The new head of Poland's Lutheran church has said his exposure to religious tensions in the north of the country, where he has spent much of his life, will help him work for better ecumenical relationships.

"Northern Poland has for centuries been home to a confessional and national division—the border between Protestant Mazury and Catholic Warmia [two regions in the north-east which together form one of Poland's 16 provinces] has often been uncrossable," Bishop Janusz Jagucki, head of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, told ENI. The church's headquarters are in Warsaw, the Polish capital.

But he added that since the end of communism much had been done to "overcome religious stereotypes. Today it is simply not acceptable to divide and classify people according to their religious or national identity."

The 53-year-old clergyman was describing his priorities as the new presiding bishop of his church, which, with 92,000 members, is Poland's biggest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The bishop told ENI that Poland had been a "multi-ethnic country" in previous centuries, but the communists had "re-ignited religious antagonisms" after the Second World War as part of a "divide-and-rule" policy.

"The example of northern Poland creates a warning, as well as an obligation for church and state to work together," the bishop said. "Today our church gives pastoral care to everyone who wishes it, irrespective of their nationality. We are open, hospitable and ecumenically active."

A native of Poland's economically depressed Mazury region, where his father was also a Lutheran pastor, he headed a parish at Gizycko from 1976, while also administering three others in Elk and Suwalki.

According to church sources, Bishop Jagucki was a bridge-builder in northern Poland, allowing church buildings under his jurisdiction to be used by other minority denominations, including Greek Catholics.

There have often been tense relations between minority churches in Poland and the Roman Catholic Church, to which the bulk of Poland's 39 million citizens belong. Although Catholic leaders and the Polish Ecumenical Council signed an agreement on mutual recognition of baptism in January 2000, minority denominations continue to complain of discrimination at a local level.

Bishop Jagucki told ENI he would continue close co-operation with the Lutheran World Federation, in Geneva, and with individual Lutheran churches abroad, while striving to "overcome ecclesiastical egotism" in Poland.

He said his priorities in talks with Roman Catholics would include issues such as mixed marriages, the priestly office and shared communion, while the Lutheran church's experience of "inner-church democracy" would also be "recommended to other churches."

But he stressed that the tasks of the church extended beyond the religious arena. "Our church shouldn't just concern itself with proclaiming the Gospel, but also with those unable to cope with hard market realities," Bishop Jagucki said. "This route must be followed in a country where 15 percent of citizens are jobless, and 80 percent of these have lost the right to receive benefits."

Bishop Jagucki, who was installed as successor to Bishop Jan Szarek in Warsaw on January 6, was ordained in 1970 after studying at Warsaw's ecumenical Christian Theology Academy.

Related Elsewhere:

For statistics on Poland's Christians, including evangelicals and the 90 to 96 percent majority of the Catholic Church of Poland, see

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Poland has its own Web site in Polish.

Previous Christianity Today stories about Poland include:

Poland's Catholic Bishops Reject Criticism of Dominus Iesus | Ratzinger's declaration that Protestant denominations are not proper churches is making waves in pope's birthplace. (Sept. 20, 2000)

At Historic Service, Polish Church Leaders Ask Pardon For Past Mistakes | Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran heads apologize for egoism and indifference. (March 13, 2000)

Poland's Orthodox Church will build cathedral near Warsaw's airport | Roman Catholic officials criticize plan. (Jan. 20, 2000)