ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — For the last 60 years, the London Mennonite Centre has inspired a new wave of Anabaptism in the United Kingdom.
Located in a large Victorian house that had 35 rooms, the Centre was founded in 1953 in order to be a welcoming place for international students. North American Mennonite workers for Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency for Mennonite Mission Network, saw that international students struggled to find housing in a city where signs said “Europeans only need apply.”
From the start, Mennonites from the United States and Canada have served the Centre as directors and hosts.
Over the years, the London Mennonite Centre has adapted its purpose to fit the changing needs of Anabaptists and Mennonites in London. The work is now carried out by the Mennonite Trust, an organization in the United Kingdom that is not associated with the Mennonite Trust in the United States.
In January, the Mennonite Trust (UK) announced plans to concentrate on its mission to be a representative of the Anabaptist and Mennonite faith tradition in the United Kingdom. They also hired a new administrator for the trust.
“The trust has struggled for the past four years to resolve financial difficulties and to discern its future role,” said Stuart Murray Williams, chair of the trustees and author of The Naked Anabaptist. “Stable finances and clarity about its more limited role in the future will release energy and enable us to focus on doing fewer things really well.”
The trust will:
Work more closely with the Anabaptist Network.
Foster links between UK Anabaptists and European and North American Mennonites. This includes facilitating short-term assignments, exchange visits, and joint initiatives that will bring people who can be resource persons in universities, theological colleges, conferences, study groups, and churches.
Sell one of the mission houses that the trust still owns. A ministry house in Birmingham will be a base for the trust, where Mike and Cheryl Nimz, mission workers with Mennonite Church Canada, will live and be involved in the ministry of the Anabaptist movement.
Move the Mennonite Trust library to Bristol Baptist College, in connection with a new Centre for Anabaptist Studies that is emerging within the college.
Financially support several Anabaptist-oriented organizations, communities and activities.
“The wider Anabaptist movement [in the United Kingdom] grew out of the ministry of the London Mennonite Centre,” said Murray Williams. “It seems appropriate, now that this movement is indigenous, that the Mennonite Trust should play a supportive role, pursuing its original goals in partnership with others.”
Tending the Mennonite seeds in London
In 1974, Alan and Eleanor Kreider were sent by Mennonite Board of Missions, to be directors of the London Mennonite Centre.
During their 17-year ministry at the Centre, they worked to increase the recognition and impact of Anabaptist Christianity in the United Kingdom.
“We were initially a small community, and pretty isolated, so we needed to find friends and allies,” said Alan.
The Kreiders brought in English students to live at the residence with the international students. This helped the student house become less isolated from the English. However, by 1981, the Centre ended its ministry to students because universities now had residence halls and laws prevented racial discrimination, so international students no longer needed alternative housing.
Members of the London Mennonite Fellowship, which later became Wood Green Mennonite Church, a church that had been started by student residents, moved into the empty student rooms. The intentional community continued to welcome guests and housed an Anabaptist library. By 1983, the church had outgrown the Centre’s largest room and began meeting elsewhere.
“[The Centre] became a Mennonite embassy because it was an information center,” said Eleanor.
Whenever anyone would ask Eleanor about Mennonites or the Centre, she would invite them to the daily tea at 4 p.m. where they could learn from the various residents.
“The Centre’s staff were unapologetic in identifying themselves to visitors as Mennonite Christians, and we welcomed people into an explicitly Mennonite setting,” said Alan.
After the student ministry ended, the Kreiders focused their energy on the life of the church and the teaching program they started at the Centre.
The Centre’s teaching program also began to travel, as the Kreiders and others responded to invitations to make presentations to groups in many Christian traditions. “Our primary concern was to give people new ways of thinking biblically that lead to radical action,” said Alan. Most frequently, they were asked to talk about discipleship and peace.
Interest in Anabaptism increased in the 1980s, and the Kreiders became part of a group called the Radical Reformation Study Group. This was an ecumenical group of church leaders who studied Anabaptism.
As the group got bigger, Murray Williams suggested they invite others to form a broader network, called the Anabaptist Network. With this larger group, they held a national conference, started more study groups, and published a journal.
To explain why a project started by people from the London Mennonite Centre didn’t explicitly refer to Mennonites, Eleanor said, “The mission philosophy at [Mennonite Mission Network] was to have Mennonites come in and help what was already happening. It was not to put the Mennonite name on things, but to assist behind the scenes.”
She said that it was always clear that the London Mennonite Centre was Mennonite, but that it was only one of the strands of Anabaptism.
In 1991, the Kreiders left the director position and began to teach and write at various universities in the United Kingdom. They continued their involvement in the Anabaptist Network. Nelson and Ellen Kraybill succeeded them as directors of the London Mennonite Centre.
By 2010, the London Mennonite Centre was closed and the house was sold to help fund the Mennonite Trust, so that the trust could continue to support the Anabaptist movement in the United Kingdom.
“The Mennonite Trust is a witness to the Mennonite strand of Anabaptism,” said Eleanor. “There isn’t a Mennonite Centre like there used to be, but the Anabaptist presence is now more widespread than it was.”
“For example, the Mennonite Trust and Urban Expression, that sponsors urban church planting, are two of the organizations that are part of the Anabaptist Network of Organizations. And there are people in many parts of England and Scotland who are active in the Anabaptist Network study groups.”
The focused goals of the Mennonite Trust outlined earlier this year demonstrate their continued support for the Anabaptist movement in the United Kingdom. Murray Williams said that the Mennonite Trust shares the Anabaptist Network’s goal to increase the involvement of younger people in the movement.