From conviction to action in the U.K.

The New Anabaptists: Practices for Emerging Communities by Stuart Murray (Herald Press, 2024)

Following up on his popular book The Naked Anabaptist, Stuart Murray, a church planter and consultant, has written a book that focuses more on practices than on convictions, as the previous book did. He critiques that book, calling the title a misnomer, since there is no such thing as an Anabaptist devoid of cultural influences.

The New Anabaptists focuses on “the embodiment of the Anabaptist vision in post-Christendom societies in neo-Anabaptist communities and initiatives, especially, but not exclusively, in the U.K. in the third decade of the 21st century.” By “neo-Anabaptist” he means “followers of Jesus in contexts without a significant historical Anabaptist or Mennonite presence who have been inspired by the Anabaptist vision.”

What matters is not just holding to these convictions but living them in communities. The book includes chapters by three women leaders who tell of their experience with living this vision.

But first, Murray uses the first six chapters to explore “12 practices that neo-Anabaptists in the U.K. have identified as likely to characterize communities and initiatives that are shaped by the Anabaptist tradition.”

He begins with “starting with Jesus,” rejecting the idea of a flat Bible but focusing on Jesus’ preaching and teaching in interpreting the Bible.

He points out that Anabaptists’ rejection of infant baptism is an invitation to accountability, which is “countercultural in societies that valorize individualism and tolerance.” He calls Communion “an invitation to remember the peacemaking work of Jesus, through which we are not only reconciled to God but to each other.”

In “Multivoiced Church,” Murray discusses worship and biblical interpretation that involves the whole community, not just leaders. He writes, “Reflecting together on the Bible and exploring its application to our communities and our lives is an expression of worship.” Shared leadership and consensual decision-making are also expressions of a multivoiced church. 

He explores accountability and truth- telling: “In post-truth societies, where there is a widespread crisis of trust, communities known to be committed to truth-telling might be a sign of hope.” 

In “Simplicity and Sharing” Murray notes that one in every seven verses in the Gospels addresses the economic implications of discipleship. Jesus clearly teaches that wealth hinders faith and discipleship. “Living simply,” Murray writes, “is an invitation to freedom from anxiety, striving, competition, envy, encumbrances and cupidity.” It also frees us to share more with others. 

“Peaceful Witness” explores nonviolent peacemaking and witness in word and lifestyle. To offset aversion to evangelism, Murray defines mission as “a divine initiative flowing from the heart of a missional God.” We are invited to participate, knowing God is already at work. He notes ways Anabaptists have been involved in peacemaking: restorative justice and forging relationships with other faith communities.

THe final section looks at practices in action, three initiatives taken over the past few years in partnership with the Anabaptist Mennonite Network. Alexandra Ellish relates her initiative, called Incarnate, of church planting. She describes church planting as “the patient work of grassroots relationship building and community engagement in the hope of giving birth to a new Christian community.” Their goal is to form community, not institutions.

Karen Sethuraman leads SoulSpace Belfast, a church-planting initiative in a context where peace and reconciliation are desperately needed. She mentions a survey that showed 80% of people in Northern Ireland are spiritual but less than 30% attend church. They share Anabaptist common practices as they seek to reach some of these people, cooperating with efforts at peace and reconciliation that already exist. “SoulSpace,” she writes, “is simply attempting to recover the Celtic and Anabaptist ways and retell them in a new language, presenting a new approach to worship, practices and the Bible, without much church structure.”

Juliet Kilpin tells of Peaceful Borders, a project of the Anabaptist Mennonite Network that works “to support asylum seekers, refugees and migrants to build communities of mutual support and solidarity that help new arrivals forge successful lives in a new country.” I found this chapter particularly moving, with a wonderful use of detail and storytelling. The writer takes the reader into the complex lives of the migrants and helps feel their challenges.

Murray hopes the book will “extend the application of these practices and identify other important ones.” It provides a hopeful look at emerging communities in the U.K. and calls us to apply such practices in our own context.  


Gordon Houser of North Newton, Kan., is a former editor of The Mennonite.

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