Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Life amongst the Plymouth Brethren

There were those open air meetings on Saturdays and Sundays.

We would take to the streets, armed with tracts (gospel leaflets), bibles, hymnals (“Sankey’s Sacred Song and Solos anyone?), sometimes a very small and portable harmonium, strong voices and even stronger convictions,

Then we would form a circle, and the singing and preaching would begin.  A wee bit away from the circle some brethren would “lurk” to hand out tracts to passers-by.

I remember open air meetings at St. George’s Park (a mile or so from Chelsea Gospel Hall), at the new Lawrence Weston Housing estate, and on Abingdon Road, just down the street from Abingdon Gospel Hall.

The preachers needed strong voices, or the ability to bellow.  The message would always be the same.  It was the “message of salvation” – “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”.

The aim was honourable.  For the brethren (in common with most evangelical christians) believe that those who had not accepted Christ were doomed to eternal hell.  What better thing to do than to save some soul from perdition.

Who knows if any good soul heard and believed the message?

It’s more than likely that we were viewed as religious fanatics, or “bible thumpers”.

In the end that did not matter in the brethren scheme of things.  What mattered is that we were being faithful.

As a “keen young brother” I participated in such meetings in order to give witness.  Indeed when I was in my late teens I even preached (having then, as now, a strong and loud voice).
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In the summer we would have Saturday afternoon open air meetings in villages near Bristol.  I remember being in Clutton, Pensford, and Wrington  (three villages in north Somerset).

In this “village ministry” the format would be a bit different.  We would begin by “tracting” - that is: visiting as many homes as we could and delivering a “gospel tract”.  (I cannot recall whether we rang door bells and asked if the resident/s would like to talk, or whether we simply shoved the tracts through letter boxes).

Then we would retire to the local gospel hall for “tea” - sandwiches, cakes and hot tea, followed by an earnest prayer meeting, and then the public preaching in the open air.

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None of this did me much harm.

But  I  remember feeling a bit embarrassed or sheepish at those open air meetings.

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P.S.  Please do not tell the Brethren, but I no longer believe in an eternal hell (and I am not so sure about an eternal heaven).


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