SEWARD -- Nailed it.

There seemed no better way to pay homage to Martin Luther's famous hammering of his 95 theses to a German church door that sparked the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago than with a worship service and dinner filled with bratwurst and polka.

Around 1,500 Lutherans from around the state came for the celebration held at Walz Arena at Concordia University, which commemorated the symbolic start of the Reformation on Oct. 31, 1517. Other celebrations took place or were scheduled locally and around the world to mark Tuesday's milestone.

The theses, which Luther posted on a church door in the small German town of Wittenberg, came in response to the Catholic Church's selling of indulgences and signaled the birth of the Lutheran tradition.

Jennifer Furr, the director of alumni and university relations at Concordia, coordinated Sunday's service and dinner.

"We're really celebrating our Lutheran heritage and obviously we recognize Martin Luther and the theological doctrine that he created for our church body," Furr said. "But more so, we just celebrate that it really truly is about Jesus and the salvation that we have through him."

Sunday's celebration was the culmination of a year-long lecture and music recital series at Concordia. The lectures centered around the many facets of the Protestant Reformation, from music and literature to history and theology.

"They took it very seriously," said Concordia choir director Kurt Von Kampen. "The university is steeped in the Lutheran tradition and we've remained that way over the years."

For Nebraskans, the 500th anniversary on Tuesday is a poignant milestone for a state with a rich German-Lutheran tradition.

Rev. Barry Williams, the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Madison, said it's a special time for his congregation, including many members who descended from German and Scandinavian immigrants.

"They were people who came together, who were homesteading the land," Williams said. "But they homesteaded the Church also."

Brian Friedrich, the president and CEO of Concordia, said the Reformation celebration reflects the "rich Lutheran heritage" of Nebraska and the university.

"This is what this institution is about," Friedrich said.

Concordia University is home to 2,700 students, over half of whom are Lutheran, Friedrich said.

Ninety percent of the school's faculty is Lutheran as well.

Seward is also home to the headquarters of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Nebraska.

Following the worship service, people filed into the indoor track area at Concordia, where tables were set up for a Germanfest dinner. 

Ushers walked around in shirts featuring the plump-faced Luther, while people dished up bratwurst, sauerkraut and black forest cake.  

"This is a time for fun and fellowship for our community," Furr said.

On Monday, the celebrations will continue with a service at Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln, featuring music and a quilt display.

While the celebrations are 500 years in the making, Concordia chaplain Ryan Matthias said the message of the Reformation hasn't changed.

"I think that this is a celebration of the past, but the Reformation, at least in the Lutheran way, is happening every day," Matthias said. "So we may say 500 years, but it really feels like zero. We just keep talking about Christ and always will."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or zhammack@journalstar.com

On Twitter @zach_hammack 

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