Blaming Daddy 2-27-57

Monday 2-27-57

Dear Daddy,

Jimmy is right here wanting to know what I’m going to tell Daddy. He is afraid that I will write that he didn’t eat his noodly soup very well — and he didn’t. I might also mention that he had quite a struggle with some beets and sweet potatoes yesterday!

And last night coming home from church, we had some unhappy youngsters because they giggled too much when Leonard Phillips was preaching and they expected a spanking when they got home. I have kept up that rule, but in the conversations last night in the back seat of the car, I was a bit startled. They blame you that they have to eat such foods as sweet potatoes and get spanked after church, etc. I was sorry to hear that, and while I tried to explain that it was not your fault, but their own, they seem to hold the grudge against you. I’m very sorry about that, especially since you are not here to ‘hold your own.’

The mail just came – a half hour early today, so I’ll have to mail this in town this afternoon. And no letter from you. After talking to you on Friday night I expected one today. Well, I have something to hope for tomorrow.

Mr. Phillips is interesting.

That is as far as I got yesterday. Today is a rainy stormy day and the temp is dropping steadily until I suppose it will turn to snow. Spring was nice while it lasted.

Now, for Mr. Phillips again. He has a winsomeness that is winning — but I wonder if some didn’t overlook that because he made several references to the few that were out to the missionary study class the night before. He was there, and was asked to say a few words, though it wasn’t his meeting at all. But the references that he made sounded as though he was personally offended, and still I don’t think that he meant that. Nineteen young people went down to Elkhart to the Youth for Christ meeting and he made reference to the fact that people should stay home and fill the wooden seats instead of running here and there to Elkhart!

His wife told me when we were talking that she hasn’t been going with him, but she guesses that she had to tame him down a little! I think that she was sensitive to the way people might take it. He certainly knows the Word and I did enjoy what he gave, especially his message on John 3:16 in the evening.

[…] I can spend a lot of time trying to scheme ways for you to get home and each time you do, I feel like such a selfish person because I realize anew how much it takes out of you to make the trip. I was laid up two days just making the trip to Kalamazoo! For the last two days I have felt so much better that the whole world looks different.

Now I must close.

All my love and the family’s too

Buying the Farm

The Christian doctrine
of the communion of the saints
is simple, really.
All it says is
that once you buy the farm
you still live on the farm.
All it says is
that those who have gone before us
are still with us.
All it says is
that past generations
still count
and must be taken into account.
In other words,
we’re all in this together.
All of us.

~ Mitch Finley
Whispers of Love

Plymouth Brethren

What do
the missionary Jim Elliot,
the evangelist Luis Palau,
the author Ken Follett,
the poet Luci Shaw,
the entertainer Garrison Keillor,
the Sojourners activist Jim Wallis,
Moody Radio Pastor Don Cole
and I
have in common? 

We were all raised in Plymouth Brethren assemblies. 

My grandpa was Jim Elliot’s Bible Study leader at Wheaton; Jim Wallis’ father was my camp director for all the summers of my youth; Don Cole will always have a warm dwelling in my heart.  His wife Naomi was the first woman to hug me after my mom’s death. My grandpa was an old-time traveling preacher who started dozens of Plymouth Brethren assemblies across America.  My father taught at the assembly Bible College (Emmaus), managed a Bible Camp in the summer, and preached at chapels and conferences.  My brother David is a full time worker at an assembly in Pennsylvania and preaches across the east.  He was even invited to Scotland to preach!  My roots run deep in the Plymouth Brethren.

These are my memories of growing up Plymouth Brethren 30-50 years ago.  Change is a constant; a visit to a PB assembly today will certainly be different.

The Plymouth Brethren are very scholarly.  Their influence on evangelical culture is inescapable. They believe in New Testament principles of the church: a plurality of elders, no clergy/laity (no paid pastor, no membership),  no denominational structure, and women wear head coverings (not every woman does anymore).

The assembly was the center of our family’s culture.  We attended Breaking of Bread and Family Bible Hour on Sunday morning, Gospel Service Sunday night, Prayer Meeting Wednesday night, Awana Thursday night, and Young Peoples on Friday.

The weekly Breaking of Bread service went like this:  Women wore head coverings.  When I was an infant wearing hats was in vogue (think Jackie Kennedy); as I grew older we kept a lace mantilla (black, white, navy or ecru) in the pocket of our Bible holder and bobby pinned that to our hair. Loaners were in the back for visitors.

After we took our place in the pew there was silence.  A man, led by the Spirit, would stand and give out an exhortation, or devotional, or just read some Scripture.  Moments of silence seasoned the time.  When a man called out a hymn, the designated hymn-starter would sing the first phrase and we sang the hymn a capella. Towards the end of the service we would pass a broken loaf of bread (never crackers) and one large silver goblet, a common cup from which we sipped.
Family Bible Hour was similar to a typical evangelical church service.  Hymns (picked out two minutes before the service, scribbled on a torn paper from the bulletin and given to musicians), announcements and a sermon. There was never an offering passed.  With no “pastor” we relied on visiting preachers or preaching from men in our assembly.  What this meant is that each sermon stood alone and wasn’t connected to the sermon before or after. We heard many different styles of delivery, exegesis and application.  

Careful in particulars, Plymouth Brethren strive to maintain their theological distinctives in their speech.  This lends itself to a jargon, with acceptable and forbidden discouraged terminology. 

Movement         instead of              Denomination
Assembly / Chapel                         Church
Elder or Full Time Worker              Pastor
Meeting                                        Service
Fellowship                                     Membership

          Breaking of Bread                          Communion

PBs (we say Peebs as short-hand) stress the different dispensations of history, believer baptism, strong world mission emphasis, serious Bible study, simplicity in worship, and pre-trib rapture.  When my grandfather started tent meetings in a new city he usually began with a Bible study on end times in Revelation.  When it wasn’t Revelation, it was Daniel.

Weak points:
I got the idea that we were the only true Christians.  I was reprimanded at camp for telling a girl who went to a Free Methodist church that Methodists weren’t Christians.  Blech.  Forgive me, girl whose name I can’t remember. I’d say we were ingrown.

Separation from the world was stressed to the point that we often lived within a Christian ghetto (except for  support of government education). It was easy to measure holiness by pharisaical standards: we didn’t drink, smoke, cuss.  With the rapture about to occur any day, we didn’t worry about engaging or improving our culture. 

Knowledge, by itself, is dangerous.  It often bred nitpicky, arrogant attitudes. Being right often trumped other Christian virtues such as love, graciousness, forbearance, sacrifice.  I know that I took pleasure in being smart (or fast at looking up Bible verses) and failed to exhibit wisdom by living out what I knew.

There was an element of patriarchal authority that was disrespectful of women.  There is good patriarchy and bonehead patriarchy; I have seen both exhibited in the Brethren.


I will always be grateful for my upbringing:  for the high view of God, the high view of Scripture, for Jesus Loves Me, for weekly communion, for learning to meditate in silence, for a capella hymns, for regular visits from missionaries, for a heritage of men and women who invested themselves in the care and maintenance of souls.