We should have been Methodists. Mum and Dad met at Eastville Methodist Church (long since gone), and sang together in the Church Choir. There they were wed and there my older sisters, my twin sister and I were baptised.
When World War II came along Dad longed to serve in the Army. But to his immense disappointment he was given a very low medical grade since he was blind in one eye. So he stayed on the home front, worked as a plumber, and did service as a fire-watcher during the blitz.
He was employed by Mr. Ernest Cox (more about him later), and was once taken to Court and fined as he had left a light on in Mr. Cox’s workshop during the “blackout”.
And, as the lore goes, he, as one of the few fit young men, would go to the Methodist Church every Saturday to fire up the coal boiler for heat, and get there early on Sunday mornings to stoke and re-fuel it.
And he got ticked off at the Church for what he perceived as a lack of gratitude. And stopped attending.
So although I was baptised at Eastville Methodist Church in July 1944, by the time I had firm memories, my parents were not Church-goers.
But “the children must be sent to Sunday School”, and by the time I was 3 or 4 we were attending Chelsea Gospel Hall, a meeting room for the Plymouth Brethren.
Memory is so wonderful, and even as I was writing this I remembered the name of my first Sunday School teacher - Miss Kethro.
In the early fifties these local Plymouth Brethren held a preaching campaign in a tent on Chelsea Road. The evangelist was a Welshman, Mr. Handel Evans, and Mum and Dad were persuaded by my older sisters to attend.
First Mum was “saved” and then Dad. They were re-baptised by immersion.
But in that “Assembly” (as the Brethren named their local Churches), there was a probationary period between baptism and full membership (“being in fellowship” we called it).
Mum took that second step, but Dad never did. He was a heavy smoker and told me once that he would not received Communion as his “lips would besmirch the (common) chalice“).
( But here is the irony. At his funeral in 1974 at a Baptist Church, the service leaders were a Plymouth Brethren Elder (yes Mr. Ernest Cox) , a Baptist Minister and an Anglican Priest! And that Anglican Priest, now the Bishop of Southwell, U.K. brought Communion to my Dad when he was so very sick, and just before he died).
But we were now, for all intents and purposes, Plymouth Brethren.
If I wrote all I know about the Brethren it would have to be in a book.
But for now if you “Google” Plymouth Brethren; or some of the early leaders - Benjamin Wills Newton; John Nelson Darby; S.P. Tregelles (a noted scholar of the Greek New Testament); and George Mueller (or Muller) you’ll get the drift.
c/f also Garrison Keilor who was raised in the Brethren (he calls them the “Sanctified Brethren”)
But for now - about the Plymouth Brethren (or Peebs, which we called ourselves) - a few comments.
1. Local assemblies are led by lay (male) “Elders” who are not elected, but “emerge” from the congregation.
2. Each local Assembly is reckoned to be autonomous.
3. Sunday morning gatherings are always the “Breaking of Bread” (Communion) with a whole loaf and fermented wine, shared from lovely silver patens and chalices.
4. Those who are not “in fellowship” sit at the back of the congregation, separated from the main body. (Shades of a catechumenate!) In my Assembly there were sign boards mounted on the backs of chairs, indicating where those not in fellowship should sit. Hence we called it “sitting behind the boards”.
5. Brethren eschew Creeds.
6. Brethren often believed that they were the “true Church”. “Yes“, they would say, “there are probably true Christians in denominations“, (which we called “The Systems” for they were “systems of men, not true Churches) , “but when they receive the true light of God’s Word they will join us”.
7. “Brethrenism” through J. N. Darby, was the font of that noxious doctrine called “Dispensationalism “ the source of those heretical “Left Behind” books. Many was the Prophetic Conference I attended in my youth.
8. Brethren have/had a significant missionary, evangelism and children’s and youth ministries.
Well, “enough already” for today. Tomorrow I’ll record some plusses and minuses about growing up in the Brethren.
But do please comment if you are reading this stuff! Am I blogging into a vacuum?