Exactly 500 years after the start of the Protestant Reformation, people from Wales’ Christian churches and chapels will gather at a Roman Catholic cathedral to celebrate their unity.
A national service of commemoration and commitment will be held on Tuesday (October 31) at Cardiff’s Metropolitan Cathedral of St David and will be led by the Archbishop of Cardiff with leaders of the churches which grew out of the Reformation, including the Archbishop of Wales. It marks the anniversary of the day Martin Luther, a German Augustian monk, nailed 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony, protesting the ‘sale of indulgences’.
The service will focus on expressions of thanks for the insights of the Reformation, sorrow for the divisions it caused and thanks for the search for unity. Each church leader will then light a candle as they commit themselves to growing in communion, guided by the five imperatives of the Lutheran / Catholic Commission on Unity. The Archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack, will give the address.
The service, which is open to all, is organised by Cytûn – Churches Together in Wales – and will be followed by a lecture, at the Cornerstone building, on the inheritance of the Reformation, by Professor Densil Morgan, of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
The church leaders taking part with Archbishop George are: the Archbishop of Wales, John Davies; the Revd Albrecht Köstlin-Büürma, Senior of the Synod of German-Speaking Lutheran Reformed and United Congregations in Great Britain; Rheinallt Thomas, Moderator of the Free Church Council of Wales; the Revd Elfed Godding, Director of the Evangelical Alliance Wales; the Revd Jenny Hurd, chair of Synod Cymru; and Canon Aled Edward, CEO of Cytûn.
The Archbishop of Wales, John Davies, said, “We find ourselves commemorating one of the greatest divisions which the Church of God has experienced at a time when, paradoxically, ecumenical relationships are probably warmer than ever. Although the Church of today, rooted in the Church of the first century, exists in a variety of different traditions, we rejoice that we are able to celebrate our unity in Christ.
“Reformation 500 provides an opportunity to give thanks that, whilst history must sorrowfully bear witness to sharp and even violent divisions of theology and doctrine, these have led us, in a rather remarkable way, to subsequently recognise the value of mutual respect for and understanding of those various traditions. I hope that Martin Luther would find himself able to rejoice with us that this has come about.”
The Revd Gethin Rhys, policy officer for Cytûn, said, “We were delighted to respond to the suggestion of the German Lutheran Church in Wales that Christians in Wales should celebrate together the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran tradition and do so at the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral. This illustrates how far we have come as churches. The presence together, in the Catholic Cathedral, of representatives of all the major churches which grew out of the Reformation is a sign of the unity we seek in God’s time.”
Mr Rhys added that the Reformation had a particular significance in Wales, “The Protestant Reformation that began in Germany led, 50 years later, to William Salesbury’s Welsh New Testament and Book of Common Prayer, both published in 1567. These events were instrumental in creating the bilingual Wales of today. There is a very strong argument for saying that the Welsh language – made illegal in public service in 1536 – would not have survived long-term had it not in 1567 been made an official language of the Church (of England) in Wales.”
The Revd Albrecht Köstlin-Büürm, said, “I hope that remembering the central message of the Reformation – ‘justified by faith’- will show that it is less important, to which denomination we belong, to which language group we belong, if the churches are growing or if they are successful in their social work. In the end it is important that we offer the love of God to all who struggle in daily life. This could create an atmosphere of tolerance and care.”
Mr Thomas said, “For the Free Churches of Wales the celebration of this anniversary is very significant. Wales has experienced religious revivals in past centuries and these have reflected the tenets of the Reformation, manifested almost totally within the Free Churches. It is probably true to say that the they have more in common, both liturgically and theologically, with the Lutheran Churches of Europe than with the other denominations of the UK. The great hope for Wales today is that by celebrating the Reformation we remember the passion and fervour it stirred up and that it instils in us the craving for another Christian revival.”
The service takes place on Tuesday, October 31 and begins at 11am. Professor Morgan’s lecture at Cornerstone is also free and begins at 2pm.