As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, congregations and synods are asking each other, “What are you doing to mark the occasion?”

The Northeastern Iowa Synod answered this question in 2014 when the Synod Council voted to adopt a 6-year plan called “Celebrating Renewal”.  Because the reformation was more than one person and more than one year, this plan allows us to more deeply explore the themes of Reformation as well as lift up several leaders from this movement.

There are some these days who question the relevancy of the Reformation to the church today.  These questions are usually raised by those who view the Reformation simply in terms of history or have only experienced it as being “against” something.  And it is true that in years past, Reformation Sunday was used in many churches as a way to bash the Roman Catholic Church.

But these days the Roman Catholic Church recognizes and celebrates the renewal brought about by the reformation movement. Lutherans and Catholics plan to worship and celebrate the reformation together in 2017 and have even issued a booklet, “Common Prayer”, as a guide for Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches to worship together.

Rather than focus on what the Reformation is against, the Northeastern Iowa Synod’s six years of “Celebrating Renewal” looks at a different reformer each year and the qualities of Christian life they exemplified which the Reformation sought to recover and lift up.

We began in 2015 with Jan Hus and “Bold Leadership”. 2015 was the 600th anniversary of the execution of Jan Hus, a Czech priest, and reformer who believed that scripture should be the most important authority of the church.  When Martin Luther read his writings he declared, “We are all Hussites!”  2015 was the year we remembered his bold leadership lifted up and encouraged examples of bold leadership in the ministries of our synod.

This year we hold up Elizabeth of Hungary and her example of service.  Although she preceded the reformation by almost 300 years, her example of using her wealth to help the poor rather than serve herself is what reformers throughout history have called the church to follow.  Elizabeth holds a special place in our synod because she was born in Hungary (our Companion Synod) and grew up and lived in the very same Wartburg Castle where Luther would find haven.

Next year in 2017, we will look to Martin Luther and the focus on the Gospel.  2018 we focus on education through examining the life of Philip Melanchthon.  In 2019 we will lift up the life and work of Katherine Von Bora through the lens of Family Life.  And we close off in 2020 with focusing on Parish Life as we learn more about Johannes Bugenhagen.

Throughout the year as we plan for all our events such as Day of Renewal and Synod Assembly, the theme of that year is always before us.  We encourage you to find ways you can lift up these themes in your own congregations and be sure to let us know if you do that so we can share with others.

Reformation Resources


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. This is really great – rather than focusing on what we’re against but rather what we are for. Thank you!


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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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