Sunday, April 16, 2006

Where I am now

I have thought for some time that I should explain where I now attend church and some of the influences that have led me(us) in this direction. First, I would like to say that I am a relatively traditional wife and mother. However, I do not mention my immediate family out of respect for their privacy. This does not reflect their relative importance in my life.

Instead, I have decided to explore the Christian influences in my early life. This gives me the freedom to talk about things without getting into the present. It also necessitates my exploring the contribution that an Exclusive Brethren upbringing, combined with an education in Greek and Hebrew throughout high school and university, made to my personal perspective.

To recount my journey from the Darbyite Brethren to the present, briefly, here are a few pivotal events. When I was 16 our family was involved in a split in our Brethren community. Our family and many others left and started our own assembly but eventually we were absorbed into the Open Brethren and the Bible Chapel fellowship.

At the age of 17 I attended university and in 1976 the Anglican Church of Canada first ordained women. I became aware of this through our Inter Varsity group where Dr. Longenecker and some other Anglican professors spoke.

I was always aware that the Brethren had come out of the Anglican church and although we had been taught that they were wrong, I found many cultural similarities. When my great aunt died she left me her Anglican prayer book. She had herself returned to attending the Anglican Church after her husband had been excommunicated from the Brethren.

After university I married and my husband and I moved frequently, living in small towns in different places in Canada, where we attended whatever church was available, Presbyterian, Christian Alliance, etc. My husband was brought up by his missionary parents in North Africa and considers his upbringing to be more or less Presbyterian but also some Brethren.

He tells me that his great aunt, a Plymouth Brethren from Ireland named Eva McCarthy, used to preach in the churches in Macedonia. I look forward to getting more of this story later this summer.

About 15 years ago when my husband and I lived in a northern town for several years, we decided to attend an Open Brethren assembly. This decision was made by both of us.

This was a very traumatic experience in the end. We became aware of 4 woman in that town, 3 in that church, who were being abused by their husbands. All were from very different backgrounds otherwise. The husbands were in 2 cases not Christians. However, the wives, as Christians, were being advised by the elders to stay with their husbands. This teaching was in association with the recommendation to read Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. In the end all of these women were able to leave but not with the help of the church.

We left the church and shortly after moved to Vancouver. Since we have been here, we have been attending an evangelical Anglican church. We have found that some other Brethren have been coming to this church as well, among them some of my distant relatives.

It seems that many of the older Brethren, (although I would call myself middle-aged, not old) prefer the Anglican service and see in it many similarities to the Brethren. Among these are the consistent and chronological reading of the Bible. Then there is the lack of an entertainment style music ministry. Our choir, which is excellent, sings from the choir loft, and there is no attention on individual singers. The ultimate good for our choir members is to have all the voices blend, rather than to have a soloist stand out.

The ministers speak quietly and respectfully and there is little emphasis on personality. That is perhaps the most peculiar thing that I find in some of the more evangelical churches. When too much attention is paid to individual men as preachers or women as singers/speakers, I find that very awkward. I prefer the ritual, quiet, solemn service in which the word is placed at the centre. There is a similar sense of community.

In our church all three ministers are men. However, among the church board men and women serve equally and both pray, read the Bible, and serve communion. Technically we could have a woman minister but we don't, and have only had women as interns from time to time.

Men and women share most tasks in the church. They share catering and greeting, accounting and management. There are both women's and men's ministry, but these seem to be practical arrangements and there is little stereotyping of activities either way.

The word 'complementarian' had not been invented when I grew up in the Brethren. I also doubt that most people my age in our Anglican church would ever have heard of it. They might be aware that some people are more 'traditional' than others, but only in a vague sort of way.

How I tumbled into the gender debate this fall is a story to be told when it becomes ancient history.


Matthew Celestine said...

Thanks for sharing that.

The Anglican churches you have attended sound a lot better than most of those in the UK, especially the more Evangelical ones.

Every Blessing in Christ


Peter Kirk said...

Matthew, there are plenty of good evangelical Anglican churches here in the UK which share most of the characteristics Suzanne has mentioned. I'm sorry that I don't know of one in Worcester, which is quite a way from Chelmsford where I live. But you may not find them acceptable, as you would not find Suzanne's, because they do not use the King James Bible or require worshippers to remove their shoes at the door!

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Do the Brethren in England insist on the KJV? I wasn't aware of that. I did know some KJV only people but only a few. I thought that the Darby Bible could be used for reference and Bible study, we started using it at the age of 12. Hmm. Then the NASB became acceptable in the Open Brethren, at least.

My church now has such a mixture of people but some would like the KJV in theory at least.

Matthew Celestine said...

Most Open Brethren probably use the NIV and other translations. Some Open Brethren are strong on the KJV.

The Taylor Exclusives are Darby-Only, but the minor Exclusive groups use both the KJV and the Darby Bible, with occasional reference to other literal translations.

Every Blessing in Christ