Upside-down kingdom down under
From Amish and Hutterites to a diverse network, Anabaptism draws scattered followers in Australia and New ZealandBy Tim Huber Mennonite World Review
On a handful of islands separating the Indian and Pacific oceans, Anabaptism’s presence is as scattered as the points of land that crest the waves.
The Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand — a network of individuals from a variety of denominations who share interests in a Christ-centered faith, peacemaking and community — gathers far more often electronically than physically.
“We work independently of each other, though we share a common sense of purpose,” said network president Doug Sewell of Sydney. “AAANZ sees itself being part of an emerging network of global Anabaptist networks, such as in South Africa and South Korea.”
An architect, photographer and author, Sewell is also an elder in his Baptist congregation. The group views “Anabaptist” not as a noun but an adjective. In addition to Baptists it includes Anglicans, house churchers and members of intentional communities.
Members include academic theologians, peace activists and Christians who have lost connections with more established churches.
“Membership within our network is not like membership of a church, which often comes with obligations or at least expectations,” he said. “Membership of AAANZ is more about a journey together on a road of discipleship and peacemaking. We are connected by a shared experience, interest and vision.”
Groups work to get together throughout the year. American Mennonite author Michael Hardin is touring Australia and New Zealand from January to May. In 2011 the AAANZ conference took place in Wellington, N.Z.
“Telechats” bring in speakers for conference call meetings, and online communication tools are often used. At the same time, some members are also able to gather more regularly for “table fellowships” typically punctuated with music, food and discussion.
“We see the shared meal experience as being central to life together, in a similar way to how meals were often central to Jesus’ ministry,” Sewell said. “Table fellowships are more than just a house-church worship. Communion can be added on either before, during or after the meal if appropriate. There are no prescriptive rules, just good fellowship.”
Decades of history
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