The Regional Church of Saxony has a long and eventful history. We will briefly describe the important eras and events.
The early days of Christianity in Saxony
Christian roots in Saxony go back to the 10th century, when missionary work started among the Slavs and the bishopric of Meissen was established. The first churches were built under the shadow of the castles. Cities like Meissen, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Zwickau or Bautzen developed from market settlements. The spiritual focus was the cathedral in Meissen, which is still the bishop’s church.
The Reformation started in Ernestine Saxony (Wittenberg) with the doctrine of Martin Luther and the early days of the Reformation and made its way to Albertine Saxony too in 1539. Reformation ideas had already gained the upper hand in Saxony earlier through the “Leisniger Kastenordnung” social document (1522). Saxony has been part of the heartland of the Reformation and Lutheranism since then.
The Peace of Augsburg (1555) affirmed the sovereign church regiment, after the state lords had decided which faith to follow for themselves and their subjects. As a result, the subjects of Lutheran princes and their Lutheran confession of faith were protected.
The office of the senior court chaplain was established in 1613 and was very important for the Regional Church of Saxony itself and for the Lutheran churches too.
The separation of church and state
The formation of parochial church councils and therefore the broad involvement of church members in leadership tasks became possible from 1868 onwards based on the church and synod rules. The 1st regional synod for the Kingdom of Saxony was constituted in 1871.
The end of the monarchy after the First World War led to the separation of church and state. A new church constitution was passed in 1922 and this reorganised the church administration and the synod structures. Ludwig Ihmels was elected as the first regional bishop.
The Nazi period
This newly gained sovereignty for the church was jeopardised during the Nazi period. Resistance, which largely came from members of the “Confessing Church”, increased against the Nazi absorption of the church and the “Nazi German Christian” heads of the church. The experience gained in the struggle between church and state during the Nazi period was therefore included in the new constitution that was adopted for the Evangelical Lutheran Regional Church of Saxony after the war.
Christians in East Germany
The church played a difficult mediator role in East Germany. As a religious antithesis to the atheist state, it depended on constant negotiations in order to protect its members from marginalisation and become socially involved.
The “swords to ploughshares” group developed under the umbrella of the church as a peace and environmental movement that was motivated by Christian ideals. It provided important input for the peaceful revolution in 1989.
And the demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of citizens in Leipzig in the autumn of 1989 following the Monday peace prayer meetings in St Nicholas Church played a major role in ensuring that the state party had to relinquish its power.
From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present day
Following the collapse of East Germany, the regional church took over many tasks in the social and education fields: schools, nurseries and social welfare centres were set up. Many churches have become heavily involved in welcoming and supporting refugees. Alongside the inter-faith dialogue, pursuing democracy and human rights have become spheres where Christians are involved nowadays. Despite the decline in membership numbers as a result of demographic and social developments, the regional church is still an important driving force in Saxony.
The Saxon bishops
The history of the Saxon bishops started in 1922. When King Friedrich August III abdicated as the holder of the sovereign ecclesiastical authority, church and state went their separate ways in 1918. The regional synod handed the responsibility for the church regiment to the state consistory and the permanent synod committee until a new constitution could take effect.
The regional synod adopted a new church constitution on 29 May 1922. It included new rules for the Lutheran bishop’s office after the end of the state church. Until this time, the senior court preacher had been the leading clergyman in the kingdom.
After the senior court preacher, Franz Dibelius, retired as the last holder of the office, Prof. Dr. Ludwig Ihmels was elected and inaugurated as the first bishop of the Regional Church of Saxony. However, the constitution did not officially take effect until 1926 because of serious disputes with the Free State of Saxony.
Ihmels became the leading clergyman in the regional church and shared his church leadership tasks with the regional consistory, the regional synod and the regional church committee.
The actual Bishop