By James H. Heine
As the renovation of the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany, neared completion, and as the May 3 dedication of the renovated facility drew near, LCMS Mission Advancement introduced a new way to highlight the generous investments of LCMS individuals and families who choose to contribute to the project.
Called Solo Verbo (“By the Word Alone”), the phrase recognizes individuals and families who boldly provide at least $500 to the Wittenberg Project’s Old Latin School renovation, explains Mark Hofman, executive director of LCMS Mission Advancement.
“It is the partner-recognition piece to ‘Reformation 500,’ which acknowledges those schools, churches and organizations that support the renovation effort,” Hofman said. “When we started Reformation 500, we had some individuals come to us and say, ‘Well, that’s for congregations and schools. But what about my family?’ Or, ‘What about a person who wants to give at that level?’ We had a wonderful individual who suggested the name Solo Verbo as part of this Reformation celebration. And that’s how it began.”
Both Reformation 500, launched in May 2014, and Solo Verbo begin at the $500 level to mark $1 or more in support for every year since 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church, Hofman added.
No maximum amount
“There is no maximum amount that limits Solo Verbo gifts,” Hofman continued. However, Solo Verbo donors at levels of $2,500 or more may be given the option of naming available spaces or items in the building under a naming plan, either to give a public witness about their own faith or to memorialize or honor someone who played a significant role in the donor’s life.”
Solo Verbo is a “word-of-mouth” campaign also, Hofman said. “We pray that those who give or pledge will help us spread the word of what is happening in Wittenberg and encourage others to participate as the Old Latin School opens for operation.”
The Wittenberg Project — including renovation of the Old Latin School (built in 1564) — is a joint effort by the LCMS, Concordia Publishing House and Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) to nurture and strengthen the faith of Christians, especially from the global community of confessional Lutherans, and to introduce the faith to non-Christians in the former East Germany.
The project (thewittenbergproject.org) began in 2006 through a gift from the LCMS Central Illinois District Church Extension Fund and after a German bank offered the school — then an abandoned, derelict building — for sale for approximately $45,000. To date, more than $3.3 million of the $4.6 million to $5.2 million — the amount varies with fluctuations in international currency rates — required for the renovation has been received or pledged.
“The first time I saw the building was back in 2006 on a tour sponsored by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis,” Hofman recalled. “It was in pitiful shape. To see it now — and it’s not quite finished yet — it’s just staggeringly different. All things are made new in Christ, and to see what that historic school has come to be is just mind-boggling. … It doesn’t seem to be the same building.”
Aside from the interior renovations, which are turning the Old Latin School into a modern, multi-purpose international welcome, retreat and education center, as well as an outpost for the proclamation of the Gospel, perhaps the most striking change is the street-side appearance of the building, Hofman said.
From grim to exciting
“In 2006, it was this grim East Germany building painted Communist gray. The windows were opaque. They had iron bars over them. It felt almost verboten to touch the building, like it had leprosy. Now it has color. It has life to it. And I’m just talking about the outside. To see the photos of the inside and understand the possibilities for what can happen there is very, very, exciting.”
To date, the most noticeable local impact of the renovation is that it has attracted attention, said the Rev. David Mahsman in an email to Reporter.
“Everyone who lives in Wittenberg knows the building. It’s hard to miss. But until the renovation, it was an eyesore. Now it is an attractive contribution to the Old Town section of Wittenberg, and it has a presence to it,” he wrote.
Mahsman is an LCMS missionary and managing director of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg, a German nonprofit corporation established by the LCMS, CPH and SELK for joint ministry in Wittenberg.
Redo gets noticed
Newspapers are doing stories about the renovation and running pictures, Mahsman added. “People want to see the inside. And, of course, we can leverage all this for the sake of sharing the Gospel through the programs we will offer in the building.”
Yet the renovation was never an end in itself, but rather a means to an end, Mahsman explained.
“The renovated Old Latin School is now a place where we can offer programs of interest to people locally, programs through which we can share the Good News. It’s a place where we can also tell some of the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to Wittenberg what God did in this town 500 years ago and what He still is doing in the world today. It’s a place for our Lutheran confirmands, our youth, our university and seminary students and others to come and learn in this setting that is so rich in salvation history. And it’s a place that will be used by our German brothers and sisters in the SELK for worship and for outreach.”
What changes will result from all this?
“We can only wait with anticipation to see what God will do,” Mahsman said. (For a concise video tour of the Old Latin School hosted by Mahsman, visit the Wittenberg Project’s website and click on the video link.)
For more information about Solo Verbo or to give a gift or pledge support at the $500 level or more, contact Patty Mainer in Mission Advancement at 888-930-4438 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To send a check, payable to The Wittenberg Project or The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (write “The Wittenberg Project” on the memo line of your check), mail the check to: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 790417, St. Louis, MO 63179-0417.
To give by phone, using a major credit card, call 888-930-4438.
James H. Heine (email@example.com) is a St. Louis journalist and the retired director of News and Information for LCMS Communications.
Posted April 27, 2015