2009 Protestant Festival in Strasbourg (Oct., 30 - Nov.,2)
During the whole 2009 year, French Protestant have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, the French-born church reformer who inspired a movement that now has tens of millions of adherents worldwide.
For the first time in history, almost all French Protestants decided to jointly celebrate together the jubilee of the Reformation, John Calvin’s 500th birthday.
Being the FPF's president, Claude Baty specifically wanted the event to be popular, open to all, celebrating the vitality of French Protestant religious communities. Mission accomplished!
All French medias noticed the huge and unexpected success of the 2009 Festival. This joint celebration was meant to be a bold testimony of a common faith and solidarity, including Lutherans, Reformed, and all kinds of Evangelicals.
The name of the Festival was "Protestants Celebrate" national festival ("Protestants en fête").
This celebration took place in Strasbourg (main French town in Alsace, close to the German border) from October 30 through November 2, 2009. It was hosted by the French Protestant Federation (FPF), the main French protestant "hub", including all kind of Protestants (around 1,3 million of them).
This celebration met with considerable popular success. 10,000 visitors were expected. The event actually draw 15,000 visitors from all over the country, representing all aspects of Protestantism. Including local visitors, the total amount of attenders was more than 20,000, a gathering which had never been seen before in French Protestant history.
More than 130 activities
In his opening address on Friday evening, Claude Baty, the FPF President, emphasized the “diversity of Protestantism, stretching from the old Huguenots to the new evangelical groups without roots.” What a challenge it was to federate all this groups in a common celebration!
500 years after John Calvin's birth, French Protestantism succeeded in making itself highly visible by allowing a great diversity of different faith communities to openly present and explain their identities in a festive way. The whole program featured around 130 different activities such as exhibitions, Bible studies, lectures, theatre shows, performances, concerts, youth activities and more.
The various booths and tents erected in the streets and squares throughout the city of Strasbourg and its surrounding areas allowed contact to be made with numerous visitors with no Protestant background.
The Village of International Solidarity ("Village de la solidarité") constructed at the Place Kléber, Strasbourg's central square, attracted the most people, apart from the final worship service in the Zenith. This centerpiece brought together many Protestant associations and agencies, all specializing in social and humanitarian work and in the defense of human rights and religious liberty.
Among these was the CIMADE, a vibrant French NGO founded in 1940 by student groups, in particular the Christian activist and member of the French Resistance Madeleine Barot (1909-1995), to give assistance and support to uprooted people.
Protestant masses in John's Calvin home-country
On Saturday night, the Protestants Celebrate rally was held on in the huge Zenith concert hall (with about 12,000 seats), on the outskirts of Strasbourg. The rally included a four-hour concert with a wide palette of musical styles aimed to satisfy the diversity of tastes and generations.
The Sunday morning program was organized in the same place. Claude Baty was among the main speakers. A true diversity of backgrounds was expressed during the service, including a female preacher (Danièle César, from the Salvation Army) and a leading figure of new French-speaking African churches in France (pastor Bulangalire).
As it attracted some 15,000 participants, the Zenith was too small, so another very large hall had to be rented at the last minute in order to welcome everybody. “It was a union of Protestants rather than of Protestantism that was manifested in Strasbourg,” said sociologist Jean-Paul Willaime, a Sorbonne professor (EPHE), to Réforme, the main French protestant weekly.
Instead of an abstract view on "Protestantism", or the usual Cliché of "Protestant High Society", this is one of the big lessons one can draw from this event: ordinary Protestants from all backgrounds came together, enjoyed celebrating together.
They reminded France that in spite of very diverse (and sometimes divided) identities, Protestant masses in Calvin's home country are not a thing of the past.