Ann Graham Price
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Anabaptist group, Christian music festival meet to discuss joining efforts

LONDON (Mennonite Mission Network) – They’re interested in the world around them. They like music, all kinds. They want to talk about ideas, and they haven’t made up their minds yet.

For anyone hoping to make a difference in the world, the 20,000 or so people who attend Britain’s prime Christian music festival every year represent an exciting demographic.

That’s why a group of Anabaptist organizations quietly taking root throughout the United Kingdom recently met with a festival representative to talk about ways the groups can work together to reach those people more effectively.

As a result of that meeting, representatives from both organizations say increased collaboration seems likely.

The Anabaptist group, known as Root and Branch, was organized a little more than two years ago to bring together several distinct organizations and coordinate their efforts. Previously some of these organizations had operated with limited knowledge of each other’s purposes and resources.

The brainchild of Vic Thiessen, director of the London Mennonite Centre through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness, the idea behind Root and Branch was that the disparate organizations could achieve much more by working together than they could working separately.

Root and Branch is a network that currently includes a Christian think tank, a Christian studies program, a group of conflict-mediation consultants, church-planting consultants, a church, peacemaker teams, and a newsletter publisher, to name a few.
“Phase I, the process of bringing all of our groups together, is behind us,” said Thiessen, the network’s founder. “That was where we asked, ‘How can we promote each other? How can we offer new things by working together?’ We’ve got to the point where we’re doing those things now without duplicating one another’s efforts.”

Root and Branch approached the Greenbelt arts festival in the hope of reaching a wider audience. With its ever-widening scope of artistic genres and events, the Greenbelt festival seemed a natural fit and represented a logical next step in growth for Root and Branch.

Since the first event was staged in 1974 as a Christian alternative to the proliferation of secular rock and folk music festivals, Greenbelt’s repertoire has grown over the years to include ministers and activists as well as musicians and artists. Today’s Greenbelt attenders are as likely to be engaged in political issues as they are eclectic in their musical tastes.

According to Joe Walker, a representative of the Greenbelt program committee who attended the meeting in March with Root and Branch representatives, Greenbelt is “an independent Christian charity working to express love, creativity and justice in the arts and contemporary culture in the light of the Christian gospel.”

Beyond the four-day festival in August, Greenbelt maintains an ongoing presence and identity throughout the year, including partnerships with other high-profile organizations such as YMCA and Christian Aid.

A collaboration between the two organizations could potentially benefit both groups, Walker said.

“It provides an opportunity to promote the values of Root and Branch at Greenbelt,” he said. “It also provides an opportunity for Root and Branch to promote and foster the Greenbelt Festival throughout the rest of the year.”

In general, Walker said, speakers invited to appear at Greenbelt tend to be “creative, engaging, diverse, inspiring, edgy, radical and funny.

“They are not afraid to be distinctive and challenging and enable people to be who they are, say what they think and become part of community of people committed to changing the world,” he said.

Based on this initial meeting, representatives from Root and Branch are considering several proposals for the Greenbelt 2007 festival, which will take place over four days during the last weekend in August. Some of the options that were considered included sponsoring a speaker or having its own venue (with speakers, music, a café and a bookshop) at the festival.

 “The initial excitement has now grown into an action phase,” Thiessen said. “It is time for our network to get involved where we can touch on something really exciting that’s happening in the United Kingdom.”

Kathy and Vic Thiessen serve in London through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness. Vic directs the London Mennonite Centre, Vic promotes increased contact between European Mennonites and serves as vice-chair of Church and Peace International. Kathy serves as the centre's librarian and assists with other administrative and hosting tasks. She is active in local peace and artistic initiatives and provides worship leadership at Wood Green Mennonite Church.

For more background on the Mennonite connection to the Greenbelt festival, see "Conspiracy theory: Music festival carries subtle Anabaptist flavor."

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