Churches throughout the world are to be asked to sponsor trees in a special "Luther Garden" in Wittenberg in eastern Germany to mark the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation - writes Stephen Brown.
"We don't want to be a museum," said Wittenberg's mayor, Eckhard Naumann, announcing the initiative at a 16 November media conference in Geneva where the Lutheran World Federation has its headquarters. "We want to be a place where there is a living process of communication."
The first tree is to be planted in 2008 on 31 October, which is known as Reformation Day. This marks the day in 1517 when Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg's Schlosskirche (castle church), thereby setting in train his breach with the Roman Catholic Church.
Churches worldwide are to be encouraged to adopt one of the 500 trees that are planned for the Luther Garden and also to plant a tree themselves to denote a link with the birthplace of the Reformation.
"The Luther Garden will be a symbol of solidarity, interconnectedness and reconciliation between Christian churches throughout the world," said the Rev. Norbert Denecke, executive secretary of the LWF's German National Committee.
He said Lutheran churches as well as those belonging to other traditions such as Anglican, Methodist and Reformed would be approached to sponsor a tree. Catholic dioceses are also to be invited to take part, he noted.
The Luther Garden is being planned around a landscaped adaptation of the Luther Rose, a symbol of Lutheranism that is based on the seal with which the Protestant Reformer authenticated his correspondence.
Luther himself is said to have seen trees as a sign of hope, being reputed to have once said, "If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today."
The plan for the Luther Garden is the brainchild of Denecke and landscape architect Andreas Kipar, who has offices in Milan and Duisburg.
"We don't want to have a one-off event but something that can already begin in 2008," said Kipar. "The 500 trees will be a symbol that the Reformation that took place 500 years ago completely changed the world."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]