The European Leadership Forum (30 May – 4 June) has been held for the last few years in Poland. The location is a large conference hotel in Silesia, near the border with the Czech Republic. I was teaching on the church planting track together with a number of other leaders. It was a fascinating event but not really connected to Poland as such. The location was primarily a convenient and large facility rather than offering a particular mission context.
Immediately following the conference I travelled with a Polish friend to the North East of Poland – Lublin, following the path of the Wisla river. The journey took as through the beautiful city of Krakow – the medieval capital of Poland. It happened to be the feast of Corpus Christi which is a national holiday in Poland and we were able to witness a huge public procession in the main square in Krakow, as well as many other smaller processions in towns along the way.
This public celebration told me some fascinating things about Poland. Corpus Christi is not an event that we celebrate much in northern, protestant and now secular Europe. It is a very Catholic celebration because of the explicit connections made between the body of the crucified Christ, the church as the body of Christ, and the celebration of mass. The Archbishop of Krakow, celebrated a public mass in the main square with legions of monks and nuns present in their various traditions and garments. The President of Poland was also very present as were dignitaries from various universities and other public bodies.
In terms of its public life Poland remains very Catholic and yet things are changing. Younger people in particular are not as devoutly Catholic as they once were. The influence of the European Community and of an increasingly consumer society, together with some scandals in the Catholic Church are producing a degree of secularization that communism attempted but never really managed to achieve.
In Lublin I was speaking at a church planting conference organized by the local Church of Christ and attended by protestant leader from many denominations. Its clear that although the protestant churches are tiny by comparison with a dominant Catholicism, something is changing. There is a new openness both to question the past and to enquire about spiritual issues from a fresh perspective.
It is clear that there is both an opportunity and also a need for church planting to take place in Poland. Just across the border from Lublin in the Ukraine, protestant churches have planted so many congregations that some are even talking of the Ukraine as a future protestant nation. That is an astonishing shift and demonstrates what can happen when intentional church planting meets missional opportunity.
Martin Robinson, Principal of ForMission College