Often one of the first reactions I get to my plans to study abroad is “What about your faith?” It seems my friends and family are all very aware of the increasing prevalence of secular humanism in Europe, and I must admit that at first, I too was preparing for what seemed like a mission trip to an island of humanism.
Not until I was researching Switzerland for a class project did I remember Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, among other Swiss Reformers of the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact, in Genève, there’s le Monument International de la Réformation, a wall honoring major figures and events in the Swiss Reformation.
Discovering Genève’s monument to the Reformation inspired me to do more research about the current culture of religion and spirituality in Switzerland. Perhaps not surprisingly, a large portion of Swiss people are affiliated with the Catholic church (38.2%; all Swiss statistics from a 2012 estimate). The other affiliations are as follows: 26.9% Protestant, 21.4% none, 5.7% other Christian, and 4.9% Muslim. Though about 30% Protestant/other Christian might seem a big drop from the largely Protestant and Evangelical United States, these statistics compare favorably with France, where more than 80% of the population is affiliated with the Catholic church and the rest is as much as 10% Muslim.
Percentages and statistics, of course, mean little to nothing in the face of real spirituality. What do the people identifying as Protestant actually believe, and how many of them do more with their Christianity than reserving it for Sundays only? Of course, as in much of the Western world (including most definitely the United States—just ask anyone on a college campus), Christianity is “falling out of favor” in the sense that the numbers of church members and attendees are dropping. To portray this phenomenon in comic form, “It’s no longer socially advantageous” to identify as Christian. The (unfortunately) large percentage of Christians in the States who only identify as Christian for the social benefits are stepping away from their external “faith”, something that in reality has been just an advantageous religious club. The slow death of social Christianity in the U.S. mirrors its death in Europe. So even though a 2012 article quotes researcher Jörg Stolz as saying, “More than 60 per cent of the [Swiss] population can be counted in that distanced group,” I know that true Christianity still exists in Switzerland, just as it does in the U.S.
With that in mind, I began searching the internet for church families I might join while in Switzerland. As Lausanne is a very multilingual city, there are churches in many different languages. However, I decided that instead of seeking an anglophone church, I will look for a francophone church. My reasons for choosing a francophone church are linked in part with language acquisition; immersing myself fully in French every day will of course lend itself to a higher level of language acquisition. Additionally, being part of a francophone church in francophone Switzerland will give me a community that is closely linked with francophone Swiss culture. Perhaps most importantly of all is that learning God’s Word in French will give me the necessary vocabulary to share my faith in the French language—something I am already able to do in Spanish thanks to the dedicated efforts of my high school teacher Sra. Greff.
In preparation for my departure, I have made up a list of three francophone churches in Lausanne that I want to visit upon my arrival. In fact, I’ve already been in contact with one in my search for a host family! Thanks to the Bible study group on UNIL’s campus, I will be instantly connected with Christian peers at the school.
I’m looking forward to pursuing my Savior in another language in the beautiful, diverse city of Lausanne, Switzerland!