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Local minister, wife inspired by trip, work in Germany

August 23, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

What a thrill for a Lutheran pastor to preach in Martin Luther's church in Wittenberg, Germany - to stand where Luther stood when the leader of the Protestant Reformation was changing the face of world religion in the 16th century.

The Rev. Raymond Shriver, pastor of Hagerstown's Christ Lutheran Church on Cleveland Avenue, got to do just that recently. He and his wife, Ginger, returned July 30 from the two-week trip.

"You walk down a narrow hallway and climb a steep set of stairs to the pulpit of The Castle Church," Shriver said.

Standing above the congregation, Shriver looked down and realized he was also within feet of Martin Luther's actual tomb.

"The Castle Church is where Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517," Shriver said.

Those theses, for which Luther is most identified, were his way of questioning the Catholic religion's reliance on good works rather than faith as the way to salvation.

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While the actual paper theses were burned, the doors of The Castle Church now bear bronze replicas of the theses.

Shriver's opportunity came about through his friendship with the Rev. Keith Loesch, a former pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Hagerstown.

Now in Woodbridge, Va., Loesch went to Germany two years ago on a sabbatical. There, Loesch met the Lord Mayor of Wittenberg, Herr Eckhard Naumann, who was also the chairman of Wittenberg University.

"Naumann told Loesch he wanted Wittenberg to be a religious, cultural and educational center in Germany," Shriver said.

To that end, Loesch was asked to come up with English-speaking pastors who would be willing to preach at the Wittenberg churches for two weeks each from May through November.

"I preached two times a week in the Castle Church, the Town Church and in a little chapel behind the Town Church," Shriver said.

The rest of the time, Shriver and his wife took the "Luther tour," visiting places where Luther lived and worked and preached.

Housing and breakfast were provided for the Shrivers but transportation, other meals and all additional expenses were on them.

Still, the memories of the visit are priceless, Shriver said. One such memory includes a chance encounter with a young woman he helped reacquaint with Christianity after many years of living under communist rule.

"I noticed this young woman while I was preaching at The Castle Church and learned she used to go to church when she was a girl," Shriver said.

At the age of 14, the then German Democratic Republic regime told her she had to choose between her religion and getting an education.

She chose education, learning English as a second language.

With the fall of communism, the woman began her odyssey back to the church, Shriver said.

"Now, I want to know what they were so afraid of," the woman told Shriver, who was delighted to assist her in her spiritual journey.

Shriver parted with his own English-language Bible and gave it to the woman. "She grabbed it and held it close to her," he said, noting it was a great thrill for him.

A native of Martinsburg, W.Va., Shriver, 61, is a graduate of Martinsburg High School, Shepherd College and Gettysburg Seminary.

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