Reformation 500

October 31, 2017 (All Saints' Eve) will mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, which was ignited by Luther's posting of "The 95 Theses" on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. A small committee is working on commemorative publications, projects, and events for St. Mark's, which will culminate in our own festival worship on the morning of October 29 (Reformation Sunday). The Washington DC Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will sponsor a Reformation Service at 4:00 PM that afternoon (October 29) in Washington National Cathedral—mark it on your calendar! ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton will preach. The previous Sunday, October 22, the National Lutheran Choir under the direction of David Cherwien will present a concert in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington at 7:00 PM—mark it on your calendar!

As other events come to our attention, they will be posted to St. Mark's Web site. If you have ideas or would like to join the committee, please see committee chair Chris Michaelsen. You can contact him via email or telephone (703-507-3817).


As the Turkish threat to Europe receded, Martin Luther's influence on the unfolding Reformation continued to expand. His efforts can be tracked in a variety of interesting but often forgotten ways. One that usually escapes our attention is how Luther helped shape the languages of Scandinavia. In 1540-41, the new Swedish king Gustav Vasa authorized the translation of the first Swedish-language bible. The new bible was based directly on Luther's 1526 German bible. In Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, the translators—usually individuals personally known to Luther—framed their efforts on the structure and grammar of the German version. In Sweden, for example, the new bible laid the basis for the Swedish language. "It established a uniform spelling of words," notes one source, "particularly the infinitive ending -a instead of the more Danish-sounding -e, and defined the use of the vowels å, ä and ö," among other linguistic innovations. The Gustav Vasa Bible remained the official translation of the Swedish Lutheran state church until 1917. In this turn of events, one can see the profound way Martin Luther shaped not only the Reformation but the rise of Scandinavian languages and culture.

Reformation Reverberations

In July, I attended the biennial conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM) in Minneapolis with my wife Janet. "Rise, Remember Well the Future" was the theme, from Susan Palo Cherwien's hymn, "Rise, O Church, like Christ Arisen" (see ELW #548, stanza 3: " ... the future God has called us to receive"). As you might expect from the title, although this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the emphasis was not on that historic event but on the future of the Church and its continuing reformation, or re-forming. We did not even sing "A Mighty Fortress," nor did we hear it until the Closing Eucharist, when the organist of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (she's an American) included an arrangement of it as the prelude. Also, we sang no John Ylvisaker ("Borning Cry"), who died this spring and was named in the thanksgiving for the faithful departed. Also remembered was Gerhard Cartford (see ELW index), who died in 2016, a leader in introducing Latino texts and tunes to the Lutheran church. In browsing online for Cartford's obituary, I found that one of his colleagues who left a written tribute was Phil Anderson, also now departed, who frequently assisted in our Spanish services here at St. Mark's. He and Gay, as his peers knew him, studied and worked together in Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. Gay's funeral took place in Central Lutheran Church, where we were gathered for our closing service. Despite these and other unexpected omissions during the week, there were many wonderfully exciting events that time will not permit me to relate. But I would like to tell you about one.

On the third night of the conference, we sang Evening Prayer with the Benedictine monks of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, a place deeply committed to liturgical renewal and ecumenism. Aside from the warm, convivial, and engaging welcome we received from the monks, I was moved by the service itself, which was led by the Abbot (head of the monastery) and a female Lutheran pastor, standing side by side, in their respective cowl and alb. Portions of our Lutheran-Roman Catholic Statement on Unity were read alternately by these two worship leaders throughout the service.

The brothers were ahead of their time when they built the abbey church. It is a starkly modern space, mostly of poured concrete, seating 2000 to accommodate the University and surrounding community, and it had very lively acoustics. There was not an image to be seen, not even the figure of Christ on the cross. The people bring the color and life to the worship, they told us. Built prior to Vatican II (1963), the chancel was designed with the altar in the center, away from any wall. You may recall, until Vatican II mandated it, our altars were against the wall with the pastor's back to the congregation. The floor plan of the church is in the shape of a bell (like our hand bells). The clapper is the narthex, which contains the baptismal font, the place where the people enter and make the gathered church ring and reverberate. I found my senses heightened during this worship. When we spoke the responses to the prayers—"Lord, hear our prayer”—it sounded like thunder rolling and drifting away. A baby cooed from the back, and the sound drifted like a sweet note through the vast nave; soon thereafter we sang Psalm 8, "Your majesty is praised above the heavens on the lips of children and of babes." The monks opened the service singing a hymn to the tune Veni redemptor gentium, on which Brother Martin (Luther), an Augustinian monk and priest, based three of his hymn tunes:  "Savior of the Nations, Come" (#263); "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" (#517); and "Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy Lord" (#784). We sang "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast" together with the brothers and shook the rafters. Even before the service began, as two of our buses were delayed (Collegeville is an hour and a quarter south of Minneapolis), we spontaneously broke into song:  "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art," "Beautiful Savior," a cappella, in parts. Brother David, a St. Olaf grad, stood to lead us. The service was followed by a lively, light-hearted, and enlightening discussion on church unity with the conference M.C. (another female Lutheran pastor) and Father Michael Joncas ("On Eagle's Wings").

The singing was glorious throughout the week. The National Lutheran Choir, the organists and other instrumentalists, the preachers, the presenters, workshop leaders, and speakers filled me up. One cannot quite take it all in, nor is it possible to hold on to every morsel, but I was amply fed and came away feeling inspired to continue my duties at St. Mark's with renewed energy and to work as best I can to lead the people's song, which is what we church musicians (aka "cantors") are called to do. Thank you, St. Mark's, for this opportunity.

I will gladly share other details of the conference with interested persons. Janet, too, will be happy to relate her experience from a different vantage, that of an organist's wife. 

~Chris Michaelsen, Organist/Accompanist

Oktoberfest to Celebrate Reformation 500?

Calling all brewers!

Yes, you did read that correctly. No, I'm not talking about baseball. I'm looking for men and women of St. Mark's who brew beer, or would like to learn.

To help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation, home brewers in congregations around our Fairfax Conference are hoping to have an Oktoberfest with great home-brewed beer. Our friends at Lord of Life already have 25-30 brewers in their growing home-brew crew. I know we have some brewers at St. Mark's. (I myself brew.)

So, if you are a brewer or want to learn about it and possibly become one, send me an email at ‪ Someone recently told me that he doesn't brew beer but he does drink it; I responded, "What do you think we do when we brew?" ;-)

In all seriousness, brewing is a great social activity around which some wonderful conversations and relationships take shape. I look forward to receiving your email!

Until then, cheers!

+ Pastor Albert

          Martin Luther (1483-1546)

          Martin Luther (1483-1546)