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Last updated April 23.

April 30, 2012 issue

Upside-down kingdom down under

From Amish and Hutterites to a diverse network, Anabaptism draws scattered followers in Australia and New Zealand

By 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.

Michael Hardin of Lancaster, Pa., author of <em>The Jesus-Driven Life</em>, speaks with a group from the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand on Feb. 4 in Parramatta Park in Sydney. The talk was part of his tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Michael Hardin of Lancaster, Pa., author of The Jesus-Driven Life, speaks with a group from the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand on Feb. 4 in Parramatta Park in Sydney. The talk was part of his tour of Australia and New Zealand. — Photo by Doug Sewell

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

continued on next page »

Comments

  • To date this would have to be the most honest appraisal of the Anabaptist scene in Australia. I am heartened that the Mennonite Church of Hope, where I was baptized before my transition, is mentioned.

    I am left wondering why it took sooo long to acknowledge the various Anabaptist groups in Australia. I spent a lot of time telling people about the other Anabaptists groups and these were people who knew nothing about Anabaptists other than the AAANZ.

    Though while I was with the Beachy Amish they did not seem particularly interested in making contact with members of the AAANZ.

    - Erika Fels (apr 24 at 3:41 a.m.)

  • I should have mentioned that I now feel much more at peace with the AAANZ now that they have openly acknowledged the other groups. I hope now that the AAANZ will direct people to these other groups once they have appreciated the theological orientation, (conservative/ progressive) of those who contact them. As a traditionalist I would have appreciated being referred to those who shared my conservative view of the Bible, rather than discovering them by 'accident'.

    - Erika Fels (apr 24 at 4:54 p.m.)

  • Great to see this article on Anabaptism in Australasia.

    Erika, I'm the editor of the AAANZ journal, and would be interested in discussing the possibility of an article on whatever group you are now involved in. You can contact me at nathanhobby at gmail.com.

    - Nathan Hobby (apr 26 at 10:59 p.m.)

  • I became interested in Anabaptism in 1980 after spending three months in a Cambodian refugee camp and I met a guy who came to spend a night or two with us who was a Mennonite from Lancaster. I ended up writing to the Mennonite Uni in Virginia and being put in contact with the Brouwers and met the Erbs (Wilbur and Lois) from Harrisonburg, Va., who were helping out at the church. I enjoyed my visits to Mennonite Church of Hope but it was never viable to attend as it was too far away. I am in receipt of the AAANZ newsletter and this article has been interesting to see that various Anabaptist groups now exist in Oz. Anabaptism is unlikely to ever become a denomination here but its influence has been significant across denominations

    - Eddie Ozols (apr 27 at 6:22 a.m.)

  • For those Australians who are wishing to become baptised Mennonites in Australia via the Mennonite Church of Hope, please be informed that this is no longer possible as

    "Pastor Foppe Brouwer is no longer performing baptisms, weddings and etc or the signing of these documents as he longer holds the licence to perform these items" This is per an email from Anne McQueen – Mennonite Church of Hope.

    - Erika Fels (may 10 at 2:18 p.m.)

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