Living an Anabaptist vision

By Phil Wood
26 Feb 2009

It’s a long tale – how I became a Mennonite and ended up involved with the Anabaptist Network (http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/) and the thinktank Ekklesia. My affiliations have been mostly Methodist so it’s not so much a matter of membership as a kind of passion for something else; call it simplicity or community or an Anabaptist vision.

Anabaptists were the radicals of the Reformation – pacifist but prickly – and Mennonites were the Dutch Anabaptists, named after their most prominent leader, Menno Simons.

There were Anabaptists in 16th century Britain, but persecution cut the movement short. The name means ‘re-baptiser’ and was used as an insult by those who saw compulsory baptism as a way of keeping religious belief and loyalty to the governing authorities soldered together.

Mennonites and other Anabaptists refused violence, held goods in common, prayed and discerned the Bible communally, would not administer the state’s version of ‘justice’, and sought to witness by living the way of Christ. They are specifically denounced in two of the 39 Articles of Religion endorsed by the established Church in England.

After nearly 500 years Mennonites returned to London following World War Two to help with relief work. Those that settled founded the London Mennonite Centre (http://www.menno.org.uk/) in Highgate.

LMC is now a resource centre for radical Christian discipleship and Anabaptist and peace and justice studies. It also hosts the ‘Bridge Builders’ mediation and reconciliation service, the Metanoia Book Service (which Ekklesia partners for its online book shop - http://books.ekklesia.co.uk/) and is part of the Root and Branch network.

When I first began this Anabaptist journey it was holiness that drew me in. Here was a tradition that took the corporate challenge of Christ’s Lordship seriously and practiced peacemaking, social justice and community alongside a biblical faith.

I sometimes wondered whether, if a Baptist and a Quaker were spliced together, in a kind of ecclesiastical genetic engineering, something like an Anabaptist would result! Anabaptism is in some ways ‘neither Protestant nor Catholic’ – in the words of Walter Klaassen’s 1969 book of the same name.

While Protestants persecuted Catholics and Catholics reciprocated, everyone persecuted the Anabaptists. Anabaptism was both part of the Reformation yet at the same time practiced a rich community life that was reminiscent of monasticism. Some significant early Anabaptist leaders were former Benedictines.

We had two forays into Anabaptist community, in Doncaster and – briefly – in Wales where three families shared a smallholding near Carmarthen with Buzzards and the east wind. In these individualistic times we found the communitarian vision captivating: ordinary things – food, friendships, planting apple trees – acquired a rich significance.

There was a discernible ecological dimension to our life together and I still think that the best response to our throwaway society is not a kind of Christianised pick and mix religion but an experience of Christian community which answers the hunger in modern people for something untainted by cynicism and more than money can buy.

The ‘Core Convictions’ of the Anabaptist Network UK, which are affirmed by Ekklesia and by other members of the Root and Branch network (http://ekklesia.co.uk/about/partners), set out the kind of historic vision we seek to live by in a fast-changing modern world. (http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/coreconvictions)

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© Phil Wood is the Circuit Development Worker with the Wantage and Abingdon Methodist Circuit, with a focus on new housing development and Fresh Expressions of church. He has a varied background uniting community development, social entrepreneurship, housing and mission. Phil is a Mennonite but has a Methodist background. His blog is at: http://radref.blogspot.com/

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