The idea for this trip began with a suggestion from Oxford College’s Communications Director, Cathy Wooten. Five years ago she looked at me and said, “You know that 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, right?” I hadn’t given it a lot of thought to be honest, but I knew she was right, and I could tell where she was going with it.
Global Connections is a travel program sponsored by the Pierce Program in Religion and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at the college, and I have the honor of directing it. This travel experience is designed to help students create meaning in their lives and connect their religious and spiritual convictions with justice issues including peace, poverty, human rights, and the environment. Among the places we’ve traveled previously are Poland, Vietnam, New York, Japan, and on a civil rights and the American South tour.
On May 9, seven students and a handful of faculty and staff departed Atlanta to study “Religion and Public Life in England and Germany: From the Protestant Reformation to Now.” Our goal on this trip is to explore the theme of religious protest and reform from different perspectives. Taking the Protestant Reformation as a starting point, we are here looking at examples of religious reform that aim at or lead to changes within a religious group or, potentially, result in secession from the group. In addition to these expressions of dynamic change within religious groups we are also interested in instances in which religious communities stand as reforming or protesting forces in their societies and assume more immediately public roles in this process.
As I write this we’re currently in Berlin, Germany as our base, and tomorrow we travel to Wittenberg where Martin Luther began the first steps toward the Protestant Reformation almost 500 years ago now. Today we met with staff from The House of One, an organization building bridges between the diverse religious communities in Berlin through their project to build one house of worship that will include different religions. This afternoon we volunteered at a refugee assistance organization and heard about the challenges they face as well as the opportunities they offer. And tonight we’ll sit down with our Jewish brothers and sisters at a Shabbat dinner.
Our next stop is Oxford, England, where among other things we will spend time learning first-hand about the Wesleyan reform movement. John and Charles Wesley were students at Oxford University when they formed the “Holy Club,” a club where they engaged their personal, individual discipline for “knowledge and vital piety.” Their efforts, including experiences on a formative if unsuccessful journey to America, led to reform within the Anglican Church now known as Methodism.
Protest and reform within religious traditions and movements is a part of the story of our world, and it continues to be. Though not in every instance, when we allow room for questions and constantly engage the process of listening and learning, we allow room for the spirit to breathe and move, as we say in my faith tradition. May we keep ourselves and our traditions open to this holy breath as we adapt to change, embrace each other, and join in the struggle for justice and peace in the world.