Our History

A vision

Bridge Builders grew out of a vision that developed at the London Mennonite Centre (LMC): churches should have a culture of peace.

From its founding in the 1950s, the LMC relied on steady support received from North American partners. In particular, the Mennonite Board of Missions, and then its successor bodies (the US Mennonite Mission Network and the Mennonite Church of Canada’s Witness), sent gifted and energetic missionary and volunteer staff. From 1976 to 1990, Directors Alan and Eleanor Kreider shaped the LMC into a resource centre for British churches. Successive Directors encouraged programmes that would promote a culture of peace.

Although the LMC closed in 2011, its role of sharing Mennonite ideas and practices is continued by the Mennonite Trust.

Visit The Mennonite Trust >

An idea

The original inspiration for Bridge Builders was a three-day mediation skills course led by Ron Kraybill at the LMC in February 1994.

The course was attended by Alastair McKay (then Chair of the LMC Trust and Council) and Nelson Kraybill (then LMC Director), who were also elders in the Wood Green Mennonite Church (WGMC).

Alastair and Nelson drew together a small group of interested participants at the end of the course who later established a voluntary community mediation service in the London Borough of Haringey, launched in February 1995.  The initiative closed in around November that year because it proved unviable: those involved were over-committed, and trying to do it in their spare time.  Throughout the second half of 1995, Alastair and Nelson explored the possibility of establishing a project focussed on serving the church, that was complementary to the LMC’s wider ministry.

A new service

In its current form, Bridge Builders (BB) was founded as a service of the LMC in January 1996 by Alastair and Nelson, with an initial grant from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Europe.

Alastair was employed one-day a week by the LMC, while continuing to work four days a week for central UK government.  At the end of 1996 Nelson left the LMC to become President of a Mennonite seminary in the USA, and in August 1997 Alastair went to study in the US to equip himself better for future work with BB.
From July 1997 until September 1999, BB was led by Mary Thiessen Nation (one of the then LMC Director couple) and Andrew Lewis-Smith (a family therapist, and member of WGMC) who was employed one-day a week to cover during Alastair’s absence.  They were supported by input from others, including Tim Foley, then the part-time paid elder with the WGMC.

During his studies in the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, Alastair was shaped by the teaching of Ron Kraybill, John Paul Lederach andHoward Zehr (among others), and then, during a seven-month internship at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, through learning from the example of Richard Blackburn andBob Williamson, the LMPC directors.

A full-time service

In September 1999, Alastair returned to the UK and took up appointment as full-time Director of BB, initially on a one-year contract. The contract was subsequently renewed and later made permanent.

Over the following years BB was further shaped by collaboration with a small group of North American Mennonite trainers: Richard Blackburn, Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, David Brubaker and Kirsten Zerger, and also by interaction with David Augsburger, Mennonite educator and writer, and Speed Leas, a Presbyterian and the “dean” of church consultants at the Alban Institute.

Invaluable support came from the LMC Directors Mark and Mary Thiessen Nation (1997-2002), followed by Vic Thiessen (2003-2009), and also from members of the BB Advisory Group (formed in 2000, and operational until the end of 2009, when it transformed into the BB Management Group). A small group of individuals also supported BB with prayer and financial gifts.

An expanding team

As the work of BB flourished, new staff were added to the team.

Charletta Erb, a North American Mennonite volunteer, joined in January 2004, as the first Bridge Builders’ Assistant. Colin Patterson, an Anglican priest and adult educator, was appointed in October 2005, as full-time Assistant Director.  Charletta was succeeded by other young North American Mennonites, initially by Sharon Kniss in July 2006, who completed a three-year term up until June 2009.  Sharon was followed in September 2009 by Sam Moyer, who came as a missionary supported by the Mennonite Mission Network.

An independent charity

In August 2011, BB was formally separated from the LMC, at the same time as the LMC closed.

A new registered charitable company, Bridge Builders Ministries, was set up to support the continuing work. BB’s London office moved to a room at St. Peter-le-Poer Church in Muswell Hill and Michelle Power was appointed as Office Manager.