Portadown plays host to one of Europe’s largest public events marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, with the Loyal Orders staging a major celebration this weekend.
Several thousand members of the Orange and Royal Black Institutions – along with representatives from the Apprentice Boys, Association of Loyal Orange Women of Ireland, Independent Orange Institution, Grand Royal Arch Purple Chapter and Junior Association – will participate in the open-air religious service, preceded by a procession through the Co Armagh town.
Saturday’s parade, incorporating upwards of 60 marching bands, is the flagship event of the Luther 500 project, organised by the Loyal Orders.
The rally comes ahead of the actual 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation later this year.
In October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ‘95 Theses’ on the castle door in Wittenberg in Germany – an act widely seen as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which spread throughout Europe.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, said: “We hope this event will be an impressive expression of our Institution’s Christian ethos as we come together with members of the other Loyal Orders to collectively convey our faith, and remember and celebrate one of the most momentous events in history five centuries ago.
“For its part, the Orange Institution is proud to commemorate such an evangelical milestone through such gospel witness, and we very much look forward to partaking in the religious service at Shamrock Park.”
Sovereign Grand Master, Millar Farr, added: “The Royal Black Institution stands unapologetically for the truths of the Reformed Evangelical Protestant faith.
“In this decade of centenaries, and as a Protestant fraternity, we recognise the need to commemorate such an important evangelical landmark.
“I would encourage all of our members to make every effort to attend this iconic event to celebrate the Reformation.”
The main parade is scheduled to leave Edenderry at 5.15pm and will proceed via Bridge Street, High Street, Market Street, Church Street, Armagh Road and Brownstown Road to the rally venue at Shamrock Park.
A number of banners either portraying Luther, or depicting an event from Luther’s life, will be carried as part of the procession.
The parade will momentarily pause at the Bann Bridge as a wreath is laid to commemorate those Protestants killed in the 1641 Portadown massacre.
Later, the Grand Masters of the Loyal Orange and Royal Black Institutions will pay their respects at the town cenotaph in memory of those who lost their lives during two World Wars and in service of the British Crown.
The rally, starting at 7.15pm, will be led by Loyal Order chaplains. The main message will be delivered by Robert Campbell, Royal Black Imperial Deputy Grand Chaplain. A male voice choir, incorporating members of the Loyal Orange and Royal Black Institutions, will lead the praise. A number of church representatives will also be in attendance.
The offering will be in aid of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
The return parade is scheduled to leave Shamrock Park at 8.30pm, proceeding to Edenderry.