Tree planting marks deepening of Mennonite-Lutheran relations

By Ron Rempel
November 10, 2011

Mennonites have planted two trees in the 'Luthergarten' in Wittenberg, Germany, to mark the deepening of Mennonite-Lutheran relations.

The garden project, initiated by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), is being developed in anticipation of the 2017 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg.

Churches from around the world are being invited to sponsor a tree and also to plant a corresponding tree in a significant place for their own church.

Larry Miller, General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, planted a red maple next to a tree planted nearly two years ago by the Lutheran World Federation, when it invited a number of other global church communions (Anglican Communion, World Methodist Council, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Catholic Church) to participate in the garden project.

In his remarks, Miller recalled that when the Lutheran planners for this earlier event asked whether Mennonites should be invited, they said “no, not yet.”

He added: “The ‘fullness of time’ in Lutheran-Mennonite reconciliation was drawing near but had not yet come in power, as it did in Stuttgart less than one year later” in July 2010 when Lutherans issued an official apology for the historical persecution of Anabaptists and discrimination against Mennonites.

A second tree was planted in the Luthergarten by Frieder Boller, president of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeinden (AMG) in Germany. The AMG and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany have engaged in ecumenical dialogue and joint communion for the past 15 years.

The tree plantings in Wittenberg preceded a German Lutheran/Mennonite symposium on the topic of “Healing of Memories - Reconciliation in Christ,” which both celebrated recent advances in Lutheran/Mennonite relationships and discussed new possibilities for their future.

In keeping with the commitment to plant corresponding trees in Mennonite soil, MWC and the Dutch Mennonites planted a tree at the Mennorode conference center in connection with recent Dutch Mennonite 200th anniversary celebrations. And the AMG is planning to plant a tree at Menno Simons’ house in North Germany.

At the Mennorode ceremony, Fernando Enns, AMG Vice-President and professor of Peace Theology and Ethics at the University of Amsterdam, described the tree as both a gift and a vocation — “a reminder of our common gift of reconciliation of the Holy Spirit” and “the calling to live and grow into reconciliation” so that the gift does not become an experience of “cheap grace.”

At the same event, Kathryn Johnson, LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs, commented: “For us Lutherans, our ‘Mennonite action’ has been both a grace-filled moment and a step in a process still unfolding.”

She added that Lutherans do not want to celebrate their 500th anniversary by themselves but together with other Christians. “We will see our gifts and our sins and shortcomings more clearly in the company of others.”


© Ron Rempel is News Editor for Mennonite World Conference.


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