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The history of the The Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia.

The history of Berlin-Brandenburg

The Middle Ages  In 948, King Otto I founded the missionary bishoprics Brandenburg and Havel, both mandated to the archbishop of Magdeburg in 968. However, the Slavs considered Christianity as the religion of the conquerors. Time and again, violent conflicts occurred. It was not until the 12th century that Christian faith became widespread. At that time colonization had started under the rule of Margrave Albrecht the Bear. Immigrants from the Rhineland countries and from central Germany, who brought their beliefs, religious customs and hopes with them, were chosen to colonise the region

In the 12th century, the Bishopric of Lebus was established by a Polish duke. Lebus was a diocese of the Archbishopric of Gniezno and had a far-reaching influence. In 1170/71, Cistercians founded the first monastery east of the River Elbe, Zinna near Jüterbog. Ten years later, another monastery was founded near the town of Brandenburg, Lehnin, which became very important to the Berlin region. In the early 13th century, the Cistercian monks established further monasteries, for example Chorin near Eberswalde. Around the end of the 12th century, the episcopal sees Brandenburg and Havelberg became cathedral towns. The reform order of the Premonstratensians dominated the cathedral chapters at Brandenburg and Havelberg, whereas the Cistercians promoted the economic development of the region. Since the 13th century, the mendicant orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians - the Carthusian Order joining subsequently – have strongly influenced piety within the towns.

In 1539, the Reformation was introduced to the region of Berlin and Brandenburg. For the first time Elector Joachim II took Communion »in both kinds« (bread and vine) in accordance with the Lutheran rite. This significant event happened at St Nicholas’s Church in Spandau on 1st November of that year. In 1540, the Reformation insights of Martin Luther were incorporated into the new church order.

In 1613, the territorial prince, Elector Johann Sigismund, converted to the Reformed confession. Thus, he became the regional church leader. The Reformed confession was a Protestant denomination shaped by the Genevan Reformer John Calvin. Contrary to common practice at that time, the people did not have to adopt the confession of the territorial ruler but were allowed to remain Lutheran which most of them wanted to do. Ever since, though, there have been numerous Reformed parishes in Berlin and Brandenburg.

1657 Having been a provost at Mittenwalde (in the Margraviate of Brandenburg), Paul Gerhardt became a pastor at St Nicholas’s Church in Berlin in 1657. Both Luther and Gerhardt rank as great Protestant song writers. Many of Gerhardt’s hymns were set to music by Johann Krüger, who worked as a cantor at St Nicholas’s Church in Berlin from 1622 until his death in 1662. In 1666, Paul Gerhardt was removed from office by the Great Elector after having disobeyed an order prohibiting criticism of Reformed ideas. Gerhardt disputed the right of the state to interfere in church affairs. Having shifted without a rectory for three years, he followed a call to Lübben in the Spreewald area in 1669. Lübben belonged to Saxony at that time. He died there in 1676.

In 1685, the Great Elector issued the Edict of Potsdam. He offered the Huguenots - who were being persecuted in France due to their Reformed beliefs - a new homeland in the Prussian Brandenburg. Some 20.000 came, giving a strong impulse to both economy and science. Huguenots and their descendants were among the leading figures during the following decades.

In 1691, Philipp Jakob Spener followed a call to St Nicholas’s Church, for Berlin was known to have an open attitude towards religion. He was appointed a provost and consistorial councillor there. At that time he had long been recognized as the »Father of Lutheran Pietism in Germany« by friends and opponents alike.

In 1817, the Prussian king Frederick William III introduced the union between the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church. The principal Protestant theologian of the 19th century and co-founder of the Berlin University, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, championed the union, but opposed the government’s interference in church affairs. A common Communion service became possible then. A uniform church administration was created and a uniform order of service was introduced – despite strong protests by many parishes. However, the Lutheran or the Reformed confession of the parishes was left unchanged.

In the 1820s, a foundation phase of missionary societies and diaconal associations had begun which persisted until the end of that century: Berlin Mission, the Central Committee for Inner Mission and the Berlin City Mission, to name but a few.

In 1850, the Evangelical State Church in Prussia established its own supreme administrative body located at Berlin: the Evangelical High Consistory. It had been authorized to give instructions to the ecclesiastical provinces until they became independent regional churches after 1945.

1870 Regarding church buildings, Berlin saw an unprecedented construction boom from the 1870s until the beginning of World War I.

In 1918, the close relationship between »throne and altar« was severed by the abdication of William II (who had been both German Emperor and King of Prussia) - the Prussian king had always been the regional church leader. In 1922, the Evangelical State Church became the independent »Evangelische Kirche der altpreußischen Union« and introduced a new constitution. Many church officials did not really like the Weimar Republic. They preferred the German Nationalist point of view. Yet the Weimar Constitution had provided a favourable framework for politics. To be sure, the constitution separated church and state. However, it guaranteed the churches – as public corporations enjoying the right of self-administration - a number of rights, including the one to collect taxes. The duties the state was legally tied to were continued; religious studies was taught at state schools.

In 1933, the National Socialists and the »German Christians« supported by them tried to force the Protestant Church to tow the line. To their mind, Jewish Christians were to be excluded from obtaining a church office by introducing the so-called »Aryan paragraph«. The »Confessing Church« was established in opposition to the German Christians. Martin Niemöller, who was a pastor in the Berlin area of Dahlem at that time, was one of their best-known members. In October 1934, the Second Confession Synod at Dahlem proclaimed a state of church emergency. New church governing bodies were established and legitimized by the confessing parishes – not by the public authorities. In May 1934, the First Confession Synod had adopted the »Barmen Declaration« in the town of Barmen (today a borough of Wuppertal). The declaration served as the theological programme for the Confessing Church throughout Germany. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was born in Breslau (nowadays Wroc?aw) in 1906, was in charge of the theological seminary of the Confessing Church at Finkenwalde (Pomerania). In April 1945, he was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

In 1945, the »Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg« was established. Otto Dibelius was to become its first bishop. His time in office lasted until 1966. The Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg became an independent member church of the »Evangelical Church of the Union« (it had been one of the ecclesiastical provinces of the »Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union« before) and of the »Evangelical Church in Germany« (EKD). The Evangelical Church in Berlin-Bandenburg was particularly affected by the division of Germany: The Neumark (New March), a third of the former church territory of Brandenburg, had been ceded to Poland. The East-West-conflict came to demarcate the former territory of the church. Now the Christians in the east and the west had to face two fundamentally different forms of government and society. Especially in the fifties, the church and many of its members in East Berlin and all over the GDR were subjected to severe oppression by the government.

1961 The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 forced the Synod and the Church Governing Board to split up and hold meetings separately. Bishop Otto Dibelius who resided in West Berlin was not to enter East Berlin and the GDR, just like his successor, Kurt Scharf: Soon after the Berlin Wall had been erected, the GDR authorities did not allow him to return to his residence in East Berlin. In 1966, despite the refusal of entry, Kurt Scharf was elected bishop of the - whole - Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg by the Regional Synod East and the Regional Synod West at separate conferences.

In 1970, having intensively discussed the matter, the Regional Synods made arrangements for a greater degree of autonomy of both the eastern and western part of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg, whilst still affirming their solidarity. From then on, it was possible to modify certain passages of the Grundordnung - the church »constitution« -, if conditions required reconsideration. The statements about the Scriptures and the Protestant confession that had been made before the Grundordnung of 1948 remained a unifying element.

In 1972, both Regional Synods modified the church law in order to have a bishop elected in the eastern part of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg: Albrecht Schönherr was elected bishop. Since 1967, he had already been in office in place of bishop Scharf who was still not permitted to enter the territory of the GDR. From 1972 onwards, Scharf was exclusively in charge of the western part; Schönherr was exclusively in charge of the eastern part.

In 1977, Martin Kruse succeeded Kurt Scharf and became bishop of the western part. In 1981, Gottfried Forck succeeded Albrecht Schönherr as bishop in the eastern part.

Becoming the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia by unification in 2004

In 1989 and already during the years preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, groups critical of the GDR system found support in the parishes of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg. For example, Berlin’s Zion Church Parish with its »environmental library« and the Gethsemane Church situated in the Berlin area of Prenzlauer Berg became famous because of that. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a number of people working for the church accepted political responsibility. It was at this interim period that only few GDR citizens could take a political office because their records were unblemished. By this time, the Evangelical Church was the sole institution that had cultivated a democratic practice through its synodic tradition.

In March 1990, the Regional Synods of the eastern and of the western part held their first meeting since the Wall had fallen.

In 1991, there was a single Synod again, a single Church Governing Board and a single Consistory. In autumn of that year, Bishop Gottfried Forck retired. Martin Kruse became bishop of the reunited regional church.

In 1994, Dr Wolfgang Huber was elected bishop by Synod. 

In 2004, the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg associated with the Evangelical Church of Silesian Upper Lusatia: they became the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia. The Synod and the governing board were united; a new Grundordnung was introduced. In November 2003, Bishop Wolfgang Huber was elected Chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In January 2004, he was confirmed as bishop by the EKBO Synod.

In 2009, Bishop Wolfgang Huber retired. The Regional Synod elected Dr Markus Dröge as his successor.

The history of Silesian Upper Lusatia

In 968, Otto I founded the Bishopric Meissen which was in charge of a missionary territory including what is now called Upper and Lower Lusatia. At a later time, Upper Lusatia became an archdeaconry comprising the seven archpriesthoods of Bischofswerda, Kamenz, Löbau, Reichenbach, Görlitz, Seidenberg and Lauban.

In 1221, the Collegiate Foundation Bautzen was established. Its provost also belonged to the Cathedral Chapter Meißen. In addition to the Collegiate Foundation, the Cistercian convents Marienstern (near Kamenz) and Marienthal (near Ostritz) as well as the convent of the Order of St Mary Magdalene at Lauban were the most significant spiritual centres in Upper Lusatia.

From 1319 to 1635, Upper Lusatia, Lower Lusatia, Silesia and Moravia belonged to the lands of the Bohemian Crown. In 1346, the Upper Lusatian towns Kamenz, Bautzen, Löbau, Zittau, Görlitz and Lauban established a federation which was to play an important role in shaping the future of the area.

In 1525, Görlitz became Protestant. In other towns, the Reformation made further progress as well. As time passed, the towns and territorial estates of the Margraviate of Upper Lusatia gained more freedom. Thus they could independently decide whether they wanted to introduce the Reformation or not – this is to say without asking the territorial prince. The Collegiate Foundation Bautzen and the convents retained their spiritual function and manorial system. In this way, Upper Lusatia has been an area allowing different confessions since the Reformation. The Holy Trinity Church at Lauban and the Petridom at Bautzen became Simultankirchen (shared churches) where both Protestant and Catholic services were held. In Bautzen, this has continued ever since.

In 1635, John George II, Elector of Saxony, concluded the Peace of Prague, receiving Upper Lusatia and Lower Lusatia as a fief.

In contrast to the other Bohemian crown lands, Upper and Lower Lusatia did not experience the Counter-Reformation. The Protestant parishes near the border of Silesia became a spiritual refuge to many Evangelical Silesians who had not been guaranteed religious liberty by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The churches subsequently built near the border provided space enough to receive many Silesian worshippers.

In 1722, the town of Herrnhut was founded by Moravian expatriates. In 1742, the town of Niesky was founded as a colony of the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine (Moravian Church). Pietism as represented by the Imperial Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf had a significant bearing on religious life within Upper Lusatia. For instance, Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was a prominent proponent of this pietistic movement.

In 1815, the Kingdom of Saxony was ordered to surrender more than half of its territory to Prussia, for it had fought on the side of Napoleon until the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig. Lower Lusatia was passed on to Brandenburg; the northeastern part of Upper Lusatia became part of the province of Silesia. By these political changes, the parishes of the administrative districts of Hoyerswerda, Rothenburg, Görlitz and Lauban were affiliated to the Consistory of Breslau (Wroc?aw today). They were integrated into seven Kirchenkreise (deaneries) and participated in the development of the Evangelical Church in Prussia since Frederick William III had proclaimed the Prussian Union (between Lutheran and Reformed Churches) in 1817.

In 1946, the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Silesia met in Breslau. It confirmed the Church Governing Board mainly comprising representatives from the Silesian Confessing Synod presided over by Revd Ernst Hornig and elected in 1945. The Synod announced that the church districts east of the River Neisse, which by then were being held in trust by the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg, still belonged to the territory of the Evangelical Church in Silesia.

In December 1946, Church President Ernst Hornig and several members of the Church Governing Board were banished from Breslau. They moved to Görlitz.

In 1950, despite losing 90 per cent of its territory and of its members, the Regional Synod decided upon continuing the Evangelical Church in Silesia as an autonomous regional church. On 14 November 1951, the Kirchenordnung was adopted. In 1952, Ernst Hornig was inducted as Bishop of Görlitz by Bishop Otto Dibelius.

In 1968, the name of the church was changed into »Evangelical Church of the Görlitz Territory«, since the GDR authorities had demanded the term »Silesia« to be dropped in the future. Not until after German unification in 1990, the history of this regional church could once more be expressed by its name.

In 1992, Synod decided on changing the name into »Evangelical Church of Silesian Upper Lusatia«.

In 1997, after a festive service in Schweidnitz / ?widnica, a partnership agreement was signed between the Breslau Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Poland and the Evangelical Church of Silesian Upper Lusatia by Bishop Klaus Wollenweber (Görlitz) and Ryszard Bogusz (Breslau / Wroc?aw).

In 2000, the Church Governing Board suggested reorganising the eastern churches of the Protestant Union. As a result of an extended decision-making process of inner struggle, the »Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia« was constituted by 1st January 2004.

Letzte Änderung am: 16.07.2015