HARRISBURG, Pa. — Mennonite peace workers from around the world huddled in a tent July 24 at the Mennonite World Conference assembly to dream of a global Anabaptist peace network. Though many advocated for concrete steps to make that dream a reality, for now it remains something less.
MWC already has similar global networks focused on missions and service. Outgoing MWC Peace Commission secretary Jack Suderman of Canada led the meeting and said such a peace network would be intended to facilitate interaction among peacemakers from around the world.
There are several Anabaptist peace organizations around the world, in addition to an estimated 10,000 MWC member congregations that can be agents of God’s peace in their immediate vicinities. A peace network would provide an opportunity to share stories and practices, successes and failures, in both physical settings and online.
Suderman said one concern is whether it will be financially possible to not only start such a network but sustain it long term. Since the 1970s there have been efforts to establish a global peace organization, but none survived very long.
“Our budget for the entire Peace Commission for the entire year is $5,000,” he said. “You can begin to do the calculations to determine what our capacity is for travel, for meetings, for personnel. So that becomes a very real concern for us as well.”
Suderman said it makes sense for MWC to orchestrate such a network. A pre-assembly survey of peace institutions showed wide interest in a global network. It also asked if those institutions would help fund it.
“Almost unanimously the answer was ‘no’ or ‘I’d rather not,’ ” he said. “So that gives rise to our suspicion that MWC has the capacity to be the institutional home.”
For several meeting attendees, that answer wasn’t good enough.
“We started this discussion three years ago, and I think it’s clear with all of us that we want this network,” said Fernando Enns of Germany, pressing Suderman and the Peace Commission to introduce a clear proposal rather than potential focuses and vague framework ideas. “ . . . I would assume there is also consensus that MWC should also be that instrument. The next question is obviously how do we make that happen?
“For us Mennonites it has never been the first question. The first question is what do we want to do? Let’s go start it, and then we will find the funds.”
Others shared Enns’ optimism.
“I have been working with Mennonite agencies and institutions most of my life,” said David Shenk of Eastern Mennonite Missions’ Christian Muslim Relations Team. “I would be hard-pressed to remember any time when there has been a shortage of funds when a vision has clearly been defined.”
Suderman expressed an interest instead in sharing ideas about what a network could look like, perhaps what location might be willing to give it a space to operate and who would pay for it.
“If there is a way of resolving that particular question in a way that is reasonable, it makes a lot of sense for MWC to be that institutional home,” Suderman said. “So far we have no proposal and we don’t have a lot of optimism that we have a plan to overcome that [lack of financial] momentum.”
Conrad Grebel University College Centre for Peace Advancement director Paul Heidebrecht said one path forward could be the Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival the institution will host June 9-12, 2016.
“We think this could be a helpful vehicle not only for sharing stories … but also to wrestle with the question of how to move forward with the peace commission,” he said, offering the center’s “peace incubator” to help explore what could take shape for MWC.