Dalbo resident spends time as resident pastor with Wittenberg English Ministry in Germany
A rural Dalbo retired Lutheran pastor recently returned from what he describes as “the ultimate busman’s holiday,” of a nearly 50-year ministry.
The Rev. Delwayne Hahn spent two weeks as resident pastor with the Wittenberg English Ministry in Wittenberg, Germany Aug. 8-21.
During that time he conducted 10 services in three of the historic churches associated with Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer—the Town Church, the Castle Church and the Christ Chapel next door to the Town Church.
It was at the Town Church (Standtkirche) that Luther preached 2,000 sermons during his lifetime, was married and had his six children baptized. Weekday services were held in a small chapel housed in what had been the sacristy (the room where a pastor prepares for worship) in Luther’s day. The castle church (Schlosskirche) is the site of Luther’s burial place and it was to the door of this church that he nailed his 95 Theses (statements for debate) on Oct. 31, 1517, sparking the Protestant Reformation.
That this opportunity for service fell during the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation made it even more special in Hahn’s eyes.
The services were in English and designed to serve the needs of English-speaking persons visiting Wittenberg. They are coordinated by the Wittenberg English Ministry, Locust Grove, Virginia, home to executive director Pastor Robert Flohrs.
While attending a service in the Chapel next to the Town Church he inquired of the resident pastor as to the background of the ministry. Then followed his own application to be one of the pastors serving WEM.
Last year while in Wittenberg, he returned to a service at the Town Church and mentioned that he hadn’t heard anything in the three years since expressing an interest. Before he returned to Minnesota, Hahn received an email from Flohrs asking if he would be interested in the two-week stint this year.
“To conduct worship and preach in three of Luther’s churches during the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation is so special that I didn’t have to even think about it,” Hahn said. “To be presiding at a service while standing 15 feet from Luther’s crypt, six feet from that of Philip Melancthon, his younger colleague, and about 20 feet from the inside of the door to which Luther had nailed his 95 Theses, was a moving experience. I was glad to not hear any bones rotating in those two graves after I finished preaching.”
In addition to the services, the WEM pastor is also encouraged to attend the Thursday night Stammtish (regulars table) at a local restaurant. This gathering is for residents of Wittenberg who want to practice their English with those who are native to the Language. Usually a dozen or so persons gather for food and conversation in a restaurant near Lutherhaus—the former monastery that became home to the Luthers after the start of the Reformation.
With the 500th anniversary came many special exhibits and events to observe the occasion. One of these was a music and drama filled Saturday evening with groups appearing at more than 30 sites around town. Called Erlebnis Nacht (roughly experience night) the venues ranged from a 1950s American Rock ‘n Roll retrospective group to a pops and swing concert on the Sauer organ at the Town Church– an amazingly different sound from that heard in the formal worship services.
An experience of a more whimsical nature came with Hahn’s visit to the interactive project Bless U-2 sponsored by the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (German state that includes Wittenberg). The exhibit features a robot who can “bless” the visitor in seven different languages and dialects of German. According to the information with the exhibit is to challenge people to consider the meaning of “blessing” and the increasing digitalization with artificial intelligence in the 21st century. After his visit and blessing by the robot pastor (featured in a number of news articles in May), Hahn stated his doubts “that the robot will eliminate the clergy shortage in many denominations.”
While he was in Wittenberg, he took a day trip to Torgau, Germany and visited the church where Katherine Luther, the reformer’s wife, is buried as well as the house in which she died.
After his time in Wittenberg, Hahn spent two days at Eisenach, Germany where the Wartburg Castle is located. It was there that Luther was brought under protective custody in 1521, after he was declared a heretic and outlaw by Pope Leo X. During the time he spent at the Wartburg Luther translated the New Testament into German, a language in which the scriptures had not existed.
After making the climb to the castle which sets on a cliff nearly 1,400 feet above the town, Hahn said, “I can understand why Duke Frederick put Luther there. Anyone making that climb would be too tired to do anything to harm him.”
During that stop a visit was also made to the home of Johann Sabastian Bach, St. Georges Church where Bach and several generations of his family served as organists, he and his children were baptized and Luther sang in the choir as a young student. Many years later Luther would preach there on his way to and from the Wartburg. The home in which he stayed as a student is also there and was part of the stay.
The final stop before returning to Minnesota was a three-day stay in Berlin. Highlights of this time was a trip to a portion of the Berlin Wall that is still standing, the re-created “Checkpoint Charlie” and standing in a space over what had been the bunker in which Adolph Hitler and his wife Eva ended their lives on April 30, 1945.
He summarized his time in Germany by saying, “This was an incredible experience and a highlight of my ministry that I will never forget.”
Hahn currently serves as half-time visitation pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Andover, as adjunct staff and stewardship consultant at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, East Bethel and as a contributing writer-photographer with the Isanti County News.