Featured Stories, National Lutheran News

In the footsteps of C.F.W. Walther

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is planning a two-day tour of historic Lutheran sites in St. Louis and Perry County, Missouri, this fall as part of the national church body’s 200th birthday celebration of its first president, the Rev. Dr. C.F.W. Walther.

Many LCMS entities and congregations will recognize the bicentennial of Walther’s birth with special events, activities, and resources starting in fall 2011 and extending through the 125th anniversary of his death in 2012.

“C.F.W. Walther has been hailed as an ‘American Luther,’” said Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, LCMS president. “He was an avid student of Luther’s writings, and they shaped the transformative role Walther played in 19th-century American Lutheranism. How appropriate that we recognize his bicentennial year! In his day, Walther recognized the unique role of the Lutheran Church in America. That role is ours yet today.”

The logo for the 2011 Walther Bicentennial celebration, provided by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

The centerpiece of the bicentennial celebration will be Walther Heritage St. Louis/ Perry County tours designed by LutherTours. According to Vicki Biggs, director of public affairs and media relations, “this unforgettable two-day journey will take visitors to significant Lutheran sites in St. Louis and Perry County,” including the LCMS International Center; Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; and Concordia Cemetery, where the Walther Mausoleum is located. Tour dates are September 23-25, October 7-9, October 14-16, and October 21-23, 2011.

“Tour participants will get a sense of the rich heritage of the LCMS,” Biggs told Metro Lutheran. “They will walk in the footsteps of the founders, and stand in the places where Dr. Walther preached.”

Setting the context, David Fiedler, executive director of the general service department of LCMS, explained, “In 1838 and 1839, a group of Germans left Saxony due to religious persecution at the hands of the government. They wondered, ‘Can we find religious freedom here?’ when they arrived in the U.S.”

These new immigrants were confronted with a pastoral crisis early on, further casting in doubt their decision to leave Germany. “Disheartened and in turmoil, in rags and hungry, and without their pastor [who had been sent off to Illinois], a very young C.F.W. Walther drove them back into scripture to re-evaluate their situation,” Fiedler continued. “They came to the conclusion from scripture that they were a church and they were right to be here.” In many ways, Fiedler explained, the church body developed out of a healthy theological debate in the midst of wilderness.

Walther stayed in Perry County until 1842, when he was called to St. Louis, where he served as pastor, president of the church body, president of the seminary, and editor of The Lutheran Witness, an LCMS publication still in existence. He played a key role in the founding of the LCMS, which now ranks as one of the largest Christian church bodies in the U.S., with more than 2.3 million baptized members in some 6,200 congregations and more than 9,000 pastors.

Tour participants will have the option of one-day tours in either St. Louis or Perry County, or both.

“God has blessed our church body with remarkable people who came at important points and did amazing things,” said Biggs. “These tours are a chance for people who haven’t been exposed too much to learn, as well as those who do have an appreciation to experience [their history] in a new way.”

New insights from old sites

Other highlights of the Walther Bicentennial activities include a movie about Walther’s life produced by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; an Historic Trinity Lutheran Church Walther Bicentennial Celebration Service, which is set for 3:00 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 23, at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church, 1805 S. Eighth Street, St. Louis, where Walther was a pastor from 1841 until his death in 1887; the Concordia Publishing House Reformation Theology Research Award for research papers or commemorative sermons and prayers; and a Walther look-alike contest sponsored by Saxon Lutheran Memorial historic site during its 31st Annual Fall Festival from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Saturday, October 8.

In addition, LCMS President Harrison and the Rev. Jon Vieker, senior assistant to the LCMS president, will host a 12-day tour of Germany, also developed by LutherTours, November 30-December 11. The tour will focus on sites that were significant in both Walther’s and Martin Luther’s lives.

“C.F.W. Walther was a towering figure of 19th century Lutheranism,” said Larry Lumpe, executive director of the Concordia Historical Institute. “His knowledge of, and unwavering commitment to, the Lutheran Confessions and the theology of Martin Luther provided a firm foundation for the growth and development of the Missouri Synod. Through his tireless ministry as preacher, teacher, and writer, he offers a lasting legacy for the church of the 21st century as it proclaims the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.”

To find out more about the Walther Bicentennial, visit www.lcms.org/Walther200. For information about the various tours, call 1-866/777-1517, a direct line to LutherTours.

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