bulletin 2/2013

The Reformation “brand”

By Serge Fornerod.

As is well known, the Reformation had a considerable influence on the history, culture, and political structure of Switzerland, leaving as strong a mark there as in many other countries of Europe and in the United States. Can we have really found the salient message for 2017 in this insight?

What do we actually want to celebrate when it comes to the Reformation anniversary? The year 2017 is not indeed connected to any Reformation event in Switzerland. It is instead a date that is symbolic for the entire Protestant world. Zwingli came to Zurich in 1519, while the official adoption of the Reformation would not occur until 1523. Other cities would follow, with Geneva and Lausanne joining in 1536. For the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, preparing for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation thus ultimately reflects over a decade of efforts.

Our work begins with the development of a communications concept. While the history of the Reformation in the individual cantons should be acknowledged, this is first and foremost about presenting a coordinated and visible common identity as a common brand. The Reformation “brand”, which is of foremost importance to us, does not consist in the presentation of the traces of the Reformation in Switzerland in terms of historical events and effects, as interesting and useful as that may be in our current short-sighted society and uprooted culture. It is about the product and brand encapsulating “500 years of the Reformation”. What is it that we have to say? What is our message? What is our advertising slogan, as it were?

The Federation started the ball rolling. A consultation process in the churches gathered suggestions for a motto that is expected to be seen, in the coming years, on every piece of communications, at every meeting, and on every document of our churches in the run-up to the Reformation quincentenary. This motto will be placed on posters, websites, books, travel brochures, and at various events. Just a few words are meant to encapsulate what the Reformation set in motion 500 years ago and what remains valid and relevant today. The reformers did not wish to found a new church or to draw focus to themselves. Instead they sought to rediscover the fire of the Gospel for all believers, which at the time had been covered with a thick patina composed of regulations, saints, obligations, and coercion. They wanted to find the master key or code to the biblical message. We indeed are faced with the same task today – and under new conditions: our parish life, our leisure and consumer society, the new media and the global village, confessional and religious pluralism, individualism and secularization.