There are not many United Methodist church buildings that are older than 600 years. But in Glaznoty, in the northern part of Poland, there is one. And it is not only a historical building but a place where new expressions of church can be experienced.
The church of Glaznoty had been built in the 14th century with fieldstones. Until 1945, this building was used by the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union, which lost its legal existence in Poland with the fall of the Third Reich. Then, Methodist pastors started to serve there. In 1971, the church was transferred to the ownership of The United Methodist Church (UMC) as the only user of this facility. During the following years, the congregation developed quite well and was of a remarkable size. But about 30 years ago, many families from Glaznoty migrated to Germany and other places. The number of members considerably dwindled, and in 1989, it was decided to cease Methodist work in Glaznoty. The church, however, remained a building of the UMC.
When the church was severely damaged by a storm 25 years ago, many people in Poland and abroad donated money to restore this historical building, although not much happened in this church. Currently, only one person who was baptized in this church is still alive and lives in Glaznoty.
In 2015, Pastor Krzysztof Kopacz, who was and still is serving Ilawa UMC, received an additional appointment to Glaznoty. He got in touch with the mayor of Glaznoty, and they started to think about how new life could come to this church. Since the region has been famous for its stones for centuries, they decided to create a «cultural stone circle» at the church.
For four years, they have been organizing an Arts Festival in July, where sculptures and paintings are exhibited. This Arts Festival is followed by an annual event in September, when all the artists are present and when the church is transformed into an exhibition of paintings depicting the region and the church itself, but also the beautiful nature surrounding it.
There are at least 1’000 people visiting Glaznoty church each year – residents of surrounding villages, students of nearby schools, tourists from all over Poland and abroad, as well as participants in a variety of other events such as the famous Christmas concerts or the Thanksgiving services. Because of its unique location, the building also regularly serves as wedding church. Pastor Krzysztof Kopacz is not only serving as tour-guide telling visitors of the church about its history. He is also making use of this opportunity to talk about faith, hope, and love. And more than once, people who had just wanted to visit a historical building or the Art Festival later attended worship services of Ilawa UMC, about 35 km from Glaznoty.
It’s a huge challenge to take care of such a historic church building and the nearby historic cemetery. Pastor Krzysztof Kopacz invests a lot of time and energy in this appointment – right now, he is preparing an architectural and conservation project with an archaeologist that will allow the UMC to ask for subsidies for urgently needed renovations in the future.
However, as beautiful and historic it may be: for Pastor Krzysztof Kopacz, church is not primarily about preserving a building of fieldstones, but about people encountering God, being encouraged, inspired and transformed. And sometimes, fresh expressions of church are needed to reach the hearts of these people. Such as the annual Arts Festival starting today, July 3, 2019.