They have quietly practiced their Christian values of peace, justice, simplicity and mutual aid since leaving the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. But in an increasingly secular society, have Mennonites finally had their day?
That’s a relevant question this weekend, as the last British congregation in the Anabaptist group is due to hold its last Sunday service. After weekly attendance fell to around 12 people, Wood Green Church in north London said it had decided that the pursuit of collective worship was ultimately not sustainable.
Instead, the only surviving British branch of the Mennonites is to continue their mission through an online “virtual network” – a move unlikely to meet the approval of more conservative denomination members in the regions. rural United States and Canada, who, like the Amish, are known to reject technology and dress only in the most sober clothes in their quest for simplicity.
While closing the church may seem like the end of the road for British Mennonites, the denomination will always be known for its contribution to maintaining world peace. The remaining one million members of the group spread their key message of pacifism by helping with disaster relief efforts and in war zones – some paying for their dedication with their lives.
One of them was Glen Lapp, killed in Afghanistan alongside nine other aid workers in 2010. The 40-year-old worked for the Mennonite Central Committee, distributing medical aid to the local population. A month before he was killed, he wrote that he saw his role as “treating people with respect and love” in a part of the world where such things were absolutely necessary.
The Mennonite Disaster Service, another network of volunteers that began in 1950, is also trying to realize the denomination’s long-standing commitment to “mutual aid.” Its members respond to hurricanes, storms and other natural disasters across North America, helping residents clean and rebuild their homes.
Mennonites get their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who converted to the Anabaptist faith and made it known in the 16th century. Separating from the Catholic Church because of their belief that only adults could decide to follow Jesus and be baptized voluntarily, many early disciples were persecuted, tortured, and killed.
Tim Foley, administrator of the UK Mennonite Trust, said some Mennonites played a role during the unrest in Northern Ireland, with missionaries joining with other church groups to help local residents organize community mediation services and help to sow the seeds of peace.
“Overall it’s a very small denomination, but it strikes above its weight with peace and justice in the world, often in a hidden way,” he said. “When they got to Northern Ireland, they trained locals in mediation and let them take it over. They did not insist on building institutions here.
One of the last remaining British Mennonites is Veronica Zundel, 63, of Muswell Hill in north London, who joined the Wood Green congregation with her husband two decades ago after the couple became “frustrated” by the teachings of their Anglican church. She was drawn to the church’s emphasis on justice, peace, and advocacy – as well as the lack of an obvious hierarchy.
“I felt it was a church for adults,” she said. “We trusted the congregation to form an opinion on things. The sermons were meant to help us think, rather than telling us what to think. It was very open and honest.
However, she said maintaining regular Sunday services has become difficult. “We just don’t have enough able-bodied, able-bodied members to keep the show on the road. That’s not to say we’re not going to continue – we’re starting with a closed Facebook group, but we’re hoping to set up a virtual network for people in the UK who identify as Mennonites. “Mennonites in exile,” if you will. “
Ms. Zundel pointed out that only very conservative Mennonites still avoided technology. But members still appreciate simplicity, encouraging recycling and environmentalism and fighting excessive consumerism. Many are vegetarians.
According to Mr. Foley, the general “modesty” and “humility” of the Mennonites means that its members have never been very good at evangelism or aggressively starting new churches – which may partly explain its decline. UK. Ms Zundel agreed, “It’s ironic that our closure has generated so much interest when our existence has not,” she said.