WINNIPEG — In 2017 Lutherans in Canada and around the world will mark 500 years since Roman Catholic priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 grievances to a church door in the German city of Wittenberg, setting in motion the events that would lead to an earth-shattering Protestant Reformation.
Bishop Elaine Sauer, head of the Winnipeg-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod, says it will be a year of great and joyful events but will be a “commemoration, not a celebration,” of what became one of the most divisive eras in the world’s history.
“We want to proclaim what the reformation gave us,” said Rev. Paul Gehrs, of the ELCIC National Office, “but there were painful things that happened on both (Catholic and reformation) sides.”
Sauer and Gehrs, and Winnipeg’s Lutheran church, hosted the 15th annual luncheon of church leaders and their chancery, diocesan and conference staffs Jan. 14 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in River Heights, ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In the same way the Week of Prayer brings faiths together, Sauer says Winnipeg is unique being home to seven ecumenical bishops that meet annually. The ELCIC’s national office is also located in Winnipeg and is led by Bishop Susan Johnson.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada numbers 115,000 members in 525 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. The ELCIC began in 1986 with the merger of two Lutheran groups which resulted from earlier mergers before that.
The ELCIC Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod is made up of 65 congregations with 14 in Winnipeg, six in Ontario (as far east as Thunder Bay where there are three congregations) and the majority in other cities and towns in Manitoba.
The Lutheran World Federation has initiated the Reformation Challenge for 2017, with Lutherans across Canada invited to join together to: Sponsor 500 refugees to Canada through Canadian Lutheran World Relief; plant 500,000 trees; raise $500,000 for the Lutheran World Federation Endowment Fund; and provide 500 scholarships for Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land schools. The schools operate despite conflicts in Palestine and Israel and welcome children of all faiths, providing education, job skills and leadership formation. A scholarship of $1,400 will allow a student to attend school for one year.
“These are practices we believe the church should be focused on,” said Sauer, adding that the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod has set its goals at sponsorship of 60 refugees, providing 60 scholarships, planting 60,000 trees and raising $60,000 for the LWF.
Sunday school children at Messiah Lutheran Church in west Winnipeg have already started collecting loonies and toonies for scholarships, and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Brunkild, Man., so far has raised $1,000 to plant trees and another $700 to put toward sponsoring refugees.
Lutherans have a long history in Manitoba, with the first Lutheran services in Canada held in Churchill in the fall of 1619, by Rev. Rasmus Jensen, a chaplain with an ill-fated Danish expedition searching for the Northwest Passage. The denomination continues to flourish in the province with the highly-anticipated 2017 National Convention of the ELCIC to be held in Winnipeg.