(RNS) On Monday (Oct. 31) in Sweden, Pope Francis will take part in an ecumenical service commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th year.
It is stunning to think the start of this momentous anniversary features a visit from the Roman pope.
And it raises a question: Does the Reformation still matter?
For much of my life, I was sure it did. It was a part of my story. My first American ancestor was born in Wittenberg, the Saxon town where Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the church door.
In this country, the Lupfers were churchmen and church ladies. Though they joined various sects, they embodied both civic-mindedness and personal devotion, all the while following the Protestant work ethic toward their piece of the American dream. For better or worse, we epitomize most WASP stereotypes.
Though I had been in Methodist Sunday school for many years, I did not know what a Protestant was until I saw the term in our local newspaper. Most obituaries listed denominations I had at least heard of: Baptist, Episcopalian, etc. Some just said, “Protestant.”
“What’s a Protestant?” I asked my father. I still remember his answer: “Someone who’s not Catholic but doesn’t go to church.”
Later, I pursued theological education at a conservative Christian college and a liberal seminary — worlds apart yet both Protestant.
I wanted my Protestantism to mean something. But I found little evidence that it really mattered — to me or to anyone else.