Anabaptist Network of Communities: fourth annual gathering (2014)

Sue Haslehurst reports on the 2014 Anabaptist Network of Communities gathering. On Saturday 8 March, E1 Community Church (E1CC) hosted the annual gathering of the Anabaptist Network of Communities in London. As for past days in Birmingham and Manchester, much of the success and delight of the day was due to careful and creative planning and leading by the local hosts.

Just over thirty people gathered in a community hall in Shadwell, some having travelled from as far afield as Exeter and others from just round the corner. For those with a long history with the Anabaptist Network (AN), the day was a great opportunity for people to reconnect and catch up. For others it functioned as an Anabaptist taster day, quite literally as it turned out: the theme of the day was FOOD! and praise for the delicious soup, served at our communion-lunch featured prominently in a third of the feedback.

Indeed it's been interesting that these ANC days, first conceived as a chance for ANC member communities to get to know each other, talk and worship together and swap stories, have also attracted a number of people from the wider AN as well as people not yet involved with the network but interested to find out more. They have also been an opportunity for the hosts to build on local connections by involving other individuals and groups in preparation and input. This has added greatly to the diversity of the days and the sense of excitement at learning new things and making new connections, an excitement which was very noticeable this year in both the breaks and the more structured parts of the programme. The pattern of moving the day around the country also allows more members of the host group to be involved than would have been able to travel to a day further from home. Five of the sixteen ANC communities were represented this year with two members of the AN steering group present, including the AN chair Martin Parkes.

The day started with an ingenious exercise which gave each person present a small part in the introduction to the theme and a chance to introduce ourselves. Many commented on how much they enjoyed the songs we sang together and the creative opportunities for prayer, including a beautifully set meal table which challenged us to think about who is excluded from the table of our communities.

A highlight for many was the chance to hear from Kailean Khongsai of A Rocha UK about the interfaith community gardening project which A Rocha has nurtured near its base in Southall. Among the almost impossible-to-choose-between options for the afternoon — and a great antidote to post-lunch drowsiness — was joining a working party on Shadwell's very own community gardening project a few minutes' walk away, The Shadpatch, started by Beth and Matt House. This is probably the first ANC day where 'finding worms and potatoes' has featured (positively!) in feedback about the day. The other afternoon groups heard from Liz and Peter Anderson about "The Feast: Groundbreaking Interfaith Youth Work" (comment: 'That Feast session was awesome') and from Elias Moyo of the Brethren in Christ Church congregation in Forest Gate about 'A Divine Strategy for Community Building', a session from which people took away food for thought and inspiring stories.

It was a great day with space for quiet, worship, eating, thinking, doing and talking - lots of talking: many people stayed around after the end of the day to help clear up and continue chatting, a good indication of how much we had appreciated the chance to connect with each other and to imagine together what we could take home with us from the sessions and the conversations. Many thanks are due to E1CC and friends for making it all possible, bearing the costs not covered by donations and sending us away encouraged and excited.