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Martin Luther and the Reformation led the Salzburgers to Georgia

POSTED: August 30, 2017 8:17 a.m.
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This piece of art depicts Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to a church door in 1517.

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On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The Theses were his beliefs that differed from the Catholic Church and many others in the area agreed with him. A movement of rebellion grew in the evangelical communities in Rome. From 1517 to 1731 war, true religious differences and politics drove the Protestant Salzburgers to seek a place to live where they could have religious freedom. The 1731 Edict of Expulsion forced 20,000,000 Salzburgers from their homeland.
Some of the Germans and Austrians were assisted by the Halle and Franke Foundations. The Ebenezer Colony was established as a British Colony when the first Salzburgers arrived from England in Savannah where Oglethorpe had recently established Savannah. The Salzburgers were sent to the north to establish a town offering protection for Savannah to their south.
The first Salzburgers went inland in 1734 up the Ebenezer Creek and began to build a town. Plagued by disease, death and difficulty establishing farming at this site, they were allowed to go back to the Savannah River and relocate their town in a more favorable location in 1736. Thus New Ebenezer and the town were established at the site where the Ebenezer Creek goes into the Savannah River. A thriving town was built. The Jerusalem Lutheran Church was consecrated in 1770 and still has an active congregation today. Future transports of Salzburgers kept arriving to populate the town and establish Bethany and other communities near Ebenezer.
The Salzburgers would not be our ancestors and the colony of Georgia would not have been established were it not for Martin Luther’s confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church. The refuges’ beliefs were strong and they fled their homeland seeking religious freedom. Settlers from Salzburg, Austria and other German speaking areas came to America.
Lutherans are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the birth of the Lutheran Church and the impact of Martin Luther in 2017.
Rev. Dr. Kirk Bridgers will be guest speaker for the Georgia Salzburger Society’s Heritage Day Festival on Labor Day, September 4, 2017, at Jerusalem Lutheran Church. He will review the social, theological and political climate of Germany and Austria at the point of Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses. Details of the events leading to the expulsion and growth of the Protestant movement will be shared. The birth of civilization in America and the establishment of the Colony of Georgia will be discussed. Dr. Bridgers will offer information about the organizations that funded and helped the displaced Protestants including the Halle and Franke Foundations.
As Lutherans we celebrate this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Without Luther and his 95 Theses, there would not have been Salzburgers in Georgia to establish Ebenezer and our ancestry.
Please join the Salzburgers for their Heritage Festival on Labor Day September 3, 2017. Festivities will begin at 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit the old lemonade barrel, museum, old parsonage, Fail house, live demonstrations, children’s activities or shop at the Market Platz . The worship service and guest lecture of Rev. Dr. Bridgers will be held in Jerusalem Church at 11 a.m. The event has activities for all ages and food will be available for purchase. The festival is free to the public.

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