Something new happened in Krakow this Saturday. People gathered in an upper room of St. Martin’s Lutheran Church to spend a day together learning about the Episcopal Church and discerning whether it is God’s will that an Episcopal community be established in Poland.
People gathered from all over Poland representing the range of Polish Christianity. There were Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, and Mariavites. People came from Krakow, Warsaw, Czestochowa, Poznan, and beyond. The participants were male and female, gay and straight, with the vast majority under 40 if not 35. Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, his wife Melinda, and myself acted as representatives and ambassadors for the Anglican expression of Christianity found in the Episcopal Church.
Those gathered did what Christians have always done. They prayed. They learned from one another. They shared a meal. They talked together, discerning what God might be doing among them. And they worshiped together. In fact, history was made as the celebration of the feast of John Donne, presided by Bishop Whalon, was the first celebration of the Episcopal liturgy in the history of Krakow. And unlike the great barriers that exist between Protestant and Roman Catholic bodies in Poland, all were welcomed to receive communion and all who desired this did.
As we discerned together, it soon became clear that those who had come to this meeting keenly felt the need for an Anglican way in Poland. As one person noted, there are many Christians in Poland who cannot finds themselves in the Roman Catholic Church, the Polish Old Catholic Church, or the various Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches that make up the Polish Ecumenical Council. There is no church in Poland that is rooted in the Catholic traditions of the ancient church, ordered according to the apostolic succession and retaining the primacy of scripture while also admitting all people to ordained ministry, including women and members of the LGBT community.
The Episcopal Church is especially attractive because it is located in a wider communion and tradition. It is not one of the many sectarian movements that have sprouted up among disaffected Christians in Poland over the past twenty years. The Episcopal Church has a clear set of doctrinal teachings that are minimally defined so that people may engage with the teachings of the church in a reflective way.
The baptismal ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church offers a means of equipping laity for ministry in Poland. This is a radical departure from Polish Christianity which has traditionally fostered an attitude where the clergy dispense the gifts of the church to the laity without including them deeply in the ministry of the church. Given that the mission of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe is to foster local expressions of the Episcopal Church, there is support for an ongoing project to translate the BCP and other resources into Polish. Those who celebrated the Eucharist with us in Polish found it familiar and comfortable.
In other words, the Episcopal Church has a tremendous opportunity to offer a way of being Christian in Poland to those who are looking for a church that adheres to ancient traditions but flings wide its doors to include all people – male and female, gay and straight, lay and ordained – into its ministry of carrying out God’s mission in the world.
As the workshop concluded people expressed gratitude, joy, and a willingness to journey onwards. Some important things were learned. One was that it appears Krakow is not the best location for starting a community. More interest appears to exist in the west and north of Poland. As a result, one of the next steps is to organize a retreat in Anglican spirituality for interested people from this workshop and elsewhere to be held at the end of June in Poznan, a large university city in the west.
I am not certain what I thought would happen this weekend. On the one hand, I was very hopeful and optimistic. On the other hand, I knew a church could not blossom in a day. Church planting is just that, planting. A lot needs to happen on the way from a seed to a tree. This weekend the Spirit’s presence allowed us to break open the soil, scatter some seeds, and pour some water. But more working of the soil, more scattering of seeds, more nourishing with water is needed. God will grow this tree if it is meant to take root. Pray for good soil, fertile seeds, and plentiful water as this work unfolds.