Anabaptist Gatherings

On Saturday 2 October 50+ representatives of the new Anabaptist network of communities and Anabaptist network of organisations gathered for the first of what we anticipate will be annual events. This was an opportunity for members of participating communities (churches, emerging churches, study groups, etc.) to meet each other and think about how they can encourage and resource each other. It was an opportunity also for participating organisations to bring literature and other resources and to explain how they could serve these communities.

Our guests were Dennis and Connie Byler, long-term American Mennonite mission workers in Spain, who shared the story of the Anabaptist communities in that country and reflected with us on the distinctive marks of an Anabaptist community or organisation. Ali Phelps (who chairs the network of communities) and Noel Moules (who chairs the network of organisations) presented the final session, exploring the theme of ‘shalom’ and its implications for organisations and communities that draw on the Anabaptist tradition.

This was an energising and encouraging event, superbly hosted by the London Mennonite Centre. Our hope now is that the connections made and friendships forged will lead to lots of interaction among the communities and organisations, and we look forward to another gathering in 2011.

The second annual gathering of the Anabaptist networks of organisations and communities took place in Birmingham on Saturday 12 November 2011 with about 75 adults and children present. Superbly planned and hosted by Peacechurch and friends, this was a vibrant, multi-voiced event that involved many different people and activities – including a table talk, pilgrimages around the local area, bread making, arts and crafts, discussions, poetry, sculpture, interacting with film, communal Bible study, etc. It was an event in which the many children present participated actively and enthusiastically.

The day explored the theme – ‘living with shalom’ – from many angles. How can we create and sustain inclusive churches? What does shalom have to do with politics and business organisations? Do we believe towards living or live towards believing? How does the vision of shalom impact young people? How can poetry help us see the world differently? How do established churches work out a vision of shalom?

We were glad to welcome people from communities not represented last year, and others not connected with any of the communities or at their first Anabaptist Network event.

Sue Haslehurst reports on the third annual ANC gathering:

On Saturday 9 February, around 45 people gathered for a day hosted by the Manchester Anabaptist study group at Didsbury Baptist Church. The day was an opportunity to get together people in communities which belong to this network and others who may be interested in Anabaptism in general or the network in particular. After the success of the last ANC gathering in Birmingham in November 2011, the steering group again delightedly and gratefully had entrusted the planning and leading of the day to the local hosts.

The Manchester study group created a warm welcome and had planned a fairly relaxed programme with plenty of time for conversation and connection as well as opportunities for updates from the communities represented there and from the wider Anabaptist Network.

The day included two ‘market place’ slots for presentations and discussion on a theme, with participants choosing between sessions on ‘Retreats and Spirituality’, ‘Who educates our children?’, ‘Forming a peace zone in school’, ‘Mentoring young people’ and ‘Preaching After Christendom’.

There were three brief pauses for worship, using scripture passages and Mennonite hymns related to them, as well as sessions for the eight children who used the time to prepare to lead us in worship at the end of the day and to make a bookmark for each person present as a reminder of a day spent enjoyably together.

There was a real sense of excitement about the day. General reluctance to return from the marketplace discussions was a good indication that the topics had been well-chosen and well-presented and that people were eager to engage with them, and the buzz continued over an extended lunchtime, with both the delicious hot meal and the space for conversation much appreciated.

The Anabaptist Network planned to cover the cost of the day, if necessary, but also invited donations from participants who could afford to contribute. Thanks to the generosity of Didsbury Baptist Church, which provided the venue for free, and of those attending, the costs were fully covered by donations on the day, which were enough also to provide a gift to the (student) couple who ran the children’s activities.

The Anabaptist Network steering group was represented by Sue Haslehurst, convener of the ANC, and her updates from the wider network were appreciated, as was an update from Will Newcomb on developments in the Mennonite Trust.

It was interesting that of the 15 or so ANC communities only four were represented and a good number of those present came either as individuals from some distance away wanting to connect with fellow Anabaptists or as local people interested to find out more about Anabaptism. The day provided an opportunity to make these connections. We hope that they can be sustained in a variety of ways between gatherings – and are pleased to hear that the day served to strengthen some local links in Manchester.

All in all, a very successful day, wonderfully hosted by the Manchester Anabaptist group, who report that they enjoyed the opportunity to work together in the planning and on the day and that it was a very positive experience for their group.

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.

Around 60 people, including six children, gathered on 7 March at St Mark’s Baptist Church in Bristol for the annual get-together of the Anabaptist Network of Communities. The day took as its theme the medieval Feast of Fools, a subversive festival that turns the established order upside-down for one day to prick the pretensions of the wealthy and powerful.

Upon arrival at the church, we were welcomed by a vast array of cakes, iced in bright colours which bore no relation to the flavour of the cake, to prepare us for a day of surprises and upside-down-ness. The focus of the day was ‘the foolish economics of Luke 19’. Spending the day reflecting on the entire chapter was helpful,as we noted, for instance, that Luke has placed the parable of the pounds straight after the story of Zacchaeus, and not long before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt and turns over the tables of the money changers in the temple.

Activities included extended preparation for two dramas based on the story of Zacchaeus, one a pantomime and the other in the style of Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen. From there, the groups went on to make a collage of newspaper headlines, article, and adverts on the theme of challenging the icons of our society, drawing on the beatitudes for ideas. At lunch, we enjoyed a three- ourse meal creatively cooked from Fareshare ingredients (diverted from being thrown out by shops and supermarkets).

In the afternoon, we heard about the economically foolish journey of David and Fiona Hibbs, who joined the Bruderhof community, adding their money and possessions to the community’s common purse. We also formed small groups to choose part of Luke 19 for discussion around some thoughtprovoking questions.

This was the fifth annual ANC day, with previous days held in Birmingham, Manchester, and twice in London. Each gathering has been hosted by a different local group. This day was hosted by the Bristol Anabaptist study group and drew people from across the southwest as far afield as Newquay as well as from Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Cambridge, Sussex, London and the wider London/ Surrey area. We hope that moving the gathering around enables a different group of people each year to travel to the day relatively easily. It brought together people from groups which belong to the Anabaptist Network of Communities, members of the Anabaptist Network, and those exploring Anabaptism.

We’re grateful to the team of Stuart Murray Williams, James Manning, Sian Manning and Helen Pears for their vision, hard work and ingenuity. Thanks also to the café team, co-ordinated super-efficiently by manager Lesley Wynne. The café team’s hard work made creative use of Fareshare food, which kept the cost of food very low. Additionally, St Mark’s generously allowed us to use the building in return for a donation. The day was free to participants, but donations were welcomed, allowing us to cover costs and make an appropriate donation to St Mark’s.