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The Wends and the Reformation

Monday 09 July 2018 at 5:08 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 5, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

It is always disappointing to miss out on something important, especially if it’s an occasion/celebration/event you’ve been looking forward to. For months prior to my retirement from St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, in July 2017, I had been researching and gathering ideas for observing the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October, called “Reformation Sunday.”

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Texas District, as well as the Missouri Synod itself, was already underway with big plans for the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing the 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door.

Wouldn’t you know it, due to health issues triggering my retirement from the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, I missed it all!

Of course, I was able to participate in observing some of the special happenings via video, television and books, but that’s not the same as being directly involved.

Concordia University, Austin (advertised as the only Wendish University in the world) and the Texas Wendish Heritage Society joined together to commemorate the 500th Anniversary by publishing an incredibly unique and significant book, entitled Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation, a book showing the contribution of the Wends to the Reformation in Germany. This book project, under the leadership of Dr. David Zersen, former President of Concordia University and Weldon Mersiovsky, Overseer of The Wendish Research Exchange, required immense preparation and called for translations of never-before-translated Wendish writings. As a descendant of the Texas Wends who settled in Lee County, Texas, and who helped to establish the Wendish “Mother Church” in Serbin, I was delighted to receive a copy of this book. St. Paul Lutheran Church, Serbin, became the “Mother Church” for the LCMS Texas District, by starting a “mission” church in Austin, also called St. Paul Lutheran Church, and being active in establishing a Lutheran school in Austin, which was eventually to become Concordia University.

Five Centuries; The Wends and the Reformation was going to be my main source for observing the 500th had the events of my life worked out differently. The book would help remove some of the annoyance I have felt about German Reformation pastors, and even Martin Luther himself, regarding their attitude toward the Wends living near Wittenberg (which the Wends called “Wytparck”).

Though Luther said some things that bother me, he always remained loyal to his commitment to bring the language of the people into the worship services wherever they might be held, including the fostering of the use of the Wendish language in Wendish churches in Germany. According to Gerald Stone, in Slav Outposts in Central European History: The Wends, Sorbs and Kashubs, when the Lutheran Church became the state church in Saxony, in 1527, one German pastor said the Wends were “pig-headed, uncouth people.” Stone also quoted Luther himself as saying the Wends were “stupid and loutish.” In Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation, Jan Malink quotes Luther as saying a few more choice words criticizing the Wends, even calling them “the worst of all people.” Yet, it was Luther who supported and ordained many lay Wends, so that they could preach in the Wendish language in churches throughout Lusatia. Without Luther’s support of the Wends, we might still be “stupid and loutish.” Ultimately the Wends became so fiercely Lutheran, they would choose to emigrate rather than live under the dictates of the Prussian Union (which made Lutherans into “generic” Protestants).

Supplying their book, Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation, with many unique photographs and providing many never-before-translated Wendish articles written by German Wends in Wendish, the Editors were able to make a case for the enormous contribution the Wends of Saxony made to the Reformation launched by Luther’s 95 Theses.

If you read the short biographies of the ten authors whose writings make up the bulk of this book, you will discover Wends with PhD’s and graduates of Germany’s finest universities. Since half of our Wendish ancestors were serfs owned by Germans and the other half paid peasants, we look at “our” book with great pride.

You can buy a copy of this first Wendish coffee table book, this winner of the Concordia Historical Institute Honorable Mention Award, for $26 from the Wendish Museum Bookstore, 1011 County Road 212, Giddings, Texas 78942-5940.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.

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