Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Church in Poland

Poland is a very traditionally Catholic country. 95% of the population is Catholic. It is the most conservative member of the European Union. When I say "traditionally catholic" I mean Catholic, in terms of religion, but even more in terms of tradition. They do what their ancestors have done for generations. They are very proud of this. Also, the beloved Pope John Paul II was Polish, and that really cemented the tradition and pride more than ever. The country has been through SO MUCH and I think their religion is one thing they feel has helped them through the extremely difficult times.

Now about the LDS church here.

Poland opened to the missionaries in 1990, I think, just after the fall of communism. In Poland there is one mission (Warsaw, Poland) which is divided up into districts which are divided up into branches. I'm sort of guessing on some of this but I think there are about 12 branches total.

Warsaw, of course, is the biggest city and it is the only city with two branches. It is also currently the only place where there is an actual chapel, as in separate, church-built and owned building. The other branches meet in rented apartments, normally in large old buildings where businesses rent or sometimes where people live. Sorry I don't have pictures, but the church remodels the areas so you would recognize them if you were to visit (please visit!!). There is the typical church building carpet in a royalish blue. There are no wooden pews but soft chairs (which are comfortable if you don't have back problems) in a matching blue. There is always the "chapel" in the largest of the rooms, which usually seats maybe 30-150? (depending on the branch). Then there are the other rooms used as classrooms. The chapel is usually used also for Sunday School or priesthood or both.

Now I'll stick to our district down here in the south, because I can give you more accurate information about it. We have three branches (and I think a new, recently started group, which is smaller than a branch. I think there are 4 missionaries and 2 members). Krakow, the one we belong to, is meeting in the third location since we moved here just over 8 years ago. It went from small to big, and back to small again. At this point our branch has 8 missionaries, usually one companionship is sisters. Right now the branch president is one of the missionaries. On any given Sunday I would say there are maybe six to eight members attending. Except when we're there. We almost double the number. We've recently been whittling down the meetings and currently have 1/2 hour Sacrament meetings (so each member doesn't have to give a talk every other week) and then one meeting after that, trading off Sunday school one week and Relief Society/Priesthood the next. We attribute the decline of the branch to the fact that almost all of the young adults that were the strength of the branch a couple of years ago have moved with the rest of their generation to England. This is a tragedy for both the Church and the country. Good bye rising generation! It also means that our branch has a number of older members who are still rather stuck in their old ways and don't provide the strength that they could.

It's very hard for us, living over two hours from our branch, to be very involved in missionary work. It's also hard to be involved in weekday activities. It's nearly impossible for us to attend weeknight firesides or activities. When we talk to people about the gospel here in our town, it's very difficult to encourage them to spend an entire day traveling to and from a meeting, just to see what it's like. There are also no missionaries for us to refer to people in our town (although some have been sent in the past when we've had interested investigators, but the distance problem makes everything very difficult.)

I sometimes feel that I don't do all I can here. I sometimes feel that there is very little I even can do. I don't magnify the calling that I hold (counselor in the District RS presidency). I am far too apathetic about it all. I have done much better in some of my other callings (RS pres, for example, although that was hard to do long distance, too.) When we first moved here people would always tell me that just being in church and sharing a smile was an enormous help. I think it sort of was. But after eight years living here, it seems I should now be doing more rather than less to help out in the church. Right now the main thing that I do is sit with my kids in Sacrament meeting and try to be an example of a good, strong eternal family. Ours is the only one in our branch.

Ours is the smallest branch in the district, so the other two are in better shape. There are some wonderful leaders and we have enthusiastic missionaries. I appreciate the strength of this first generation of Polish saints. They have so much to overcome. There are so many old "traditions" be incorporated into a new lifestyle, and many, many to be broken for good. It is extremely difficult, and requires a great deal of sacrifice. I am so grateful for these strong Poles and their hard work, their growing testimonies,and their willingness to be different from those around them and to set an example for others to see. I really can't imagine how hard it must be. As I say, the traditions are so extremely deeply rooted that most people cannot fathom why or how anyone could change them. It requires amazing faith, determination and dedication. The kind that I hope to have some day.
sorry if this post isn't very clear. I'm not up to trying to make it coherent.

18 comments:

Kazzy said...

Lisa, I sat here and cried as I read your post. I can feel how much you love your new country just in the way you write about it. I am sure it is so difficult to be a real practicing member there. Those deep roots are both admirable and frustrating. My husband served his mission in Montreal. French, Catholic Canada. He never baptized anyone, even though he had some meaningful teaching experiences. I can't imagine you not being terrific influence on the newly-established church there.

We have had a few summers living in London and attending church in the southern suburbs, where we spread out ourselves (our family and 50 study abroad students) across a stake. I would get weepy as the bishop would call us in and ask us to sit in RS or Priesthood or SS and be a good example. He said that even though the church could have never had such a strong start during those pioneer days without the British (sooo true) that the next generations have struggled to repopulate and be strong. It is an amazing thing to see the church in other countries and notice how hard it can be in places where tradition and culture can hinder it. Thank you thank you for your post and for being a great example of the real missionary spirit, whether you know it or not. You and your family are shining stars.

Heidi Ashworth said...

What an incredible post (and incredible comment by Kazzy)! Even though I live in the oh-so-evil California, the church is quite strong here compared to many places even here in the U.S. I can't imagine how it must be for you. I don't know how I would get along without a big ward family who are always there. Goodness, is there even a primary? There must not be. Your family is basically serving a mission just by being there. I don't think I would be worrying about doing more--you are doing it! And it's a lot!

nevadanista said...

I loved this post! I went on a mission in 1990 to the former German Democratic Republic, a place where small branches of members had stuck it out through 40 years of communism. The feel of a small branch, although I was never in one as small as yours, is completely different to that of a large ward in the States. I felt like Sunday worship wasn't taken for granted, and was very special. Of course Sunday worship can be that way any where if the effort is made, but in a place in which there are only a few, and under such circumstances, I felt the meetings were meaningful more often. And here I sit commenting on a blog as I should be getting ready for church, and will probably make myself late :D

When I was in the MTC, the very first missionary to go to Poland (as I remember it) was there also. She was a sister missionary, 21 years old, and it seems like she was going to be a companion to someone who was already there. But that kind of sounds wrong. I don't remembr it exactly, but we ate in the cafateria with her sometimes. There were also the first missionaries on their way to Hungary. What a long time ago it seems like! When I was in Berlin toward the end my mission (summer 91), bus loads of Polish people would come shopping. The would load those buses up with so much stuff, you couldn't believe it!

Now I'm just rambling. But it was wonderful reading your account of the church in Poland, and I admire your efforts to share the Gospel in your unique situation.

McEwens said...

Lisa.. WHY the move of the younger generation to England? Jobs? Economy? What is the draw?

I think you need to realize that in the 8 years your family has grown, your time is more focused on them(AS IT SHOULD BE) there is a time and a season....

I admire you for being there, staying there, sacrificing. You efforts do NOT go unnoticed.

you have been blessed with great opportunities in meeting general authorities..

kitchenditcher said...

I was RIVETED as I read this post. I love hearing about how the gospel is in other countries.

I so admire your willingness to be there and your willingness to serve, but serving your family comes first. I agree with Pam, there is a time and a season.

Melanie J said...

This is fascinating and it made me count my blessings that I'm in a non-Utah city and we still have two stakes. But it also reminded me of growing up in the Deep South and travelling with my dad to tiny branches that met in people's livingrooms. I'll always be grateful for his example and service even when we were so far from the roots of the Church.

Moody said...

Your description of the typical church sounds like our small ward's building. Yes, we have comfy blue folding chairs too. We are a small ward of mostly retirees with the nearest stake about an hour and half drive away. After reading this, I realize how good we have it though, and wonder if I could be as dedicated as you and your husband at attending meetings and fulfilling callings if I were in your circumstance. Wow--perspective, it's a wonderful thing! I truly admire you. You're an example to those of us who have it pretty good, and take it for granted. Thanks for this wonderful post!

Thora said...

Yes, thanks for this great Sunday, thought provoking post. It brought back some memories of attending some branches in Jordan, that were so small, and so struggling. I almost felt uncomfortable being there, because I like being around prospering things, and I could feel the desperate need for people and priesthood and.... Reading this made me remember that just being there, is doing what you can. And that it's a lot.

If nothing else, making the sacrifice of driving two hours one way to church every week is an example to people you know where you live and to the other members in Krakow of the importance of the Gospel in your life and family (and also of being an eternal family at all).

Hopefully more youth will remain (ironically a bunch of youth from our Ward in England were moving/had moved to America, and when I was there I was concerned about the future growth in England! I guess it's all relative.)

I'm always telling my husband about how you live in Poland, and about the church there, from what I learn from you; you're broadening all of our horizons!

Heather said...

Wow, thanks for putting everything into perspective for me. I will stop complaining about my "small ward" and 20 minute drive to church. You are a saint. And like someone previously said, just being there you are serving a mission.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

It's cool to hear what it's like, thanks!

I have a cousin who served her mission in Poland about 7 years ago. She's given all her children European names. :)

I was a missionary in Argentina, where the church is a little more developed, but I spent a good deal of time in little branches like you described. Let me tell you what a great service you are providing: When the missionaries bring an investigator to church, YOU are there as decent, NORMAL people to make them feel welcome and show them what good Mormons are like. I would have killed to have a family like yours in my branches. I always cringed when we brought in investigators because there was NO telling what we'd find that day. So just sit there, live your covenants, and SHINE, girl. Good for you and your family.

Amber said...

Lisa,

Thanks for your post. I have wondered about the Church there in Poland and now I know. WOW...
I agree with these other ladies that have applauded you, Greg and your children. You are all super examples of what Latter-Day Saints SHOULD be. I wish I could say I was doing as good a job as you are. Living in Maine was an eye-opening experience for us, but nothing like living in Europe. Keep up the great work, and remember that when you are serving others, you are serving the Lord. :)

Lara said...

I loved reading your post! I served my mission in Romania in 96-97, and my experiences were similar, although as a missionary and not a member. It made me realize how difficult it really must be to be a member there to read this. I mean, I knew, but I just loved everything you said. :)

Love your blog!

Alison Wonderland said...

Absolutely amazing. When I was a kid in VA we lived 30 minutes from our ward building and that was a long way (then they built on practically at the end of our street, that was cool) I can't even imagine living 2 hours away. Just like everyone said, just going is a sacrifice and a great example.

JustRandi said...

I love this post! It's fascinating to me to hear what the church is like in other places. I agree with Stephanie - - sometimes the best missionary work you can do is just to be normal, loving, and thoughtful. People do notice!

Jess said...

As one who has been witness to your ongoing, great sacrifices, I want to say, Thanks! I'm so glad that they have you and your family to look to as an example. Thank you for your willingness and love. I wish everyday that there was someway I could be of help to our brothers and sisters there. I'm grateful they have you. Just keep doing what you're doing. I promise, it matters.

Sheri said...

Every once in a while, Pawel or I will say "I can't believe they ended up staying in Poland for so long" Then the other one of us will say "It is great, because they help support the church so much" Think if you didn't double your branch, it would be tiny! And you really are planting seeds, and introducing to a lot of people, that LDS people use electricity (if you remember, Anna's priest told her LDS didn't)

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

My admiration for you has grown tremendously after reading this post. My family was converted when I was young, and I grew up Mormon in a country that's 99% Catholic. I went to Catholic schools (High School and college). As a young woman back then seeing strong examples of what a strong Mormon family is really shaped my testimony and my outlook on my own eternal destiny. So even though you may not see the extent of your influence now, know that it was families like yours that strengthened families like mine.

Pawel said...

Just to clarify - two-hour drive to Church in Poland is not exactly the same as a two-hour drive on a freeway in the US...that feels more like a four-hour drive...and the way from Mielec to Krakow leads to the most dangerous roadway in the entire country (although I remember that Greg likes to take scenic routs on forgotten roads :)