A number of the Anabaptist groups around the country are members of the ANC. Here, Linda Wilson introduces the Bristol group:
The current Bristol Anabaptist Study Group is the second incarnation of such a group in Bristol. A previous group some years ago was largely focused around the Baptist College, with several of those who attended being students or lecturers. After that group came to a natural end, there was a gap of several years.
When Sian and Stuart Murray Williams moved to Bristol a few years ago, it seemed a good time to launch a new Bristol-based study group. This current group has quite a different make-up from the previous one, with a variety of people drawn from several different churches and none, in and around Bristol – in one case, as far away as Abergavenny. Not all of us have Baptist backgrounds. We are simply a collection of people who are eager to explore what it means to be followers of Jesus today, using the Anabaptists for inspiration in that exploration.
We usually meet in Sian and Stuart's home, and we also always eat together, which to me is an important part of expressing and enjoying the life of God together. We have drawn on the Anabaptist tradition in a variety of ways. As a group we enjoy discussions, and we have discussed topics closely related to Anabaptism, as well as considering some of the core values and how they could be worked out in our lives. From time to time we have engaged with the original texts and stories.
Visitors to the group, whether American Mennonites or someone from elsewhere in the UK connected with the Network, have also provoked and encouraged us from time to time.
On other occasions we have shared a table liturgy as part of our meal, and discussed a topic in that context. Interestingly, discussions have tended to be more personal than when we eat first and then consider a topic together.
Our disparate geography and various other commitments have meant that we have not done anything together outside of our evening get-togethers. However, several people in the group are active in various ways in their own areas, and the focus of the group provides support and encouragement to us all. Whilst there is clearly a danger for some of being 'armchair Anabaptists' (myself included), I am not sure that an activist focus is always practical, or necessary, for a study group.
The local study group has been an important 'anchor point' for me over the last two or three years during a difficult time of feeling adrift as my husband Ian and I have left a church after many years and started growing a small church in our home. The refreshing honesty of people as we look at topics, the opportunity to develop friendships with people from different backgrounds who share the desire to explore faith, church and discipleship, and the excellent food (often cooked by Stuart), along with Sian and Stuart's generous hospitality, has made this group a special part of my life.
The Anabaptist Network of Communities has not really impinged on our group, so I am not sure that there is a shared view as to how that might develop. I have been involved with the Anabaptist Theology Circle for many years, and find that a stimulating and encouraging place to share and listen to ideas, and a place where friendships have developed. I imagine that the network of communities could provide a similar, but less academic, opportunity for mutual encouragement and exchange of ideas, as well as an awareness of being a part of a movement that is larger than just our own group.