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Religion and identity among Polish immigrants in the UK

identity 1 | 3
9 Dec 2009 #1

I wondered if any one could help me, im looking at researching and promoting Polish communites in the Uk (especially Bristol). At the moment i am investigating how significant the Roman Catholic faith is for Polish immigrants in retaining parts of their ancestral identity and would really appreciate some points of view on the topic regardless if you live in Bristol or not.

If you do happen to live in Bristol any suggestions on where polish communities socialise or practise their religion would be amazing too.

Thanks everyone.
9 Dec 2009 #2
Hi, I'm a Pole living in Germany, Hannover for 20 years now. I'm 30 now. The first years, '88-'91, we attended weekly a mass held in Polish language and the church was allways full. There was even a seperate mass for the children who would not get communion yet - so even pretty modern for Polish Roman Catholics, who tend to be rather conservative in Poland itself. You can imagine it was not only a spiritual happaning but also social - you met your friends there and after the mass people gathered outside the church and talked for a while, smoked a few cigs and made plans while the kids played and the young men looked out for girls ;) I don't know weather there were some official programs from the church for the people, we did not attend any as we had no interest. The polish mass still exists, though I did not attend it for years.

So bottomline: the kids did not like the mass(time runs slower when you're a kid), the young men watched for girls all the time, the adults enjoyed the whole see and be seen thing and the talk after the mass but mostly gave a **** for the spiritual thing but the old people enjoyed anything about it and I am mostly unhappy that I did not realize it than and went more often there with my, now passed away, grandparents. Maybe thats why I a nowadays more likely to go with my mother to the church, and maybe thats why the general adults attend it fairly often as well.
OP identity 1 | 3
9 Dec 2009 #3
Hi thanks for the response,

I wonder that from your reply are you saying, that the influence of religion on identity and attending mass, has to be broken into sectors of age and gender for Polish immigrants? And that it is seen as more of a social occasion for some??
9 Dec 2009 #4
The influence of religion is split into sectors of age and gender regardless where you come from I supose. Sure, the catholic belief is something all Poles can identify with, since 98%+ are catholic. Many people have a spiritual bond to the ceremonies - though it depends on more factors than the mentioned above. But the social aspect is really relevant as well, especially in polish communities abroad. It goes as far as that Poles who have a dispute with the catholic church, become more religious once they live in a foreign country.

In Poland there is of course the historic revelance of the catholic church as it was a shelter in the times when Poland was divided, the times of German occupation and the communistic era. Also the Vatican with Pope JohnPaul II did support the Solidarnosc movement in the 80ties.
OP identity 1 | 3
9 Dec 2009 #5
I wonder if historical reference of the Catholic faith extends to all ages in todays society, is the history of and religion a key subject in education in Poland, or is the high number of Roman Catholics followers something that is passed down through family networks.

I like the idea that Poles abroad can adhere more to their faith or even find it once leaving their home nation. One would assume the social side of Church is comforting and allows the meeting of people experiencing the same emotions of adapting to a new environment. Would you say that the social side of religion eases the intergration process for Poles abroad into their new society and i wonder if it influence how they construct their new civic life.
9 Dec 2009 #6
I think every kid undergoes a developement regarding this stuff. In your youth you would rather play the whole sunday - than in your teenage years you tend to oppose your parents and rebel a little. But once you start emancipating from your parents home, you feel the urge to see them more often and be nice to them and share their values. There is of course a rather strong religious education program in the schools, and the intellectuals question its benefit for the education of a worthy citizen. I don't know what they teach in this hours, but I will be over hollydays in Poland and can ask some people. Well in my case the education did not lead me to a catholic identity - it was rather the familly values in the process I described above.

In the eighties the religious education was also kind of inoficial, we went to a location near the school and I remember once, that we were asked by our oficial teacher if we attend it, and he told us that we don't need to. Nevertheless the grades we got from the priest were the most important for the parents, as every year the last day of school we were picked up by our parents at the school and driven to the "secret location" ;) and there the priest gave us the marks and the parents in attention were allways very proud when their kid scored good ;)

Regarding the ease of adapting into a new environment I can not really say lot. Here in Germany Poles fit quite well into the sociaty. Germany had some prior experience with Turks, Italians, Greeks so when the majority of the Poles with German roots (I'm genetiacally 25%German, as most of my Polish friends in Germany are) arrived here, Germans allready developed a level of tollerance towards foreigners which was seldom exhausted by a Pole. I can imagine the situation is alike in Britain. So few Poles really seeked for a church to assist them in the process of getting a life build up here in diaspora.

Back again to the identity: I think if a foreigners feels not accepted by the host nation, he reacts in the way to identify himself more and more with his origin coulture.
Vincent 9 | 903
10 Dec 2009 #7
any suggestions on where polish communties socialise or practise their religion

Here is some information about the Polish church in Bristol. []
mrDJ - | 1
10 Dec 2009 #8
I don't know a lot about the religious aspect of the Polish in UK but in terms of socialising I was amazed when I went to the bar on the first floor of the Polish Centre in Hammersmith, London. It was brilliant. It was like a time warp back to the Soviet era. The interior is fantastic. I think it truely is a cultural heritage. Being an Englishman who has visited Poland I feel the bar represented Poland very well and the Polish people in the bar were very Polish. I felt I wasn't in my own country which I really liked even though other english people might be complaining that their own culture is threatened in England itself
10 Dec 2009 #9
I feel the bar represented Poland very well and the Polish people in the bar were very Polish.


How old are you?
OP identity 1 | 3
10 Dec 2009 #10
I agree with your point about adhering to your home nation if the host country is being hostile, however is religion not something that is integral to being polish and regardless of hostility or acceptance in to the host nation, religion would feature highly in poles everyday life and identity construction. I read in the catholic nation: religion, identity and the narratives of Polish history by B, Porter that poles often evoke catholicism to describe who they are and that you can not talk about polish identity without talking about religion. As an aethist myself i find this fascinating, that such a high % of Poles are practising Roman Catholics and would use that to describe who they are over many ascriptive and elective factors.

Thankyou for the link to the church, i have already looked through this website, however if you know of any more i would be really grateful.

With regards to the Polish bar in Hammersmith, would you say that this community of Poles were congregating together to sustain cultural bonds and a nostalgic feeling of belonging? and does it hinder intergration into the community? Did you stick out like a soar thumb or were you welcomed with open arms?? id be interest to know.
10 Dec 2009 #11
poles often evoke catholicism to describe who they are

you surely know when Poland was divided, ortodox Russia and lutherian Prussia were the least comfortable parts of divided Poland to live in. Both realized that the catholic belief was a haven for patriotic feelings, but they couldn't do anything against it, they knew that people would revolt. So the roots of this connection lay way back, but had 123years to develop and through history and family tales it got carried on - and its like my grandpas grandpa told him from first hand how it was, and he told me, so this is not that way back.

Also my grandma was during WWII on a secret school organized by the church - so you see patriotizm and religion went hand in hand.
Albert - | 1
4 Jan 2010 #12
Many years ago , G.K Chesterton wrote
"When a Man stops believing in God.he dosent then believe in nothing , he believes anything"
In Poland you have "Radio Mariya" exposed.
WAKE UP , they are one and all after your MONEY.
nincompoop_not 2 | 192
4 Jan 2010 #13
Im a Pole but living in London for over 10 years. I've been once to a Polish church here. My friend's idea. It was nice but nothing exciting. My thoughts after this 'visit' were:

1. it's nice Polish people can feel togetherness - after mass there was a kind of a tea time or something - people mingled, got their teas and cakes, talked.

2. i didin't feel part of it as my relationship with the Polish Catholic church is - and has been for years - troubled one- nothing to do with being in the UK.

3. Found a seromon a bit annoying - kind of patronising but maybe some people need to be treated this way
4. Polish priests here - not all - are the same as in Poland - hypocrisy is the god
5. I like - haven't done it in ages thou - going to Anglican/Protestant/other churches. For some reason I feel more part of it/in place than I usedto in our Polish ones.

And now I tell you about the hypocrisy. It's a true story which happened to me - and was a joke among my friends for a long time.

We know the rules Polish priests suppose to obliged/live by, yes? Celibacy etc.

Anyway, about 10 years ago i made friends with some Polish people on a Polish message board. There was one guy that talking to him was quite interesting - pretty deep thinking etc. So we arranged meeting for a coffee.

We met. We talked. He managed to avoid telling me what he was doing here before citing 'i am a freelancer' (well - in Polish it's 'wolny zawod) but when we met, I kept pressing/guessing etc. And finally I hit the nail. He was a priest here in one of the better known Polish churches in London.

So, after finding out what he was doing in the UK, I got a full story out of him - how he found himself in London.

He was from a small parish in Poland. Tried to get a place somewhere abroad for a long time - and finally got lucky. Why did he want it so much? Because he fell in love with a young widow in his parish and people got talking about them. He knew if he comes here he may get a small Polish parish somewhere in the UK, or anywhere else, on his own. He can then bring the woman he loved at some point and be happy with no people talking - no resigning from church duties etc. Basically - having it both ways.

So - hypocrisy the same way as it used to be, and still is I believe, in Poland.
I didn't know if to feel disappointed or angry but I felt pity. Weak character, weak person - how someone two-faced can preach about morals and what people do abroad. Broken families, drinking etc.

On the other hand, my Latin teacher was a priest once. He fell in love, left the church, married the woman he loved, had beautiful kids and became one of the best and funniest Latin teachers.

This I admire and respect.
Seanus 15 | 19,704
7 Jul 2010 #14
They always have Anne Widdicombe to represent them, LOL.
what a voice, LOL.

She is pathetic! Is this the kind of worm that spreads the word effectively?
delphiandomine 88 | 18,322
12 Jan 2021 #15
Ten years on, it would be interesting to know how people who emigrated to the UK as kids have now turned out.

I know a couple of examples, and while they identify as Polish, they're very much culturally British. They're lacking 'adult' vocabulary from Polish, and you can see that in terms of behaviour, they're also much more at home in the UK than in Poland. Religious identity seems to be much weaker as well, probably because there's no real push from grandparents/other family members to attend church.
pawian 218 | 22,786
12 Jan 2021 #16
Yes. Aren`t they sort of torn coz they acquired the new culture, but still remember the old one? It is their kids, born in the UK, who will have no identity problems.
delphiandomine 88 | 18,322
12 Jan 2021 #17
Aren`t they sort of torn coz they acquired the new culture, but still remember the old one?

I spoke to a psychologist at a conference about this a few years back, and she said that the magic point is usually puberty. If they move before then, they're likely to assimilate and be taken as British without any real issues (even if the parents don't), but that if they go after the start of puberty, it's likely to be much harder for them and they're likely to return at some point, even if the parents stay.
pawian 218 | 22,786
12 Jan 2021 #18
it's likely to be much harder for them

That is why I never considered emigration as an adult coz I knew it would end badly for my psyche. And I have never regreted. Especially now when I see how emigration affected some of the forum`s Polish users. :)
Poloniusz 4 | 358
12 Jan 2021 #19
They're lacking 'adult' vocabulary...the magic point is usually puberty. If they move before then, they're likely to assimilate

Yeah, and in another older thread you started you falsely claimed newly arrived Poles in the UK were "fighting" for a place to sleep rough in public toilets.

Fess up. Both then and now you are just projecting your own personal immigrant experience.

Indeed, after thirteen years on PF and over 18,000 posts there are none from you in Polish. Clearly, you are still at the children's picture book level.

it's likely to be much harder for them and they're likely to return at some point

Something we can all look forward to you doing. Thanks for providing us your early notice.
Novichok 4 | 6,504
12 Jan 2021 #20
Especially now when I see how emigration affected some of the forum`s Polish users. :)

Same way as being released from prison. When that train rolled out of East Germany,...

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