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Marsh Chapel to Commemorate Protestantism’s Start

Recalling Martin Luther: a documentary, a meal, an opportunity to suggest reforms

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Pop quiz: What do we celebrate next Tuesday? If you said Halloween, you are correct. If you said the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, you are a scholar.

It was on October 31, 1517, that German theologian and Roman Catholic monk Martin Luther is believed to have nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Castle’s church, a shot at his religion’s practice of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. Luther’s stand, considered the launching pad of the Protestant Reformation, upended Western religion over the next century.

On Tuesday, Marsh Chapel will observe Luther’s historic act in its own way. You won’t be able to vandalize its doors, but from 1 to 4 p.m. on Marsh Plaza, there will be chalk and panels where you can write the world reforms you’d like to see. From 6 to 8 p.m., the chapel will host a German meal—bratwurst, sauerkraut, red cabbage, pretzels, and spätzle—and screen PBS host Rick Steves’ Luther and the Reformation in the lower-level Marsh Room.

Steeped in BU’s Methodist history and today embracing interdenominational Protestant worship, Marsh Chapel hopes the commemoration conveys that the Reformation “not only had deep and lasting effects within Christianity, but how it also spurred many societal changes as well,” says Jessica Chicka (STH’07,’11,’18), the University’s chaplain for international students.

Chicka points out that Luther wrote his tracts so that they could easily be understood by the average person. In an era when most religious material was printed in Latin, Luther and his friends used the then-adolescent technology of the printing press to spread reprints of his theses and other pamphlets in German, making them accessible to laypeople. That, she says, contributed to an increase in literacy rates in Europe.

Moreover, she adds, the Protestant “emphasis on the individual’s ability to have access to the divine on his/her own led to a greater sense of self-worth among those in the lower classes,” planting seeds of democratic thought that would sprout later.

Robert Allan Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, will discuss Luther’s theology in this Sunday’s sermon at the chapel’s 11 a.m. service, as he did in one last month, when he noted that the religious visionary was also a “virulent anti-Semite.” That mix of courage and flaws speaks to religion’s need, and practice when it’s at its best, to examine itself honestly, Hill preached:

“To be a Protestant is to apply the Protestant principle, as did Luther, and to subject religion to utterly, fully religious critique.…Luther reminds us in religious life of who we are.”

Space is limited for Marsh’s German meal; those interested in attending should email Chicka at jchicka@bu.edu.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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