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The religious landscape of the Republic of Poland is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which today makes about 95% of the population. Despite this religious hegemony, historically many who had been persecuted found toleration in Poland, dating back to Hussites in the fifteenth century and Anabaptists, Lutherans and other Protestants in the sixteenth century. This toleration was enjoyed until the counter-reformation at the close of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century when all Protestant churches were closed down. Today the Eastern Orthodox Church and all other Protestant churches can claim less than five percent of the population. The Restoration Movement occupies a small but strong claim on that minority population.
The Church of Christ in Poland can be traced to a single individual: Konstanty Jaroszewicz (1891-1984). Forced by Russian annexation of his home region, Jaroszewicz immigrated to the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century, finding work in a factory in New York. One day he chanced upon a street preacher by the name of Joseph Keevil; his words pierced the young immigrant’s heart. Soon Konstanty devoted his life to Christ and enrolled at Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee to prepare for ministry. Having been ordained in 1916 Konstanty returned to New York and together with his wife, Ksenia, minister among the Slavic people until their return to Poland in 1921.
The Jaroszewiczs went back to Konstaty’s home village of Starowies to share the word of God with his people. Despite persecution, slander and hardship here they planted the first Church of Christ congregation in Poland. The original church building still stands today –a Polish Cane Ridge- currently in use as a barn; the Jaroszewicz home is located across the road.
From Starowies Konstaty moved to Brest and later to Kobryn. Here Konstanty began to work with Jerzy Sacewicz who was evangelizing among the youth of the city. This group of young people became the nucleus for a Church of Christ. In 1927 Sacewicz was ordained as the presbyter (minister) of the congregation. The two men were joined by Jan Bukowicz, a native of Polesie but who came to know Christ while working in Chicago, Illinois. He was educated at the Moody Bible Institute and International Bible College (later Minnesota Bible College). In about 1924 the three men established the Mission Head Office to preach the word of God in the spirit of love and unity. By 1926 there were approximately 30 registered congregations. Two years later the Mission Head Office was transformed into the Union of Churches of Christ of Evangelical Confession. The first convention of Churches of Christ took place a year later, in 1929, in Kobryn, with representatives of 28 congregations present. The Union had several aims: preaching, benevolence, education, literature, missions, and unity in the body of Christ. Nineteen twenty-six saw the introduction of the first periodical, Christianskij Sojuz followed by Slowo Pojednania (The Word of Reconciliation) in 1938. A number of books and tracts were also edited. Music also played an important role in the life of the Polish congregations so conducting courses were offered alongside Bible courses. Most events in the life of the Church were accompanied by music from the brass bands and choirs which traveled near and far. By the tenth Polish National Convention in August of 1939 plans were being laid for a Bible college. At that event no one could foresee that only days later war would break out and Poland would become divided between Germany and the Soviet Union.
During the war years the Soviet Union occupied the regions (Polesie and Wolyn) of Poland where many of the churches were located. Restrictions began to be placed on the churches in 1940 and there were some deportations to forced labor camps. The war period was a time of trial and testing for the Polish churches but also a time of drawing closer to God. Following World War II the borders of Poland were changed significantly with some territories being annexed to Belarus and Ukraine. Today the Polish congregations maintain contact with former Polish congregations now in Belarus.
Following the Second World War work in Poland resumed with new vigor. A building was purchased and an office was established in Warsaw. Unity, a new magazine appeared and new committees were formed and the conventions resumed. In 1950 many leaders of the Churches of Christ and other groups were arrested and charged with treachery and espionage. Many were imprisoned and chapels were closed.
To strengthen the witness of the free churches in Poland many of the small groups joined together as the United Evangelical Church. The Union of Churches of Christ merged with that effort in 1953. While the desired unity was never achieved much good was produced through the cooperative effort including the publication of Christian literature, preparation of workers for ministry, and the organization of youth courses, Bible training and so forth. The youth of the churches played a significant role in the work of the Church. Youth camps began in the 1940s. A real boost to the youth work came in 1971 with the purchase of a farm in Ostroda with the dream of converting it to a Christian service camp. Since that time the Ostroda camp has been the gathering place for the Polish churches. The UEC existed until 1987. The following year the Churches of Christ became registered under the name Church of the Congregations of Christ.
The work among the Polish churches has been aided significantly by the American churches. Notable among these efforts have been the Polish Christian Ministries founded by Paul and Adela Bajko in 1954. PCM has produced periodicals, songbooks and other Christian literature for the Polish churches as well as conducted radio broadcasts, supported ministers, built buildings and provided financial support for many efforts. Wayne Murphy took over the work from the Bajkos in 1994 though they remain active in the ministry.
In addition to PCM, Global Radio Ministries, under the direction of George Bajenski, based in Toronto, Canada, is also involved in Poland. The radio ministry, once transmitted over Trans World Radio, has since been transferred to the national radio stations. GRM also supports new congregations and the camp in Ostroda.
The American a cappella Churches of Christ have been active in Poland, including the Polish Relief program of 1981-82 which oversaw the distribution of more than two million dollars worth of relief supplies. Several individuals and groups have conducted campaigns. They sponsor the Sopot School of Preaching in Gdynia. Churches of Christ Around the World 2003 lists seven a cappella congregations in Poland with a membership of 331.
Celebrating their 80th anniversary in 2001 the Church of the Congregations of Christ in Poland are actively involved in a wide range of work, including the Retirement Home Betania, Christian Bible Institute, Child’s World Mission, Ostroda Camp, Word and Life Publishing House, and Foreign Mission and Charity Ministry. There are approximately 23 congregations and six mission stations in Poland.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
A History of Churches of Christ in Poland, Paul Bajko, 2001
Above information distilled from this book).
Polish Christian Ministries
2410 Creswell Rd.
Bel Air, MD 21015
ul. Pulawska 114
02-620 Warszawa Poland
A list of all the churches and mission stations in the Church of the Congregations of Christ can be found in Paul Bakjo’s book (see above).
For information concerning a cappella Churches of Christ in Poland, contact:
ul. Swiatowida 6a
81-543 Gdynia, Poland
Christian Bible Institute in Warsaw
ul. Pulawska 114
O2-620 Warszawa, Poland
Sopot School of Preaching
Ul. Swiatowida 6a
81-543 Gdynia, Poland
(For information in English concerning these ministries contact Polish Christian Ministries, see below)
The Retirement Home of Betania Child’s World Mission
Camp Christian Ostroda Camp
Foreign Mission and Charity Ministry
Slowo I Zycie (Word and Life)
Bronislaw and Nina Hury, Editors
ul. Pulawska 114/7
02-620 Warszawa, Poland
Supporting work in Poland:
Polish Christian Ministries
Wayne Murphy, Director
2410 Creswell Rd.
Bel Air, MD 21015-6508
Global Missionary Radio Ministries
Head Office (in Canada)
4141 Dixie Rd., Box 41201
L4W 4X9 Canada
(In the United States)
P.O. Box 104
Geneva, OH 44041
The Collegium of Pastors (meets every two years)
Synod Conference of the Congregations of the Churches of Christ (held every four years)
The first Church of Christ building, established in 1921, located in the village of Starowies. Konstanty Jarosewisc’s home is located across the road.