The Revd Eliza Zikmane, Pastor of St Anne’s Lutheran Church, the Revd Dr Julia Candy, Anglican vicar of St John’s Church West Hendon and Sally Barnes an Anglican lay woman, decided some months ago they would like to work together to create an event to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Eliza and Sally are on the committee of the Anglican-Lutheran Society, Julia and Sally are both members of Women and the Church (WATCH) and serve on the committee of the London WATCH branch. We felt it was important as Anglicans and Lutherans to be seen to work together. We all agreed that we should hold “Women of the Reformation” at the heart of whatever we do. After much discussion and planning, the outcome was three evening sessions to be held at St Mary-at-Hill Church in the City which is also the home of St Anne’s Lutheran congregation. We aimed for the events to take place in May and June and to be a mixture of talks on notable women, who may or may not be known about, who spread the word of the Reformation in their different ways. We wanted to have a mix of audience participation and discussion with time for those attending to get to know each other over refreshments. We advertised the events as widely as we could hoping that some people would be interested in coming and then held our collective breaths. We were not disappointed. Each session was successful and different in its own way, with much interest and comment from those who attended who themselves came from a wide range of interests and knowledge. How good it was to see everyone.

The reviews of the evenings are written by Rev’d Sarah Farrow, assistant pastor at St Anne’s and Mary Johnston Chair of London WATCH.

The three of us would like to thank members of St Anne’s congregation and of the WATCH (London) committee for their support, who helped at each event in so many practical ways. We would like to thank too, the Rev’d Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin of St Mary-at-Hill for making this beautiful and historic church available to us.   We have been asked by a number who attended if we could follow-on with some more evenings of similar interest. We are thinking about it – so watch this space!

Eliza, Julia and Sally

Katharina von Bora: Presented by Anne Boileau

18 May;  Review by Rev’d Sarah Farrow (Assistant Pastor St Anne’s Lutheran Church)

There were more than 40 of us gathered at St Mary-at-Hill Church, home of St Anne’s Lutheran Church, waiting expectantly for a very special guest – Katy von Bora! Katy von Bora is also known as Katharina Luther, the wife of Martin Luther. Presented in character and costume, Anne Boileau brought this larger than life, often overlooked woman of history, to the crowd gathered that evening. We learned of Katharina’s upbringing and life before she was smuggled out of a nunnery by Martin Luther and his fellow Reformers. While much was presented on the Lutheran Reformation, Katharina was not presented in some kind of ‘supporting role’ to Martin Luther himself. Instead, Katharina was speaking of her own life and the context in which she lived, raised a family, ran a business and contributed to the growing and expanding Lutheran Reformation.

Complemented by 16th century images, some by Lucas Cranach, we received a full picture of Katharina Luther. Katharina and some of her fellow nuns had been exposed to the writings of Martin Luther secretly brought into the nunnery. After being smuggled out of the nunnery with eight other nuns in herring barrels, she lived in the same community as Luther and other Reformers. While neither were each other’s first choices, Martin and Katharina eventually married and had a large family. As Martin was not good with money and was overgenerous to those he wanted to help, Katharina had to take charge of the household, which included husbandry, brewing beer and managing a property portfolio that supported the family and Martin’s own work.

As a former nun who was now married to a controversial Reformer, Katharina would have had to withstand the constant jeering and judgment of her neighbours. From what we learned, this would have only contributed to her already strong character. And while it may not have been love at first sight for the Luthers, Martin’s writings to Katharina as they grew older were full of devotion and love. Martin Luther even left all of his property and money to Katharina, which was unheard of in the 16th century. Katharina had to wrestle with lawyers for years in order to get the property and money that was rightfully hers.

Katharina is not a mere footnote in history, and even though she was one of the first in the newly re-discovered role of ‘clergy spouse’ she does not deserve to be known simply as ‘Luther’s wife’. Katharina von Bora demonstrates the strength and character women have shown in supporting reform and change in the context in which they live. She stands on her own as a canny businesswoman, and Anne Boileau really did bring her to life!

Katherine Parr Lecture:  Rev’d Dr Roy Long

22nd May: Review Mary Johnston, Chair, WATCH (London)

Most of the 50 or so people who came along to the second event, a lecture given by the Rev’d Dr Roy Long, retired Lutheran pastor and authority on Reformation history, no doubt came out of curiosity to learn how a Tudor queen, sixth wife of Henry Vlll and hitherto distinguished simply by managing to survive her husband, could have played any role in the Reformation.

Dr Long’s talk was a revelation. Queen Katherine was a lady of exceptional learning, well-educated by her pious and well-read mother determined that her daughter should be schooled beyond the contemporary norm for girls at any level of society. Katherine took a keen interest in religion, particularly the reforming ideas circulating widely at the time of her marriage, and became the first woman in England to have a book published.   She repeatedly engaged King Henry in discussions about theology and the church, so much so that certain conservative church authorities, fearing her persuasive reforming influence on the King, sought to discredit her and have her “silenced”. Despite these threats to her freedom and possibly her very existence Katherine persisted in her efforts, demonstrating both courage and intelligence in managing to survive powerful opposition, while promoting reformist ideas.

But Dr Long showed us that Katherine’s faith was not purely theoretical. She was instrumental in bringing to court her step-daughters, Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, providing a level of care and acceptance which both had lacked. She seems to have had a particular rapport with Elizabeth. How far she influenced the theological development of the future Queen Elizabeth, and also the young King Edward Vl, we do not know, but Katherine’s reforming instincts would have been apparent to both of them. The remarkable legacy of that original pious, well-read mother, schooling her intelligent daughter Katherine, who studied and wrote, and then herself nurtured a future Queen of enormous stature in this nation’s history, must be a heartening encouragement for all today’s grandmothers and mothers doing their best to inspire their own young people – as women have done down the ages, quietly, unrecognised, for generation after generation.

We learned from Dr Long that Katherine was not alone. Ongoing research is uncovering the activities of many courageous women from all walks of life, spreading reform thinking, often by word of mouth speaking out publicly at huge personal risk, and for which some suffered horribly.   Their contribution has simply been ignored. We felt privileged, grateful and really quite excited to hear from someone so clearly motivated to help bring to light the largely unrecognised efforts of these women.

The many questions at the end of the lecture and the continuing discussion over refreshments afterwards were testimony to the very great interest stirred by Dr Long’s superb lecture. Requests for a further lecture have been noted, and passed to him.

Women Reformers: Then and Now  

Presented by Rev’d Eliza Zikmane (Lutheran Pastor); Rev’d Dr Julia Candy (Anglican Priest) and Sally Barnes (Anglican Lay Woman)

29 June; Review by Rev’d Sarah Farrow

The final of these three Women of the Reformation talks brought the themes of the 16th century Reformation into the 21st century. The evening was structured around three different presentations with opportunities for small group discussion and our own opportunity to nail the change we want to see to the ‘Wittenberg’ door!

The first presentation by Sally Barnes introduced us to Argula von Grumbach. I admit that I had never heard of this German Reformer before but what I learned about her that Thursday evening has sparked a real interest to learn more! Argula published letters and poems defending the Lutheran doctrine that was being attacked and challenged throughout Europe. Not much is known about her husband, who was not a Reformer himself, only that he was told to keep his wife ‘in line’! Argula openly criticized the mistreatment of Reformers, and is especially noted for standing up for a young student who was arrested for his Reformist beliefs. While standing up for this young student, Argula openly criticised male Reformers for their lack of visible and vocal support in the situation. Argula saw it as their duty, especially as men, to speak out against those challenging the spread of the Word of God through the Reformation. Argula was a proficient theologian in her own right and her letters and poems showed her knowledge of scripture and doctrine. And, as is all too common, her knowledgeable and well-written letters were met with abuse and pejorative rebukes, with men calling her a ‘shameless whore’ and claiming that her behavior was ‘unfeminine’. Argula is a remarkable woman in history, not because of any association she had with any male figure of the Reformation but because of her own courage to speak out against those attacking this reforming movement, to call out those who she saw as cowardly or acting with injustice, and to pursue the spread of God’s Word to all. Barnes presented this amazing woman’s story with the same passion and verve with which Argula lived!

The second presentation of the evening was delivered by Rev’d Dr Julia Candy. The topic of her talk was Marie Dentière, a Swiss Reformer and the only woman’s name on the Reformation Wall in Geneva. Like Katharina von Bora, Dentière was also a former nun who left the nunnery in pursuit of joining the Reformation. While she was a proponent of the Reformation in it’s reformed doctrine, she also argued for a larger role for women in the church. Candy spoke of Dentière’s writings urging women to recognize that their personhood didn’t lie in their looks but in their character, and that they did not need the approval of men to pursue or find fulfillment in their lives. As with the other women we have learned of in this series, Dentière was well-read and held a good grasp of doctrine and scripture. And as our speaker pointed out, Dentière did not try to undermine her own womanhood but instead looked to redefine what that meant in 16th century Europe.

The final presentation of the evening was by the Lutheran Pastor, Rev’d Eliza Zikmane. Zikmane brought us into the 21st century by presenting the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Gender Justice Policy. This is a document that is part of the Women in Church and Society programme of the LWF (a sister group to WATCH, some might say). It was published in 2013 and is based on the ethics of inclusiveness found in Scripture. The document seeks to ‘affirm gender justice as a matter of faith’ (from the foreword by LWF General Secretary Rev’d Martin Junge). This policy addresses a number of principles, but for the purposes of our themes there was one that particularly struck me, to ‘address systemic and structural practices that create barriers to the full participation of women in leadership and at levels in decision making’. As someone that works in the church, I found it painful and upsetting to admit that I work in a male-dominated institution. How can it be that this is said about the church? How can it be that we continually preach God’s all-encompassing love day after day, yet we do not see it lived out in the institution itself? In our small group discussion we talked about the challenges we currently face and the changes we hope to see, with the invitation to then ‘post’ these on our own ‘Wittenberg’ door. I think many of us were surprised to see how much of the bias and assumptions made in society based on one’s gender, are outdated and narrow-minded, and how often the church may collude in this. If society is still presenting activities or interests as ‘boy-things’ or ‘girl-things’, this means we have to be that much more attentive at home and church in emphasizing God’s love and that God’s gifts to humanity are bigger than any of this ‘made-up’ division. As we continue to learn from our historical Reformers such Argula and Dentière, we stand on the shoulders of giants and see that this Reformation isn’t done yet!

A copy of the full LWF policy can be found on the following page with links for available materials.


Links Relating to Eliza’s Talk

  1. LWF official site
  2. Women in Church and Society
  3. WICAS project “Women on the Move”
  4. Worship resources from LWF assembly 2017
  5. “Her stories”
  6. Gender Justice Policy
  7. “Here I Stand “: exhibition, section on Women ( here you will see some of our heroines 🙂