A major milestone for “The Wittenberg Project” — the effort to establish a Lutheran education and outreach center in the birthplace of the Reformation — is only months away.
On May 3, representatives from the LCMS, Concordia Publishing House and the Synod’s German sister church will dedicate the new International Lutheran Center in the Old Latin School in the very heart of historic Wittenberg, Germany.
Renovation of the 450-year-old school building, located only steps from Wittenberg’s Town Church, the “Mother Church of the Reformation,” began just more than a year ago. Exterior work on the building — a new roof, windows, stucco and paint — is largely finished. Interior work will continue through the winter.
“There’s a lot to do between now and May, but we are finally getting close to realizing our vision for a place in Wittenberg for reaching people with the Gospel and helping Christians to grow in their faith and mission awareness,” said the Rev. David L. Mahsman. “I can’t imagine a better way to thank and honor God for what He did here 500 years ago.” The 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated in 2017.
Mahsman is an LCMS missionary and managing director of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), a German non-profit corporation established by the LCMS, CPH and Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church for joint ministry in Wittenberg. The German church is known by its German acronym, SELK.
In addition to overseeing the Old Latin School renovation effort, Mahsman also is working with SELK pastors to enhance Gospel outreach to Wittenberg-area residents, most of whom do not even profess to be Christian, and with a special committee developing educational programs for Lutherans worldwide.
“The Wittenberg Project is more than a building — it’s Gospel ministry,” he said. “But the building is important. It’s a place for ministry, it’s a place that gives us visibility, and it’s a place that tells the community we are here for the long haul.”
Mahsman said “considerable work” already has been done inside the building, including subfloors, drywall, plastering, wiring and plumbing. The renovated building will feature a chapel and lecture hall; classroom and fellowship space; a bookstore; housing for students, researchers and other guests; a small library; and two offices. Dormers have been built on either side of the fourth floor and nearly the entire length of the building, adding significant usable floor space, he said.
The Wittenberg Project received unanimous approval from delegates during the 2013 LCMS convention through a resolution encouraging synodwide prayer and financial support, which Mission Advancement Executive Director Mark Hofman said would have to come via special gifts and offerings from congregations, organizations and households. After securing half of the necessary funding in lead gifts, a focused fundraising effort for the project “went public” in May with a special appeal to LCMS congregations and schools.
To date, $2.66 million in designated gifts restricted for renovation-related costs has been raised, Hofman said. This figure does not include an expected refund by the German authorities of nearly $400,000 in government taxes to be paid on labor and materials. “That refund would allow us to direct those euros toward true renovation costs,” Hofman remarked.
According to Hofman, the fundraising goal is a moving target. “It fluctuates as the U.S. dollar moves against the euro, the currency used to pay the bills. So our goal will likely go up and down along the way as we either see the blessing of a strong dollar or the curse of a weak one. Right now, we’re looking at a total project goal of around $4.4 to $4.6 million, including the potential tax refund, to have a facility that is ready for the work ahead in a manner befitting our heritage as Lutherans.”
Hofman shared that an anonymous donor has offered up to $1 million in matching funds to encourage LCMS members to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“We’ve also been blessed by donors who have committed more than $250,000 in designated funds to support program work once the building is ready,” he added.
The dedication planned for next May will include Gospel-outreach and educational activities as well as worship. The May 3 dedication worship service will be in the Town Church, St. Mary’s, where Luther preached more than 2,000 sermons. That evening, a concert of sacred music also will be held in the church. Opportunities for tours in Wittenberg and other Reformation cities will be available in the days following the dedication.
The second International Conference on Confessional Leadership in the 21st Century, sponsored by the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations and the Office of the President, will be held in Wittenberg through May 8 in conjunction with the dedication.
More information about the project, including answers to frequently asked questions and the various opportunities for offering financial support, is available online at thewittenbergproject.org, or by contacting Mission Advancement at 888-930-4438.
Posted Nov. 29, 2014