for Europe gathering: Munich, Germany
"Even when temptation suggests that we need not be together, Christians, especially, are called to demonstrate the fundamental principle of the Church, which is communion (koinonia). It is only when we share the gifts so generously and freely bestowed on us by God, that we can fully experience them ourselves”.
~Bartholomew I, (the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople)
On a rainy day in Munich, Germany I was able to participate in the culmination gathering where 1700 leaders and members from more than 300 Communities and Movements of Together for Europe took part in the Congress held at Circus-Krone-Bau. There were a good group of us there who had just been together in Wittenberg only days ago. This gathering was a furtherance of the work of the Holy Spirit to bring healing and reconciliation among God's people.
Tomorrow we head to Berlin for a week to spend time connecting with our colleagues David and Greetja Sanders and Julia Stone. July 19th we drive from Berlin to Lodz, Poland. The World Youth Days will take place in Krakow, Poland, July 26-31. They will be preceded by an international youth festival called “Paradise in the City”. This will be held in Lodz, Poland, organized by Chemin Neuf, an international fellowship of reconciliation and discipleship. Several thousand young adults are expected. George and Hanna have been asked to speak on several occasions about the power of forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus. Hanna will share her story in the city center, the area where her parents were held in the ghetto, and again at Radegast Railway Station, in National Socialist times the arrival and departure place for Jews into the ghetto and out en route to their deaths. We will be there to support them! (Below is a short video about this event)
It was back in 2010 that I travelled with Hanna Miley and others to honor her parents as we retraced the same route of her parents from Germany to Poland where they were gassed in Chelmno, Poland May 3, 1942. One great disappointment was finding the location where Hanna's parents entered the van where they were gasses locked because of a Polish National holiday and not being able to pray there. This time, we will return to pray there accompanied by film team.
To learn more about Hanna's story you can visit their website and scroll to the bottom for her book.
The beauty and fun along the way