The first Mennonite who made England his home, the Canadian John Coffman, arrived in London during an air raid in 1940. For the next five years, he distributed food and clothing and took care of orphans as a representative of the Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development agency of the North American Mennonite Churches. In this he was assisted by Eileen Pells Coffman, whom he met and married in London. After the war John and Eileen worked as Mennonite missionaries with the Finsbury Mission and the Free Gospel Hall; in 1967 they retired in Highgate. They were much-loved parental figures among English Mennonites, and died in 1990 and 1999 respectively.
John Coffman enjoyed taking tourists to sites in London that the tour-buses missed. The typical tourist, John knew, visited sites associated with privilege, royalty and military might. But there was another history – a Nonconformist history – that had left more obscure monuments in the area to the north of the City where John and Eileen had worked in the bleak, ration-ridden post-war years.
So John devised the itinerary that we have followed in the following pages. Several times John took us with him on his walk; to our delight it always involved stopping for tea at a well-chosen restaurant! We have built on his itinerary, inserting a few additional stops, biographical information and literary materials that we hope will evoke something of the spirit of the people whom the places will recall.
Most of the people whom the walk commemorates were not Anabaptists (who were almost entirely absent from England after 1575); and one of them, the Protestant John Bradford, probably would have been willing to see the Anabaptists burned. Yet all of the following were nonconformists, for the sake of Jesus Christ, to the dominant forms of Christianity of their time; all of them were people of courage and imagination. All of them have been examples to us of the freedom and joy that comes to those who follow Jesus. We believe that they will also be an inspiration to other Christians, including Anabaptists.
Download the attached document and enjoy your walk!