The 97thgathering of the Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in Poland took place from June 14-17, 2018, in Kraplewo.
It was the first time in history that the 60 members and guests of Poland Annual Conference gathered in the North-East Polish village of Kraplewo – and they did not only hold their annual meeting but also celebrated two anniversaries: on the one hand, the unique chapel was reconstructed 170 years ago and has been serving as a house of prayer and of congregational life for many decades. Rev. Jean-Marc Bittner, delegate of Switzerland-France-North Africa Annual Conference, described this building as the «only tourist attraction of the village» and therefore a kind «invitation to experience wonderful worship services». On the other hand, it was 100 years ago when Poland gained independence – a historical event which was also referred to in one of the worship services.
«Invitation to transformation» – this theme ran like a thread through the whole program. A successful change was, for instance, the new Internal Law, which had been approved one year ago. So far, the experiences have been promisingly positive.
A challenge, however, is – at least in some places – the generational change. Sometimes, there are tensions between those who would like to preserve the tradition and those who would like to introduce new things. On the other hand, some congregations grew small because younger generations are simply no longer around. These lacking generations do not only impact the local churches but also result in the fact that, while a number of pastors are close to retirement age, there are no new candidates for the ordained ministry. But it is a joy to see how the younger pastors who actually are in the church are willing to take over responsibility – and not only on a local level.
The Church Council also changed: retired lawyer Bogomila Dominiak-Kochanowski was not only elected as the first lay member of this body after a number of years but also as the first female member at all. According to the new Internal Law, a leading superintendent had to be elected for the 2019-2023 term of office. In the first ballot, the current leading superintendent already secured a clear majority. Since the bishop, according to the new Internal Law, has to choose the new leading superintendent from the three people with the highest number of votes received, he appointed Andrzej Malicki with joy and conviction. The tenures of the district superintendents will continue: Slawomir Rodaszynski, Waldemar Eggert, and Jozef Bartos will thus carry on their task – in addition to their service as pastor of one or several local churches.
The UMC in Poland has about 2300 professing members, and there are about 1500 additional friends who regularly participate in church events. This means that only 0.01% of the Christians are somehow related to the UMC. However, in spite of its size, the church has very good and reliable ecumenical contacts and still reaches people in all parts of the country – not the least thanks to a comprehensive media work. During the Annual Conference meeting in Kraplewo, for instance, two worship services were recorded to be broadcast and telecast later.
The United Methodist congregations in Poland are quite far apart from each other. Therefore, the leaders regularly plan regional gatherings – both for specific age groups and for all generations – in order to strengthen a common identity, a joint being on the road and a reliable solidarity in various regards. These regional gatherings increasingly prove to be an encouraging success story.
It is also hopeful that the lay members of the UMC in Poland increasingly take over responsibility. However, this also requires a distinctive continuing education program. In addition, it is crucial to carefully explore which activities need to be terminated, to be continued, or to be newly begun. The English language schools, for instance, which in the past have proved to be a wonderful ministry with an impact far beyond the church, struggles with a constantly decreasing number of students. On the other hand, counselling and therapy opportunities for people with an addiction meet with a very positive response and help people to discover new perspectives of life and to hopefully start a journey of transformation.
As far as the discussions on human sexuality are concerned, the UMC in Poland mainly has a traditional focus and therefore awaits the upcoming decisions in this regard with concern.
Source: Rev. Jean-Marc Bittner, Montélimar (France) / Office of the Bishop, Zurich (Switzerland)
Photo: Kraplewo UMC - for the first time meeting venue of the Annual Conference in Poland