Hitherto, the Swiss government has considered the anniversary of the Reformation a religious affair and hence a matter for the cantons, since religion is governed differently from canton to canton. But even in Zurich, which until recent decades was Reformed through and through, for many people “Zwinglianism” has become synonymous with puritanical tedium. The Reformed Church of Zurich has reminded the city, the canton and the Zurich tourist board that an anniversary of the Reformation would have a bigger story to tell and would not be the preserve of the Church – with great success. The “500 Years of the Reformation in Zurich Association” (“Verein 500 Jahre Zürcher Reformation”) was founded as a collective organisational platform and efforts are being made on all sides to provide the resources necessary to mark the jubilee in the appropriate fashion. In today’s secular Geneva such an undertaking would be inconceivable.
Zurich’s Reformed Church was the state Church for four and a half centuries and at the height of its membership and property ownership was autonomous. Since then, numbers have been in decline; in recent years the impact has been felt in its finances. Not unlike the situation facing German churches, restructuring and budget debates have taken up a lot of energy. The transition to a minority steeped in tradition within a multi-faith society is marked by despondency and withdrawal as well as fresh ideas and new projects.
In this respect, the jubilee comes at a good time. It will certainly not be easy to reflect the myth of the Reformation in the self-perception of those celebrating it. Rather, the anniversary should alter this self-perception and be a source for the awakening of a new dynamic for transformation and regeneration. With church doors wide open, people can join once again to ask what kind of faith and Church is needed by the individual, society and the world in order to find life in abundance in peace, freedom and justice.
Martin Breitenfeldt is the director of the “Verein 500 Jahre Zürcher Reformation”.