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Building bridges for 10 years

   
 


Will Newcomb (right foreground), director of Metanoia Book Service at the London Mennonite Centre, chats with a group of participants about Bridge Builders.

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July 14, 2006
-by Alastair McKay with Ann Graham Price

London, England – 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 centre’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 Centre. 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.

Vic Thiessen, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker and director of LMC, observes that Bridge Builders, as a ministry of LMC, is the only organization in the UK specializing in church conflict transformation. “Because of this, [we] been able to introduce the work of the London Mennonite Centre to the hundreds of church leaders from every denomination who have been trained by Bridge Builders. The leaders get our mailings, buy our books and begin to share Mennonite ideas (perhaps without even realizing it) with their congregations.”

Thiessen says the demand for Bridge Builders training and services continues to exceed what LMC can provide. “My prayer for the future would be that Bridge Builders finds a way to manage its growth,” he said, adding that the work outstrips what three full-time staff plus office support can offer.

The London Mennonite Centre opened in 1953 by Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, and 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.