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Polish Unitarianism, Then and Now (Plus Prague)

Unitarians in Poland - Then and Now: A Historical Study Tour with the Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson 

June 6-11, 2017

JOIN US on a visit to the 16th century’s Unitarian “heartland” where early religious dissenters —who called themselves the Polish Brethren—first established congregations in the 1560s that openly challenged the doctrine of the trinity, rejected infant baptism, and debated the morality of military service from their pacifist devotion to the life of Jesus.  After 1580, under the leadership of Fausto Sozzini (Faustus Socinus), the Brethren became known, and reviled, outside Poland as “Socinians.”  They went on to establish some 300 congregations in Poland before being nearly eradicated by 1660 through forced reconversion or exile under the Catholic counter-reformation.

Nevertheless, their influence was huge and decisive for later liberal religious history in Holland, England, and America.  Their academy and printing press, in the small towns of Pińczów and later Raków, educated hundreds of youth, nobility and commoners, and published a stream of revolutionary ideas in theology, ethics, and socio-political philosophy.  Fausto Sozzini and his disciple Jan Crell were in important ways the first process theologians, rejecting divine foreknow-ledge as incompatible with human free will and moral responsibility, and replacing the concept of an immutable God with the new understanding of a deity who changes over time in response to worldly events.

In the 20th century various attempts to revive a Unitarian presence in Poland were mostly short-lived, and today only a small Unitarian group in Warsaw carries on our heritage there.  Leaders from that group will be our hosts for this study tour.  We welcome tour participation from UUs anywhere in the world, but especially from the United States and Europe.  We hope that several Transylvanian Unitarian ministers will be able to join the study tour as well.

Our tour will begin with arrival in Kraków, the beautiful royal and cultural capital of Poland, where Copernicus once lived, where Sozzini was nearly murdered for heresy, and where Oskar Schindler developed his famous list during the Nazi occupation.  The next morning we drive north by chartered bus making two stops in what was once (1560-1640) the Unitarian heartland before arriving for a two-day stay at a conference and resort hotel near the town of Raków—the Polish Brethren’s intellectual center from 1598 to 1638, where they printed the first great summary of early Unitarian conviction, the Racovian Catechism.  From this central location, we’ll make a day-trip to Raków itself and then to historic sites of Polish Brethren worship, some pre-served or restored, others sadly neglected and in ruins.  We’ll return to Kraków for two nights and a full day, ending the tour with Sunday morning worship, and then departure for home, additional days of stayover, or travel to other destinations, depending on individual preference.

Our tour leader, the Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson, served 32 years in UU parish ministry before retirement, was an adjunct seminary instructor in UU history at Starr King and Meadville Lombard, and is now a research scholar at Starr King School for the Ministry.  He visited Poland in 2004, 2006, and 2014, and has written on the history, ecclesiology, and social ethics of the Polish Brethren as well as on precursors of humanism, religious tolerance, and interfaith pluralism in Poland.

Although final details are still being worked out, our best expectation at this point is that the cost will be USD$750 (double occupancy) or $850 (single), including lodging, local transport, and all but three meals, but not including travel to and from Poland, which will be the responsibility of each participant. Full cost and registration information will be available by late January 2017, and at least a $200 deposit will be required by February 15, with full payment by April 20.  We hope also to offer academic credit and scholarship aid for interested UU seminarians.

Persons interested in this tour should also note that it is scheduled immediately following a joint weekend retreat of European UUs and German Unitarians in Ulm (June 2-5).  Thus, anyone coming from a longer distance and interested in both events may combine them in a single European trip (see https://www.dropbox.com/s/hy41eivpmmzd6i6/Programmheft_EUT2017-Final-online-English.pdf?dl=0 for more information on the Ulm gathering.)  Please note that, despite their juxtaposition, the Ulm retreat and the Poland tour are independent events and will require separate registrations.

For questions, and to put your name on the list to receive further information and tour updates:

Contact Jay Atkinson: jayatk40 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tentative Itinerary

  • Tuesday, June 6:  afternoon – arrive in Kraków, check into hotel;  group ingathering dinner and greetings;  brief intro to tour and Polish Brethren history.
  • Wednesday, June 7:  chartered bus with stops at Jędrzejów (historic exhibit, discussion with his-torian Robert Płaski, and possible concert); Ludynia estate (restored Brethren chapel); arrive and check in for two nights at Four Winds Hotel near Raków); dinner and evening conversation at hotel
  • Thursday, June 8: a day in Raków, walking tour and meet with local residents (and officials?); visit and dinner at Kurozwęki palace; return to Four Winds Hotel for the night.
  • Friday, June 9: bus trip to old Polish Brethren chapels (Kolosy & Cieszkowy, meet with regional officials in Czarnocin); continue on to Lusławice estate (Sozzini memorial and chapel); then back to Kraków for dinner and two nights stay.
  • Saturday, June 10: morning – breakfast in hotel, walking tour of Polish Brethren sites in Kraków​; afternoon – visit and tour of Wawel Castle; evening – dinner at local restaurant, free time.
  • Sunday, June 11: breakfast in hotel, Sunday morning worship, saying good-bye.

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