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News & Stories: 2009-10

Calvin celebrates Refor-ween
October 30, 2009

Goblins, godzillas and ghouls: step aside as October 31 approaches on Calvin’s campus this year—John Calvin and Martin Luther would like to outdo you.

Calvin’s calendar is filled with the usual Halloween events this year: Light in the Night, a trick-or-treat fest for community kids, a masquerade dance and countless residence hall floor activities. But alongside these events are others celebrating Reformation Day: two special chapel services, an open house at the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies (complete with a quiz and prizes), an art gallery showing, two lectures and a performance by the Boston Camerata.

60+ years of hymnsings

Given this line-up of events, this year will be the biggest celebration of Reformation Day the Calvin campus has ever seen. Typically, the college celebrates the holiday on a smaller scale.

Chimes mascot Richard with a pumpkin-shaped head wishing the reader "Happy Reformation Day"
Chimes mascot Richard wishes reader a Happy Reformation Day in a 1962 issue of the student newspaper.

A headline in the October 27, 1949 issue of Calvin’s student newspaper Chimes reads “Student Hymn Sing Marks Reformation Day.” The news announcement details a “singspiration” in which “special musical numbers” were arranged for chapelgoers.

An item in the October 29, 2009 edition of the daily e-bulletin, “Student News” invites the Calvin community to a Reformation Day hymnsing not altogether unlike the 1949 chapel service held on Calvin’s Franklin campus.

In the years between the two announcements, Calvin College has, with varying degrees of consistency, celebrated Reformation Day with a Reformation-themed chapel service.

Reformation Day amnesia

Still, no one seems to remember these special services, or any other Reformation Day celebrations at Calvin.

When a room full of white-haired emeritus professors is asked to recall significant Reformation Day celebrations at Calvin over the years, talk quickly turns to various Halloween goings-ons.

"What’s Reformation Day?” quips current professor of religion Ken Pomykala.

Some emeriti recall a Reformation Day prank students pulled in 1962 involving sweatshirts printed with a picture of 16th-century heretic Servetus standing over flames. Below the flames were the words "Servetus: Warmed by the Calvin Spark.” Students broke into the Calvin bookstore one night and posed wearing the shirts. They then superimposed heads of famous figures—JFK, Howdy Doody, Fidel Castro, John Calvin and even the late President William Spoelhof—on the figures wearing the shirts and printed the picture in Chimes (see picture below). The prank generated laughs—and then controversy—when the Detroit Free Press and other state media picked up on the story.

"Then we [Calvin professors] had to put out the fire,” said Professor Emeritus of English Steve Vander Weele, laughing heartily.

1962 prank picture of various world and Calvin leaders wearing a sweatshirt that has a picture of the heretic Servetus on it and the words "Servetus: warmed by the Calvin spark" on it.

Sweatshirts "worn" by famous figures like JFK, Howdy Doody and John Calvin bear a picture of the 16th-century heretic Servetus held over flames. The shirts say "Servetus: Warmed by the Calvin Spark."

And spiritual amnesia too

Chaplain Emeritus Dale Cooper doesn’t recall celebrating the holiday during his 28-year tenure as the college’s spiritual leader. He regards the omission as a symptom of a sort of “spiritual amnesia.”

"As I look back over the years, I have a few regrets and this is one of them. … It was pretty thin stuff if we celebrated it at all,” Cooper said.

Cooper encourages the Calvin community to do more with Reformation Day than it has done in the past.

"In the Christian tradition, never has the future needed a past in the way it does today. To remember and be grateful for our ancestors in the faith is important from the point of view of gratitude, but it’s also important as we try to shape our heirs in the faith,” he said.

John Calvin's face carved into a pumpkin

Meeter Center director Karin Maag agrees.

"Especially in this era when more and more of our students consider themselves non-denominational, it’s important to consider what our Reformed heritage is all about and what its legacy is for today,” she said.

Maag and her Meeter Center colleagues have organized or publicized the many activities Calvin will hold to celebrate Reformation Day this year. The special events are a part of a yearlong celebration of John Calvin, who was born 500 years ago, in 1509.

Reformation = reaffirmation

For Paul Ryan, coordinator of worship for campus ministries, Reformation Day is more than a celebration of Calvin College’s namesake.

"I see it as an opportunity to reaffirm some of the basic truths that came out of the Reformation, to affirm sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (by faith alone), soli Deo gloria (glory of God alone),” Ryan said.

Ryan sent Friday chapelgoers out of Reformation Day chapel with Martin Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

"The inclusion of ‘A Mighty Fortress’ is a way to say, ‘Yeah, we like Martin Luther, he’s a good guy!’” he said.

And lest anyone worries that Reformation Day is a triumphalistic holiday celebrated at the expense of other traditions, as Chaplain Emeritus Cooper worries it may have been when he was growing up, Ryan mentions another song that was a part of the Reformation Day hymnsing: "Your Grace is Enough,” by Matt Maher.

Maher, according to his Wikipedia entry, is a Roman Catholic singer/songwriter/worship leader.

~by Allison Graff, communications and marketing

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Reformation Day

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Reformation Day is celebrated by the church to mark the day, October 31, 1517, that traditionally, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The act signaled the beginning the Protestant Reformation which later continued with the work of reformer John Calvin.

Today, the holiday is typically celebrated by churches in the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.

Reformation Day is a national holiday celebrated in Slovenia, Chile and several states in Germany.

Words on Reformation Day

What Calvin students in the 1960s were saying of the holiday:

"Among the many comfortable, respectable, 'reformed' students at Calvin there may be a few unthinking rebels. But where have all the Reformers gone?"

Read more »

~Edna Winkelaar, Chimes, 1964

"Instead of perpetuating spiritual fission, Reformation Day must be a reminder of the individual's duty to engage in spiritual introspection. It should be a day which commemorates the reforming spirit of Luther, the individual, a day on which each individual Christian re-examines, re-evaluates, and reforms his own life before God."

~Thomas J. Hoeksema, Chimes, 1965