Here are some interesting events that happened in March, from the Church History Institute.
Johannes Gutenberg printed the first Bibles on March 22, 1457. Prior to this, Bibles had all been copied by hand. Gutenberg had invented movable type, and the thick gothic-style type-set meant that the first printed Bibles took three volumes each, for a total of 1,282 pages.
It was on March 15, 1517, that Pope Leo decided to raise money by selling indulgences. Leo was in the process of rebuilding St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, so as a fund raiser it was decided that people who contributed to the renovation would be granted an "indulgence" - forgiveness for a sin. Everything went according to plan; money poured in, until finally out of Germany a priest named Martin Luther stood up and said this is wrong, and the Protestant Reformation was begun.
It was on March 30, 1533, that Henry the Eighth of England made the young priest and scholar named Thomas Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry then broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, and Cranmer found himself organizing a new branch of Christianity. Cranmer rose to the task. He compiled, wrote and published the first Book of Common Prayer; he made sure every church had at least one copy of the Bible, and he wrote the 39 Articles of Religion - a statement of key beliefs. Unfortunately, after Henry the Eighth's death - and after the short reign of her brother Edward - Henry's daughter Mary was made Queen. She tried to bring England back into the Roman Catholic Church and earned the title "Bloody Mary" for having over 300 Anglican Church leaders executed, including Thomas Cranmer.
It was on March 25, 1740, that construction began on Bethesda Home for Boys, just south of Savannah. It was founded by George Whitefield, just 25 years old at the time. He was an evangelist in both England and America and made 13 trips across the Atlantic. Benjamin Franklin heard him preach once in Philadelphia, where Whitefield was taking a collection for the orphanage.
Franklin said at first he resolved to give nothing, then a shilling, and finally emptied his purse in the offering. Franklin wrote afterwards, "By all means hear Whitefield, but leave your money at home." Bethesda Home for Boys is the oldest existing children's home in America.
It was on March 21, 1747, that John Newton, a captain of a slave ship, woke up with water pouring into his cabin. He hurried above to find that his ship was in a terrible storm. He helped with the pumps and then took the wheel of the ship. Certain that he was about to die, Newton prayed for forgiveness. Then, even with chaos all around, the peace of God came upon him.
The storm passed, but Newton was forever a changed person. Returning to England he went into the ministry and would later write these words, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."
And it was on March 2, 1938, (70 years ago, Sunday) that Martin Niemoller's trial was concluded. He was a Lutheran pastor and opposed Adolf Hitler's move to take control of the churches in Germany. Niemoller was arrested. In the trial, Niemoller said he was first a Christian, then a German. He spent seven years in prison camps, but survived and lived to be in his 90s. After the war he said that he should have spoken up sooner, "When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; I was not a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out."
I hope you all have a great month of March. Live your faith and you will make a difference in the world, and as Longfellow wrote, "Leave behind footprints on the sands of time."
John Donaldson is the pastor at Newborn & Mansfield UMC. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org