London Mennonite Centre (London, England)
The London Mennonite Centre opened in 1953, though the history of Anabaptism in England extends back to the Reformation, including the burning of two Anabaptists in 1575. The English Baptists influenced continental Anabaptist groups and published an English translation of Martyrs’ Mirror in 1853.
North American Mennonite Central Committee relief work in England during World War II brought John E. Coffman to England in 1940. Relief workers distributed food, clothing and blankets from a large house at 80 Shepherds Hill, Highgate. At the end of the war John Coffman, with his wife Eileen Pells, whom he married in 1943, moved to Canada. They later returned to England, where they engaged in evangelistic work in the heart of London, first at the Finsbury Mission and then, supported by the Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM), at the Free Gospel Hall in Kentish Town.
Because students from the British Empire (especially India and Africa) were having difficulty obtaining housing, MBM decided to open a student residence in London --in Highgate, where there were large houses conveniently near a tube station.
In 1953, for £6,000, MBM purchased 14 Shepherds Hill – just down the road from the former center. Quintus and Miriam Leatherman led the new venture and functioned as parents to generations of students from around the world.
The London Mennonite Fellowship (LMF) met weekly under Quintus’ leadership; it was a chaplaincy to students, but outsiders also came – some were drawn to Mennonite theology and way of life. On Sunday evenings the Leathermans supported the Coffmans at the Free Gospel Hall. After the Leathermans retired in 1969, Menno and Shirley Friesen from Iowa served as directors. Menno had a doctorate in American literature, and brought discussion and intellectual stimulation. Shirley and their three children brought the gift of hospitality. They preserved established traditions in the Centre’s life. Tea-time continued to flourish; loving care and listening were much in evidence; the smells of disparate cuisines continued to mingle. The London Mennonite Fellowsihip continued meeting during this period, but was not a priority.
In 1974 Alan and Eleanor Kreider arrived from Indiana as the new directors. They had been student residents at the Centre for two years in the 1960s. They placed greater emphasis on the Centre’s mission to England. So, assisted by Lesley Mabbett and local Christian English students, they expanded activity at the Centre.
The London Mennonite Fellowship began to preoccupy Centre staff. At the urging of Stephen Longley, the Fellowship in 1976 covenanted to be a congregation explicitly in the Anabaptist tradition. In 1981 it began to grow rapidly. By 1983 the 50 plus attenders overflowed the Centre’s largest room, and the LMF began its journey to find a home, which ended, in 1987, in Wood Green: hence the church’s subsequent name, Wood Green Mennonite Church (WGMC).
The 1980s were politically tense politically. Christians of many denominations began to turn to Mennonites who had been thinking all along about issues of war and violence. At the same time, Anabaptist writings like John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less Cookbook attracted theologians and church leaders. Irish Anabaptist Mike Garde founded Metanoia Book Service by his itinerant promoting, and others built on this initiative. The Centre’s own library grew extensively.
In 1981, the Centre concluded its 28 year ministry to international students. Members of the LMF moved into the Centre in order to live in community and to host the many people who came to use its resources and experience its hospitality. These were intense years in the Centre’s life.
In the 1980s, staff became involved in the larger Christian peace movement, attending and helping organize worship services at nuclear bases. They were increasingly invited to teach and speak. In 1982, Anglican leader John Stott invited Alan Kreider to debate with Lord Cameron, on ‘The Defence Debate.’ This gave the Centre new visibility. Speaking opportunities in Baptist, Anglican, charismatic and evangelical circles came to various members of staff. On one occasion, Wally Fahrer gave a speech that had life-changing impact on inner-city church-planter Stuart Murray.
In 1986 the Centre started its own teaching program – Cross-Currents. Chris Marshall, a New Zealand PhD student in New Testament, co-founded this with Alan and Eleanor Kreider. The program included courses both at the Centre and on the road which popularized Christian discipleship in the Anabaptist tradition. Centre staff and residents also began the discipline of daily corporate prayers, which resulted in 1990 in building a prayer hut designed by Andy Watts.
In 1991 the Kreiders were succeeded as directors by Nelson and Ellen Kraybill. Nelson brought biblical scholarship as an authority on the book of Revelation, while Ellen brought the touch of a physiotherapist and the gift of friendship. The Cross-Currents teaching program continued, as did tea-time, daily prayers and involvement in WGMC. Nelson addressed widely varied audiences. On one occasion he presented an Anabaptist understanding of the gospel in a major conference center, with lights flashing and artificial smoke billowing, to thousands of youthful Jesus Army recruits.
The Anabaptist Network was founded in 1991 in response to the vision of Stuart Murray. This was a network of Anabaptist sympathisers in the United Kingdom which sponsored study groups, a theologians’ group, conferences and a journal. Nelson Kraybill co-edited Anabaptism Today with Stuart Murray.
In 1995 Bridge Builders was launched as a community mediation service, but proved unsustainable on a voluntary basis. With a grant from Mennonite Central Committee, Bridge Builders was re-launched in 1996 with Alastair McKay working a day a week.
In 1996, when the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary called Nelson Kraybill to be its president, the London Mennonite Centre Trust, which took over management of the Centre from Mennonite Board of Missions, invited Mark and Mary Thiessen Nation to be the Centre’s leaders. Mark was a professional theologian and ethicist, and Mary brought experience in inner-city ministry. The core traditions continued: daily prayers, tea time, leaf day, hospitality, encouraging the use of the library and prayer hut, and participation in the WGMC.
Under Mark and Mary, Cross-Currents continued to grow. Increasingly its courses were held at the nearby Cholmeley Evangelical Church – 160 people attended a conference, led by American theologian Stanley Hauerwas. The staff grew to nine, four of whom are English. Bridge Builders’ work was expanding and in 1997 Alastair McKay went for further training in Eastern Mennonite University’s Conflict Transformation Program. When he returned in 1999, Bridge Builders moved into full-time operation.
In 2002, the Thiessen Nations left for academic assignments in Virginia, and the LMC Trust invited Vic and Kathy Thiessen, supported by the Mennonite Mission Network, to provide leadership. During 2004 the decision was taken to cease publication of the journal, Anabaptism Today, after 12 years and 37 issues (the final issue being the November 2004 issue).
In the 2000s financial problems meant the LMC Trust reached a point close to insolvency. In 2010 the London Mennonite Centre, based at 14 Shepherd’s Hill, Highgate, was closed, and the building was sold. The trustees continued to believe that there is both a need and an opportunity to develop the Mennonite witness in the UK and Ireland, especially in the light of the growth of the Anabaptist Network. The proceeds of the sale were invested to provide income future work in developing the Anabaptist and Mennonite witness in the United Kingdom.
Kreider, Alan. “History.” The Mennonite Trust. Web. 17 November 2016. http://menno.org.uk/about-us/history/
|Date Published||November 2016|
Cite This Article
Kreider, Alan. "London Mennonite Centre (London, England)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2016. Web. 23 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=London_Mennonite_Centre_(London,_England)&oldid=154493.
Kreider, Alan. (November 2016). London Mennonite Centre (London, England). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=London_Mennonite_Centre_(London,_England)&oldid=154493.
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