Chester Anabaptist Study Group
One of the things that I was looking forward to about my sabbatical leave was the opportunity to meet with a number of the regional study groups of the Anabaptist Network up and down the country; there are about fourteen of them, although some are dormant at the moment. Alas, it was not to be; for one reason or another, in most cases it has not been possible for me to get together with these regional groups. So it was a special treat for me last night to meet with the Cheshire Anabaptist Study Group, meeting in the Friends Meeting House at Cheadle Hulme, under the gentle and capable guidance of its convener, Brian Haymes.
About twelve people gathered, some of them newcomers like me; they were mainly Baptist and house church folk, with one Roman Catholic and myself making up the small-c ‘catholic’ side of Christianity. We each introduced ourselves, and Brian gave a special welcome to me as ‘the one who was least likely to come back!’ We then went right into a study of chapter four of the book A Culture of Peace, by Alan and Ellie Kreider and Paulus Widjaja, which deals with ‘Peace in the Church’. We discussed the story of Dirk Willems and what it has to say to us about peacemaking today, and we talked about what we can do as churches to train people in the reflex of loving and forgiving their enemies.
A little later in the evening we looked at the key passage on reconciliation in the church, Matthew 18:15-20. Our study book pointed out that this passage assumes that there will be conflict in the church. When it happens, we are to go privately to our sister or brother, without gossiping or involving anyone else in the process as yet. The aim is for listening to take place, and indeed it is possible and desirable that this be two-waylistening. If no listening takes place, we are to treat the offender as a tax collector or a Gentile – usually interpreted to mean excluding them, but the authors point out that Jesus’ way of treating tax collectors and Gentiles was to continue to reach out to them!!!
One thing especially struck me – the last verse, in which Jesus promises that where two or three are gathered in his name he is there among them. Brian asked, “How would we talk to one another in these situations if we knew that Jesus was there with us?”
We shared with one another our struggles with this passage, and a couple of us admitted that, being afraid of conflict, we didn’t find it easy to obey Jesus here. I reflected that a lot of trouble has come to me in my ministry because I have not followed the clear and simple instructions Jesus gives here. If I am to be serious about being a disciple in the Anabaptist tradition – in which peace and reconciliation figure so prominently – I have to stop thinking about this and start putting it into action.
All in all it was a very worthwhile discussion. We closed the evening with prayer and then a few minutes of friendly conversation before we went on our way. For me it was a wonderful experience of Christian fellowship amongst disciples who gathered together to discuss putting their Christian faith into practice. My evening with the Cheshire Anabaptist Study Group will stand out, I think, in a very simple and straightforward way, as one of the highlights of my sabbatical leave.