My Anabaptist Story

By Ros Parkes

In September 2004, I heard the word Anabaptist for the very first time. Noel Moules (of Workshop) and Stuart Murray Williams (of the Anabaptist Network) were contributing to a gathering of the Speak Network, which I was at.

I have no recollection about why Anabaptism was referred to – or what it was that made me want to find out more, but I do remember accosting Noel over dinner – quizzing him on the subject. What I heard intrigued me, and so began a journey into Anabaptism that has in turn inspired, challenged and, it seems, changed the course of my life. And I thought I would try and tell you the story.

After that conversation I wanted to find out more and as I explored, I encountered something that was committed to Jesus-centred spirituality, community, multi-voiced church, peacemaking and nonviolence. These ideas started to be woven more deeply into how I viewed the world, until my growing Anabaptist convictions clashed with the expectations of my employers.

In 2006 I was offered a great job, working with children and young people, with schools and youth centres for one of the UK’s largest charities. The focus of the role was to help young people think about their role in the world – and how humanity can be considerate of others. As time progressed, I was asked to do more and more work around International Humanitarian Law, or the rules of war. This body of law includes the Geneva Conventions, which is about what is and is not legal in war. Initially I had no problem with this; the rules were there to prevent human suffering; they were good laws. But as I discussed them with young people in the classroom and in youth centres, I began to find myself holding conversations which my increasingly Anabaptist, nonviolent tendencies found problematic. Instead of challenging the concept of war, I was teaching young people about the ways people had found to make it more ‘humane’. Instead of offering a practical and inspirational alternative to fighting and killing, I was explaining that while it was illegal to kill certain people (civilians) in international armed conflict, others were appropriate targets (soldiers). I found this increasingly difficult, and it seemed utterly at odds with my Anabaptist-influenced understanding of Jesus and radical peacemaking.

So in September 2008 I handed in my notice and in October of last year I left. I am now working, along with my husband, on a project which we have set up and called option3. option3 aims to help youth workers and young people in the churches think critically and creatively about armed conflict and injustice and explore nonviolent ways of responding. We believe that Jesus-centred faith should be one in which we neither ignore injustice and violence nor confront it violently. Rather we should seek a third way – a third option, the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolent active peacemaking.

One of the Anabaptist Network’s core convictions is as follows

“Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.”

We want to see the wider church, and particularly its young people understand this idea; believe in the power of nonviolence to bring meaningful and lasting change to situations of deep injustice; and see this as an integral part of faith in Jesus Christ.

Ros lives in Bristol and is a member of the steering group of the Anabaptist Network