LONDON (Mennonite Mission Network) – Some 40 people gathered for an afternoon of English tea and hospitality in the garden of London Mennonite Centre to celebrate 10 years of ministry by the center’s Bridge Builders program.
The celebration included an afternoon of worship, singing and reflections by participants on the significance of the ministry.
“Peacemaking … is such an important thing for churches, including those in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition,” said Alan Kreider, who served as LMC director from 1974-1991.
“I see God’s peacemaking as something that radiates out into all aspects of life – it is not simply a ‘no’ to killing, it’s a profound ‘yes’ to wholeness,” Kreider told the group. “We can’t make peace and justice out there if we are not experiencing justice and peace in our own lives and churches.”
Inaugurated in January 1996, Bridge Builders was launched under the joint leadership of Nelson Kraybill, then director of LMC, and Alastair McKay, current Bridge Builders director. Originally created to train and educate Christian leaders and church members in Great Britain for healthier churches, it has since added mediation and consultancy services.
In 10 years of ministry, Bridge Builders has trained more than 2,500 participants from a wide range of Christian denominations, through workshops and weeklong mediation skills courses, and also has led many mediation and consultancy cases. In addition, 400 people have become part of Bridge Builders’ Network, which offers ongoing support to church leaders.
In addition to sharing by those who were present, there were cards on display from those unable to attend.
“Congratulations! I describe the one-week course on transformative mediation as a week that changed my life – and as the best educational experience I have ever had!” wrote an Anglican priest from northern England. “I am looking for this understanding of conflict and mediation to spread more widely in my area.”
A senior church leader wrote: “There is now such a positive sense of conflict resolution being possible at last – in no small measure due to the prayerful and godly work of Bridge Builders.”
There were presentations by Peter Price, Anglican bishop of Bath and Wells and a Baptist senior regional minister from Yorkshire, and by Richard Blackburn, director of Lombard (Ill.) Mennonite Peace Center. Recorded messages were sent by Nelson Kraybill, now president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and Mary Thiessen Nation, now at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. Both served for several years at LMC.
The celebration also marked a time of transitions. Charletta Erb, trainer and mediator through Mennonite Mission Network, reflected on her 2½ years serving with Bridge Builders. Her newly arrived successor, Sharon Kniss, attended the gathering to gain an overview of Bridge Builders’ work.
Bridge Builders is a program of the London Mennonite Centre, opened in 1953 by Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. The center is jointly supported by Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness through staff and financial aid. Mennonite Central Committee provides a grant that helps fund Bridge Builders.