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London Mennonite Centre: A dream come true
April 7, 2003
Winnipeg, Man.— Through the London Mennonite Centre, Mennonites have been providing an Anabaptist presence in the United Kingdom for almost 50 years.
Vic and Kathy Thiessen and teenage daughters Janelle and Katrina of Edmonton, Alberta have been serving with Mennonite Church Canada Witness since August 2002 at the London Mennonite Centre (LMC). Vic is LMC director and manages a staff of 10, while Kathy is fulfilling a variety of accompanying service roles that have included gardening, hosting and counseling. She also home-schools their two daughters.
The London Mennonite Centre serves as a resource for church leaders to explore how the early Anabaptist model can shape and revitalize the broader Christian church in the United Kingdom. Its programs include a book service, library, teaching program, and conflict transformation training. The Centre ministry, as well as Thiessens in their assignment, are supported by both Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network. The Network administers England ministry on behalf of both mission organizations.
For someone who has always felt drawn to Europe, working at the London Mennonite Centre (LMC) is a dream come true. Vic first discovered the LMC while on a backpacking trip through Europe in 1975, and returned on two subsequent trips.
“Having gained a real appreciation for the LMC and all that it was doing, and having talked with Nelson Kraybill [former program director of the LMC], I had the thought that his was the kind of work I could really enjoy doing,” says Vic.
Though Vic never imagined his dream would ever become a reality, the idea remained in his subconscious. “When my work in Edmonton came to a sudden end and Kathy saw the ad for the LMC position on the same day, it seemed like God had been calling me to this work for a long time,” says Vic.
“The search committee for a new LMC director was impressed by the combination of theological, pastoral and administrative gifts that Vic and Kathy could bring to the Centre,’ says J. Robert Charles, Network’s director for Europe. ‘I think they made an excellent choice.’”
Now into their assignment for six months, Vic and Kathy are finding their ministry at the LMC to be a mix of busyness, fulfillment and opportunity. It has been an “exciting and comforting experience to be enveloped by the community here,” say the Thiessens. The centre has a chapel, a prayer hut, two guest rooms, the Metanoia Book Service, and a library which contains books from a wide variety of Anabaptist writers.
Life at the centre has an “almost sacred yet cozy feel,” according to Kathy. Coffee at 11:00 a.m., prayers at 12:50, and tea at 4:00 are part of the routine. Guests regularly stop by: North American Mennonites in search of overnight accommodations, scholars who wish to use the library, friends from the Wood Green Mennonite Church where the Thiessens worship, or harried city dwellers who wish to find a listening ear or a quiet place to pray. Everyone is accommodated, and if it’s afternoon tea time, everyone is invited to take part.
The LMC offers Cross Currents seminars, held about once a month, make an effort to bring in prominent guest speakers. In March Kathy will be leading a seminar on “Anabaptist Perspectives on Parenting.” Bridge Builders, a mediation training service for British churches, is also headquartered at the LMC and provides regular seminars. Many church leaders have benefited from the training, Vic reports.
As well as contact with other denominations, the LMC staff also desire more interaction with Mennonites on the European continent. Vic is making an effort to network with them. “A recent visit to Germany has convinced me that most German Mennonites have virtually no knowledge of the Mennonite/Anabaptist presence in the UK,” he says. “German leaders are very keen on working more closely with the LMC, and similar requests have come from French, Swiss and Dutch Mennonites.”
Between office management, guest speaking at conferences, ecumenical peace involvements, seminar planning and monthly preaching at the Wood Green Mennonite Church, Vic admits he is finding his workload difficult to keep under control and is “constantly guarding against taking on more than I should.” So the Thiessen family has made an effort to find recreational activities both inside and outside the LMC.
Although language and culture are not the barrier they would be in some other countries, the Thiessens have found life in England to be somewhat of an adjustment. They have learned that Britain is a very expensive place to live. And, says Kathy, “the massive amount of people and cars is bothersome to me, a person who loves the solitude of the country.”
At first the Thiessens mainly explored their own neighbourhood in London, but eventually have ventured out on the tube to see the museums, galleries and tourist attractions that central London has to offer. They have appreciated the fellowship of the small Wood Green Mennonite Church about twenty minutes from the LMC. “We all miss our family and friends in Canada, but on the whole I think our family is quite happy to be here,” says Vic.
Reflecting on the variety of work that he is called upon to do, Vic Thiessen is grateful to be serving in a place he always dreamed of working. “I’m personally thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the marvelous staff of the LMC and to explore with them, and with all European Anabaptists, ways of making Jesus relevant to our postmodern world as we strive to follow him more closely,” he concludes.