Greetings to my dear friends in Lycoming and Tioga County, especially to the people of St. Michael's in Quiggleville.
About a little over half a year ago I started my ministry in Tribsees, a small city that has endured for centuries at the margins of Pomerania in the northeastern corner of Germany. Tribsees never has been a rich city, yet the sanctuary of St. Thomas Lutheran Church contains a famous treasure: a sacramental-mill-altar skillfully handcrafted in the early 15th century. The sacramental mill is an image for the Word made flesh in Christ available in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It depicts the four evangelists who dump the Word of God into the mouth of a mill, the place of transformation, to receive Christ in the hands of the church: the Christ child in a chalice greets the faithful with a gesture of a blessing.
We consider it a miracle that over centuries the altar has kept preaching the gospel and that the mill has kept running, lifting up Christ incarnate to congregants and visitors alike.
In the 16th century, following the Reformation, many churches were stripped of their artifacts. Pictures or statues of the saints as well as altars were removed or destroyed, especially when they did not match Protestant theology, as clearly was the case in Tribsees. The altar survived despite the fact that it depicts the chalice as being reserved to the clergy only.
In the 17th century, when Tribsees was besieged by the Emperor's Catholic League, all other chapels and churches in the city had been destroyed by looting soldiers, yet the altar in St. Thomas survived.
In the 18th century, when Tribsees was under Swedish rule, some Swedish soldiers had a bar fight. An oil lamp broke and started a fire that burned down the whole city, including the whole harvest of the year. Only two huts are reported to have remained standing. Also, the church burned down: steeple, organ and interior. And again faithful people managed to save the altar from the flames by moving it into a corner and covering it with cloth.
In the 19th century, Napoleon's army used the church as a stable for its horses on its campaign against Russia. (Rev. Schultz, the famous founding pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Quiggleville, once was part of said army.) The altar survived.
When Napoleon was defeated, Tribsees fell under Prussian rule. Their border garrison and toll booth, as well as their investment in higher education, generated enough money to give the church a total makeover. The altar was deemed old fashioned and was replaced to give the church's interior a uniform modern design. Luckily, the artistic and historic value was acknowledged in those days, and the altar was saved.
In the 20th century the altar was moved back to its current place, and saw a quite large congregation, as Tribsees was swamped with refugees following WWII. Yet under socialist rule the worshipping congregation dwindled away, the church roof fell into disrepair, the old pipe organ failed and the remaining faithful worshipped in the parsonage.
Today, a small Protestant group of about 20 faithfully gathers every Sunday for worship. Also a smaller number of Roman Catholic Christians use the sanctuary after having had to give up their own building. The mighty 700-year-old brick cathedral still stands as a witness to God's good will for his people, the organ sounds beautiful, the roof is only half a million away from completion, and the altar has been restored to its old beauty, with Jesus Christ still blessing the people of the world.
- Huckfeldt is the pastor at St. Thomas Lutheran Church, Tribsees, Germany, and the former pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Quiggleville.