Poland: raising a prophetic voice, being a church in the public space

Voices of Communion: Jerzy Samiec, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland

(LWI) – “I always wonder when to speak,” says Presiding Bishop Jerzy Samiec. He led the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP) since 2010.

In an interview in the last week of the Advent season, he talks about his hopes for ECACP as a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and host church of the Thirteenth LWF Assembly. He explains the developments leading up to the Church’s decision to ordain women and reflects on the state of ecumenical relations in his country.

What is your prayer for this Advent season 2021?

My Advent prayer is, as always, “Make straight the way of the Lord, for the King of Glory is coming”. Observing the situation in the world, one can notice the reappearance of some demons from the past, which led to the world wars almost a century ago. Those who want to confront, exclude others, reappear. Therefore, I pray that we become aware of our sins – the sin of vanity and lack of love and mercy. We need repentance for our vanity.

You have on several occasions taken a firm stand in public space. What are your main concerns regarding the development of Polish society?

I always wonder when to speak and when to remain silent. When should a pastor speak with a “prophetic” voice, pointing or berating, and when do his statements interfere with politics? When can we be blamed for silence, and when can we be blamed for lack of response? These are always tough decisions. When I see restrictions on personal freedoms, corruption in the functioning of civil society and state institutions, which should be in control, I try to stand up for the weak.

Can you tell us about the ecumenical situation in Poland?

ECACP has been the driving force behind ecumenical activities in Poland. In Poland’s denominational geography, over 90 percent of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, ecumenism is based on relationships with Catholics and the common interests of smaller denominations. At present, it seems that centrifugal forces are at work, undermining the efforts of ecumenism. I hope that this is only a temporary situation and that the objective of finding paths to unity will be reinforced again.

In 2023, the thirteenth LWF Assembly will take place in Krakow. What does this mean for the Central and Eastern European region in general, and more specifically for your country and your church?

The LWF Assembly is an important gathering of Lutheran churches from around the world. We look forward to welcoming so many representatives from all over the world. I hope that the Assembly will take decisions which will constructively shape LWF policies for the next six years. I also hope to present our country and present our churches in Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Although churches in a typical diaspora, they significantly influence their communities.

In October, the ECACP synod voted for the ordination of women. Can you explain to us in a few sentences the process that led to this decision?

In Poland, the ordination of women has been the subject of discussion for many years. However, in my opinion, the most vital decisions in this regard were taken in the first half of the 1960s.

First, a special form of ordination has been developed, the so-called introduction to the teaching office of the church. Through this, the church could send women with theological training into the ministry through prayer and the laying on of hands.

The second major milestone was taken in the late 1990s. Then the church embraced ministry as expressed through three forms of service, each with its specific ordination: deacon, pastor, and bishop. Catechists serving in the church teaching office have now become ex officio deacons.

After many years of discussion, the synod’s theological committee concluded that there was no theological obstacle to the ordination of women to pastoral service. The next step was to allow deacons to administer Holy Communion. Finally, the synod also decided to ordain women in the service of the priest and, therefore, in the service of the bishop.

How is this decision important to your church?

The decision followed changes in our church and the growing role of deacons in parish work. The service of women in preaching and teaching the gospel has been appreciated in many parishes. I hope that the latest decisions will open the door for women to undertake theological studies. Several Polish theologians are currently serving in churches abroad, mainly in England and Germany.

What was the recent visit of the General Secretary of the LWF, the Rev. Anne Burghardt, has meant for your church?

This was important for us, especially before the Thirteenth Assembly of the LWF, which will be held in Krakow in 2023. The fact that the Secretary General came to Poland to see Warsaw and Krakow and to visit the places where this event will take place is very important. We were also able to talk about the cooperation and the challenges of organizing such a large event. The visit took place in a very good atmosphere. Last but not least, we were able to present the diverse work of ECACP to the Secretary General.

What does it mean for your church, your job, for you to be a part of the LWF fellowship of churches?

Belonging to a large community is always very important for a small church. An example would be the dialogue between the LWF and the Catholic Church and the document “From Conflict to Communion” or other documents concerning public space or understanding of ministry, confirmation, etc. For us it is vital to have support in these areas. We also try to maintain bilateral partnerships with many churches. We can learn a lot from them, but also, when we have visitors, we hear that others are also learning from us.

By the FLM / A. Weyermüller

Voices of Communion

The Lutheran World Federation is a global organization that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we feature church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and lay out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring churches and fellowship grow in testimony and in force.

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