The Protestant Churches
of Alsace and Lorraine

The Lutheran and Reformed Churches of Alsace and Moselle have been working towards unity for a long time. These efforts finally met with success when the Union des Eglises Protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine (The Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace Loraine) was set up in 2006. The Lutheran Churches still retained their own parishes and organisation as well as the Concordat system of church government.

Beware of confusion !

  • Circumscription of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine © Collection privée

Although the name is misleading, the Église d’Alsace et de Moselle (the Church of Alsace-Lorraine), (covering the Alsatian departments of the Haut Rhin and Bas Rhin and also the Moselle department in the Lorraine), is very different from other churches in the Lorraine. Indeed, these 3 departments in Alsace and the Moselle became part of Germany in 1871 at the Treaty of Frankfurt. They were won back by France in 1918, became German territory again from 1940 to 1945, (during the Second World War) while the other departments of the Lorraine, in spite of German occupation, had always remained French.

The Eglises luthériennes et réformées en Alsace et en Moselle (The Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Alsace and the Moselle) until the annexation by Germany.

  • Bischwiller (67) engraving (1727) of Reformed church, simultaneum © O. d'Haussonville

In the XVIth century the Reform movement began to influence Alsace, which was a mosaic of seigneuries and principalities in the heart of the Roman-Germanic Empire. It also influenced the duchy of Lorraine, but Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism never really took hold in southern Alsace, which was personal ly owned by the German emperor, nor in Lorraine, where the Duke of Lorraine and the Bishop of Metz were actually opposed to the Reform movement. Indeed, France had owned the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun since 1552.

When Alsace and Lorraine were attached to France in the XVIIth century, this did not cause any radical change to the religious map, although the Protestants were subject to a certain amount of repression. This was because the case of Alsace had been dealt with by the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648, so the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, which revoked the edict of Nantes, did not affect this department at all.

During the French Revolution, when the worship of Reason was instituted during the reign of Terror, religion in the Eastern provinces suffered much the same as in the other provinces, with the banning of previous forms of worship.

In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul, promulgated the Organic Articles of Protestant forms of worship : the Lutheran and Reformed Churches used the “Concordat” system of government.

The Lutheran Churches retained their own system of organization : the consistories were grouped into inspections and the whole was gathered together, forming the Eglise de la Confédération d’Augsbourg (Church of the Augsburg Confession), which united all Lutheran Churches in France. The Reformed communities were scattered throughout France in Consistorial Churches.

During the XIVth century, Protestantism took root in Alsace, but less so in Moselle, although the Reformed Churches did make some progress.

When Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte seized power and became President, he issued a decree on 26th March 1852, which organized the Protestant Church in the Haut Rhin, the Bas Rhin and the Moselle. He set up :

  • the Eglise de la confession d’Augsbourg d’Alsace et de Lorraine(the Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace-Lorraine), ECAL, which was Lutheran,
  • the Eglise Réformée d’Alsace et de Lorraine (the Reformed Church of Alsace-Lorraine), ERAL.

The Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Alsace and Moselle after the annexation by Germany

  • The theology university in the university palace, Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin)

In 1871, after the defeat of the French in Sedan, many Alsatians, of whom 20 000 were Protestant, emigrated to France. Alsace and the north of Lorraine (including Metz but not Nancy) were attached to the German Empire. Bismarck’s government paid special attention to these regions : 72 new Lutheran and Reformed churches were built as well as 3 garrison chapels, including the church of Saint Paul in Strasbourg. The University of Strasbourg also received special treatment : new buildings were built, distinguished professors appointed and a magnificent library installed. What’s more, as with all other regions of Germany, there was a good social services system.

In 1918, Alsace and Moselle became French again. In 1924, Edward Herriot, President of the Council, tried to apply the law separating Church from State which the French had passed in 1905 – however, the Alsatians rejected it. In Alsace and Lorraine the population wanted to keep the advantages they had acquired during German occupation : the Concordat system of government and social services. Some people even threatened to go and live in Germany, as some pastors had actually done in 1918.

Various different sorts of clergy were considered to be civil servants : they were appointed and paid by the State. Both the Protestant and Catholic Theology Faculties remained at the heart of Strasbourg University and granted national diplomas. The teachiong of religious education was still compulsory in schools.

During the second German occupation (1940-1945) both the Church and the population suffered greatly. In 1941 the Concordat system of government was abolished and the Churches became religious associations governed by private law. However, after the liberation, the old system was re-established by France.

Working towards unity between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of Europe − The Concorde de Leuenberg

  • Robertsau pulpit in Strasburg (67) © Collection privée

The rapprochement of the two Churches has followed a series of discussions which first started at the end of the sixties, between theologians, pastors and leading members of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Europe. The discussions came to a successful conclusion in 1973, with the Concorde de Leuenberg, named after a little Swiss town near Basle, where it was signed.

“All parties concerned recognize the fact that the doctrinal differences concerning the Last Supper, Christology and predestination are no longer a valid reason for dividing the two Churches. The Reformed and Lutheran Church members affirm fundamental agreement on the basic tenets of faith, especially “communion of the flesh and the altar”. “Communion of the flesh” means that a Lutheran pastor can serve in a Reformed Church and vice versa, without having to support one particular confession of faith. “Communion of the altar” means that believers can take communion in either a Lutheran or a Reformed Church – they can also choose whichever parish they want to join.”

In this way, since 1973, a Lutheran or a Reformed Church member can retain his own expression of faith even if he is a member or a minister of the other Church. In fact, today many believers have to change parish because their families or their job force them to move to a new area. One of the recommendations of the Concorde de Leuenberg (now the Communion de Leuenberg) was that the Churches who had signed should take steps, as far as was possible, towards establishing institutional unity between the two faiths at a local level.

Working towards unity between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Alsace and Moselle

  • St. Thomas' Church in Strasbourg (67) © Collection privée

The two Churches have already been working closely together over a number of years. Since 1969, their ruling authorities have heldjoint meetings to deal with a substantial part of their activities. For example, during the 80’s and 90’s, the ECAAL and ERAL had already agreed to help each other ; one important example of this was religious instruction. They were both aware that the very heart of Christian identity was the transmission of faith to children. They were also aware of the importance of the local face of Protestantism when dealing with schools and the education authorities : it was better to have one teacher who represented both Churches rather than two who were defending their own separatepoints of view.

The setting up of the Union des Eglises Protestantes d'Alsace et de Lorraine (EPAL)

The Union “whose duty it is to lead joint actions and draw together the two Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine” was ratified by a decree on 26th March 2006, modifying that of 1852. This decree gave an official framework to the drawing together of the two Churches and enabled decision making by the majority of the members present from both Churches at each meeting of the Union and not as before, when they had been made by the majority of members from each separate Church.

The decree also ratified the new names of both Churches, which became :

  • L’Eglise protestante de la confession d’Augsbourg d’Alsace et de Lorraine, EPCAAL, which was Lutheran,
  • L’Eglise protestante réformée d’Alsace et de Lorraine, EPRAL, which was Reformed.

The Union consists of two authoritative structures :

  • A legislative body, the Union Assembly, composed of 52 members
  • An executive which sits in two configurations :
  • a full council of 15 members
  • a restricted council of 6 members : 4 pastors and 2 laymen.

Each of the two Churches decided to delegate to the Union all or part of its own activities. The first activity to be delegated to the Union was that of the management of the ministers ; the Union had been granted a common ministerial communion. The pastors are no longer said to belong to one or another of the Churches but from now on they are quite simply pastors of the Union.

The parishes remain administratively attached to their respective Churches who continue to have their own organization and are still members of their Alliance and Federation at an international level.

Both Churches remain free and only decide little by little which areas will come under the control of the Union and which will continue to be managed separately. In this way, both Churches will be able to develop their own specific projets, according to the decisions made by their respective authorities : the superior Lutheran Consistory and the reformed Synod.

When the Union first came into being, a ceremony was held in celebration at the Church of Saint Thomas in Strasbourg after the decree which had been issued.

The Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine today

  • The Silbermann organ (Mozart 1778) in St. Thomas' Church in Strasbourg (67) © Collection privée
  • A deaconess from the Lutheran congregation of Neuenberg in Alsace © Fédération Protestante de France

More than 3000 000 people belong to the two Churches in Alsace and Lorraine, that is to say, about 10 per cent of the population – this is a much higher percentage than for Protestants in the rest of France (about 2 per cent). However ; the number of believers continues to fall.

Four fifths of the members belong to the Eglise Protestante de la confession d’Augsbourg, and about one fifth belong to the Eglise protestante réformée. Both Churches have about 300 pastors and the parishes work closely together. Lutherans are in the majority in Strasbourg and in the north of Alsace, where Protestantism had easily taken root, while the Reformed Protestants are in the majority in the areas where there are less Protestants in the population as a whole : Mulhouse, the south of Alsace and the Moselle.

Since the XVIth century, music and singing have been an important part of worship and this is still the case today.

The Churches of Alsace and Lorraine were at the forefront of the ecumenical movement – groups of pastors and priests started in 1930, and in 1965 the Centre d’études œcuméniques (Centre for Ecumenical Studies) was set up in Strasbourg, under the aegis of the International Lutheran Federation. In 1973, Mgr. Elchinger, Bishop of Strasbourg, even authorized intercommunion between Protestants and Catholics in certain cases (for example Protestant/Catholic mixed marriages).

Some religious courses are organized by both the Protestant and Catholic Churches. The Eglises d’Alsace et de Lorraine are still actively involved in ecumenism and missionary work.

EPAL is represented in the European government bodies in Strasbourg and works together with the Churches of Switzerland, the Palatinate and Baden-Wurttemberg.

Protestantism remains heavily involved in social work and education. There are many Protestant charitable institutions : the various EPAL chaplaincies ; the educational centre Jan Amos Comenius, which has schools in two different parts of Strasbourg ; the Hohrodberg Convent in Munster ; the “Institute of Deaconesses” in Strasbourg.

A symbol of openness and diversity

  • Logo de l'UEPAL
    Logo of UEPAL (Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine © Collection privée

The EPAL logo uses two Christian symbols – a cross and a fish, made up of two large commas. The fact that the fish’s outline is not defined expresses the spirit of openness displayed by EPAL.

The diversity is symbolised by colours representing both Churches (green was the former colour of EPCAAL and blue the colour of EPRAL), also represented by the threads around the framework and the direction of the commas : symbolizing the two different traditions, the commas are moving forward in the same direction.

This new logo replaces those previously used by the two separate Churches.


  • Books
    • STORNE-SENGEL Catherine, Les protestants d’Alsace-Lorraine de 1919 à 1939 : entre les deux règnes, Collection Recherches et Documents, Société savante d'Alsace, 2003, Tome 71, p. 371

Associated notes

  • The Augsburg confession (1530)

    This confession of faith was written by Philipp Melanchton for the diet in Augsburg in 1530 and was meant as a unifying text. It was based on the Scriptures and...
  • The Reformation in Alsace in 16th century

    The Reformation began very early in Alsace and was soon well established. In Strasbourg, it had two characteristics : moderation and an insistence on the Bible study. Martin Bucer’s influence spread...
  • Protestantism in Alsace in 19th century

    In Alsace the numerous Lutheran community, as well as the predominant reformed one in Mulhouse, were to be submitted to the same requirements as the reformed churches “inland”. But the...
  • Alsace

    Few French provinces have known as much distress as Alsace, suffering two annexations to the German Reich, and then twice reintegrated into France. The Protestant community took part in these...
  • Alsace and World War II

    The declaration of war led to the evacuation of one third of the population of Alsace : from Strasbourg and the border cities to the south-west of France, and the University...
  • Alsace from 1945 to the present

    The Liberation (November 1944 to March 1945) – reinstated the legality of the French Republic and the particularities of Alsace were affirmed, such as the worship concordat, school statutes, and...
  • The reintegration of Alsace-Lorraine after 1918

  • Alsace in the 17th century

    In Alsace, repressive measures against the predominantly Lutheran protestant community were enforced when the French king took possession of it in the 17th century. However, conditions for the Protestants were...
  • Alsace during the 18th century

    The coercive policy carried out against Protestants, less strictly enforced towards the end of the 17th century, was gradually relaxed before being abandoned. The pomp surrounding the funeral ceremonies in...
  • Le protestantisme en Alsace-Lorraine

  • Données historiques - Le protestantisme en Alsace

    Les lieux de mémoire sont nombreux, témoins de l’histoire particulièrement tourmentée des deux rives du Rhin. Aujourd’hui un tiers des protestants français sont alsaciens, ou d’origine alsacienne.