An Anabaptist Network of Churches?

On October 2, a group of people met at the London Mennontie Centre to discuss the possibility of ‘network of churches’ coming together around Anabaptist values. The following are notes from the meeting taken by Stuart Murray Williams. See the end of the article for a list of participants.

Discussion

We began by using the Saturday morning section of the new Anabaptist liturgical material developed by Eleanor Kreider and colleagues.

Each participant then took a few minutes to describe their church and explain their interest in the consultation. Some were there as church representatives; others in a personal capacity.

Listening to each other, we noted the following characteristics of the churches that were represented:

• Most (though not all) were urban

• Most (though not all) were quite small

• Some were long-established, but several were emerging or evolving

• Some were well aware of the Anabaptist tradition, but for others interest was limited to a small number – sometimes on the fringe of the church.

After lunch we explored two issues:

• What resources could the Anabaptist Network offer such churches?

• Should a network of churches be formed?

Discussion around these issues overlapped, though we recognised that the Anabaptist Network could offer resources to churches whether or not a network of churches was formed. We also considered whether the Root and Branch network might be better than the Anabaptist Network to coordinate any such network of churches.

Resources

From the discussion about resources the following suggestions emerged:

• Churches needed more practical resources than the Anabaptist Network had yet offered.

• The development of liturgical resources was welcomed: these are vital for churches drawing on the Anabaptist tradition.

• Resources are needed on such topics as multi-voiced worship, dialogical preaching, Anabaptist values and Anabaptist-oriented lifestyle.

• Anabaptist-oriented Bible Study material would be useful (Vic showed us some Canadian material, but something contextualised to the UK is needed).

• Mini book reviews would be helpful, listing useful books with a brief synopsis (previous Metanoia reviews might be usefully reissued).

• The website could offer further resources and point towards resources on other websites.

• What is the DNA of an Anabaptist church? Could material be developed on this issue?

• Anabaptist material for Remembrance Sunday and similar events would be useful.

• Two kinds of resources might be worth differentiating: resources for existing churches and resources to help pioneers think about how to build churches.

Networking

From the discussion about networking the following tentative conclusions and ideas emerged:

• There was general support for the development of a ‘network of churches’ that would not be institutional or a threat to existing relationships or connections.

• This network of churches should relate to the Anabaptist Network rather than the Root and Branch grouping.

• Especially for young or emerging churches, there is real value in being able to connect with a tradition that has tested out principles and practices over nearly five centuries.

• Given the geographical spread of the churches who may be interested, this network would need to have a ‘virtual’ dimension, relating by email and via the Anabaptist Network website.

• But there would need also to be a face-to-face dimension, involving exchange visits and gatherings. Certain ‘expectations’ might be appropriate for churches joining this network – such as a commitment to partnership, readiness to share resources, eagerness to offer hospitality and openness to mediation and mutual accountability.

The Anabaptist Network residential conference (28-30 May 2005) might be an opportunity to meet again and explore issues further. The programme for this event is not yet determined and can be shaped by our ongoing conversation.

• A network of mutual hospitality similar to the North American Mennonite Your Way network (offering accommodation to travelling Mennonites for a small donation) might be worth developing.

Participants

The following representatives of churches or interested individuals met on 2 October at the London Mennonite Centre to explore the possibility of a ‘network of churches’ emerging linked with either the Anabaptist Network or the Root and Branch network.

Phil Warburton (Urban Expression, London)
Andy Potter (Kent)
Graham & Elaine Old (Daventry)
Keith McCollum (Portadown)
Jane Collett (Wood Green)
Trisha Dale (Littlemore)
Caroline Gale (Littlemore)
Dave Nussbaum (Amersham)
Jonathan Blakeborough (York)
Vic Thiessen (London Mennonite Centre)
Stuart Murray Williams (Littlemore)
Tim Nafziger (Anabaptist Network)

Interested

The following expressed interest in this consultation but, for various reasons, were unable to participate (some may have a conversation in the north of England soon):

Kevin Brown (Barnsley)
Simon Mattholie (Winchester)
Karen Stallard (Urban Expression, London)
Graham Watkins (Chelsea)
Lesley Misrahi (Wood Green)
Noel Moules (Sheffield)
Jon Morgan (Exeter)
Bert Elliott (Sevenoaks)
David Porter (Belfast)
Ray Gaston (Leeds)
Andrew Francis (Swindon)
David Kirkman (Lockerbie)
Andrew Dodd (Cumbria)
Ian Milligan (Glasgow)

Notes by
Stuart Murray Williams
7 October 2004

Thanks to the London Mennonite Centre for hosting this event.