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New Reformation: University Lutheran Chapel conducts service entirely in German

Mark Thompson-Kolar
The Ann Arbor News

Martin Luther changed the way much of the Christian world worshiped when he began the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517.

On Monday, the University Lutheran Chapel at 1511 Washtenaw Ave. decided to change the way it worshiped, celebrating a Reformation service there entirely in the German language.

"It's a way of remembering our heritage," said Al Williams, a member of the congregation.

"I had two years of German in high school, but I could only make out a few words here and there."

University of Michigan student Julie Nemeth said, "I tried to sing 'A Mighty Fortress' in German and my throat hurt." The harsher German language made the service emotionally moving, she said.

The University Chapel congregation held a German-language service because many in the congregation wanted to experience their German heritage, said Pastor Ed Krauss.

"We did it at Reformation time because that's when most Lutherans think of Germans or Germany," Krauss said.

The Oct. 30 date was chosen so the service would not compete with the popular U-M Music School Halloween concert tonight.

Many Protestant churches celebrate Reformation Day on the Sunday preceding the official Oct. 31 date.

Luther is widely regarded as the founder of the Protestant Reformation. He was a Roman Catholic priest at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, when he became dissatisfied with various Roman Catholic theological views and the Papal practice of selling indulgences to finance St. Peter's church in Rome.

He wrote a list of abuses, his 95 Theses, which he nailed to the Wittenberg church door.

The German royalty's embracing of Luther's opinions prompted the development of Lutheranism and led the way for other Protestant denominations to emerge.

Guest Ref. Jakob Heckert, a professor of Greek and German language at Concordia College, delivered the German sermon while worshipers followed along, reading the English translation in worship bulletins supplied by church. He emphasized the Reformation theme by focusing on the value of a tradition built on faith versus the pitfalls of over-reliance on history.

"Tradition can get in the way of the word (of God)," said Heckert, a Yugoslavian native who has been in the United States for 39 years.

"When the word can stand on its own it can make our history and traditions glorious. Our tradition becomes a testimony to the effectiveness of the scripture."

The service featured Luther's own hymn "Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott (A Mighty fortress is our God)." Most of the 25 worshipers, who came from local Lutheran parishes as well as the University Chapel, sang along with the organ accompaniment, reading the words from the bulletin.

U-M student Nemeth said the service brought her closer to her German heritage, but it made the worship feel different in the process. "I've been here for two years now, and I didn't even feel like I was in the same place," she said.

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