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Aug. 20, 2007 issue

Subversive element

Anabaptist ideas sread in Austrailia, creating a new concept of church

By Kenton Glick EMM and MMN

SUTHERLAND, Australia — Traditional Christian churches often are a small and marginalized element within Australian society.

Mary and Mark Hurst, who serve with Mennonite Mission Network and Eastern Mennonite Missions, have been building an Anabaptist network in Australia for more than 20 years.

Mary and Mark Hurst, who serve with Mennonite Mission Network and Eastern Mennonite Missions, have been building an Anabaptist network in Australia for more than 20 years.

But Mary and Mark Hurst, who work with Mennonite Mission Network and Eastern Mennonite Missions, say a “subversive element” is moving through Australian churches. New ideas are spreading across Australian colleges and seminaries.

The Hursts believe this movement has a decidedly Anabaptist flavor. They say it is causing church leaders across Australia to question the usual close connections between faith, Western culture and the world’s power structures.

What the Hursts have done for 20 years in Australia is very different from usual mission work.

“They told us they didn’t need another denomination,” Mary Hurst said. “They had too many already.”

So instead of planting Mennonite congregations, the Hursts articulate Anabaptism through books, seminars and personal contact.

They have helped establish a network of people from a diverse geographic area who embrace Anabaptist beliefs. So far, this approach has thrived.

“We get invited to speak at colleges and seminaries across the country,” Hurst said. “We sell a lot of books and talk with a lot of people.”

The Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand formed in 1995 to keep these networking relationships alive.

At the heart of what Anabaptist Association teaches is not just a liberal social gospel or a peace and justice gospel — although these elements are important. The heart of the group’s conviction is that there is a significant difference between what world Christendom has practiced through the ages and the teachings of Jesus.

“Telling our story and growing the Anabaptist network has been the main focus for 2007 of the [Anabaptist Association],” according to network president Doug Sewell. “I have noticed an impetus across the network for people to be more proactive and to get involved. The emergence of new cells of interest in Christchurch and Auckland is particularly exciting to report. So the circles grow.”

Sewell believes contemporary Anabaptism is emerging as a significant movement for change in Australia.

“Its strength lies in its ability to blend a life of community with the work of reconciliation founded on a faith in Jesus,” Sewell wrote in the June issue of the AAANZ journal. “When Jesus and community and reconciliation are combined, faith becomes whole and engages with the real stuff of life… .

“To broaden and strengthen the network we have agreed to partner more with other groups who share similar values.”

To start with, AAANZ has agreed to partner with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which is seeking to establish an Australasian regional base support-ed by their team from New Zealand.

“Protestantism has traditionally grown by new groups beginning and separating themselves by their distinctions and differences, which has often resulted in divisiveness,” Sewell wrote.

“I see a way forward which will bring strength to the growing network as people from a wide variety of backgrounds connect and discover that we actually share a lot more in common than what we may have first imagined.”

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