Reformation 500 series at PHC wraps with Catherine McMillan

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Just over 500 years ago the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther began publicizing his "Ninety-five Theses," which called attention to the indulgences of the Catholic Church. 

At the beginning of 2017, the Presbyterian Heritage Center in Montreat introduced a series of exhibits to highlight the occasion.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, in the Convocation Hall at Assembly Inn in Montreat, "Reformation 500" will conclude with a presentation from the Reverend Catherine McMillan that will focus on the "Keys to Understanding the Reformation in Switzerland."

The Reverend Catherine McMillan will speak about the "Keys to Understanding the Reformation in Switzerland" on Nov. 17 at Assembly Inn. The presentation will the last of the Presbyterian Heritage Center's "Reformation 500" series, marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

"Catherine is the daughter of Catherine and Reverend Neil McMillan, who are Black Mountain residents," said Ron Vinson, the executive director of the Heritage Center. "We're pleased to have her come here and speak on such a key aspect of the Reformation." 

While the Reformation, which lasted until 1648, began in 1517, the movement picked up steam in Switzerland two years later thanks to efforts of Huldrych Zwingli. It was Zwingli who began to preach the ideas associated with the Reformation at his church in Zurich. 

With the anniversary of the Swiss movement approaching, McMillan was named an Ambassador for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. 

"I go around to different groups and speak to them about the Reformation," McMillan said of her role. "I represent my church, which is the Reformed Church of Zurich and use this opportunity to build bridges with other denominations."

McMillan calls Zwingli an "interesting theologian forgotten in history."

"The Swiss Reformation was not the same as the Luther Reformation," she said. "So for me, it's been exciting to learn more about Zwingli, who had a modern way of thinking."

Much of Zwingli's writing was lost to the ages after his death in 1531, McMillan said. 

"He had a great amount of influence, but I'm not sure people today realize just how influential he was," she said. "I've discovered a lot about his work in my research."

On Nov. 4, McMillan spoke about Zwingli's work in front of the Reformation Monument in Geneva.

"When people look at that monument they often think of (John) Calvin, but a lot of people don't realize that Calvin took a lot of his thinking from Zwingli," McMillan said. "So it's always an 'aha moment' when people first hear about Zwingli."

Born in Scotland and raised in the U.S., McMillan has lived in Europe for over a decade. Her experiences with the different cultures provide her with a unique perspective. 

"I usually know where people stand and can give them the information they need to understand what I'm talking about," she said. "It's important to show people how churches in Switzerland are much more linked to the state and how that works and what Christianity means to people here. Then I can show how that developed throughout history and how it impacted other denominations."

McMillan's presentation will last 45 minutes and a 15-minute question and answer session will follow. After speaking in several countries in recent months, the opportunity to talk to an audience in the U.S. about Zwingli's role in the Reformation has been a dream for McMillan, she said. 

"This is very meaningful to me," she said. "I've talked to people from China, Korea, Singapore, South Africa, all these countries that are also influenced by Protestantism and they've been excited to hear about this, but until now I couldn't get people in my home country to show an interest."

That will likely change for those who come to hear McMillan speak.

"I think for people who are Presbyterian or of some other Reformed faith, this presentation will give them more of a sense of their own faith roots and identity," she said. "They may even be inspired by the good parts of that, even though it's not all good. I'm going to talk about different aspects."

McMillan's speech may also shed new light on the Reformation's eventual impact on the U.S.

"A lot of the people who wrote the Constitution were Reformed Protestants," she said. "A lot of the thought that went into what the country was about from the very beginning came from that."