Jun 22, 2017

What life is like in the mysterious and powerful religious sect founded in Plymouth

Herald Miles 
Plymouth Herald
June 18, 2017

A powerful new memoir has been released that lifts the lid on life within one of the world's biggest religious communities - which has its roots in Plymouth.

Rebecca Stott, Professor of English Literature at the University of East Anglia, has written a personal account of what it was like growing up within The Exclusive Brethren - which she describes as 'one of the most reclusive and savage Protestant sects in British history'.

Her great-grandmother, Ada-Louise, a member from birth, had been placed in an asylum by her fervent husband because she was an epileptic and 'too wilful'. She emerged 40 years later talking incessantly, singing hymns at the top of her voice, ready to alert local shopkeepers to the perils of the Whore of Babylon.

Plymouth is one of the founding homes of the Brethren movement, which has more than 40,000 members spread across the globe.

It's described as a conservative, nonconformist, Evangelical sect of the Christian faith and was first practiced in Dublin in the 1800s before quickly relocating to the South West.

Two groups still operate in Plymouth to this day, with further brethren organisations dotted across the country and abroad.

But how much do you know about Plymouth Brethren and its beliefs? Did you know they're expected to attend church up to three times a day and often have their own schools? No, nor did we.

Here's a run through of their practices and beliefs.

Who are the Plymouth Brethren?

The Plymouth Brethren are a conservative, low church, nonconformist, Evangelical Christian movement whose history can be traced to Dublin, Ireland in the late 1820s, originating from Anglicanism.

What do Plymouth Brethren believe in?

Among other beliefs, the group emphasises sola scriptura, the belief that the Bible is the supreme authority for church doctrine and practice over and above "the mere tradition of men".

Brethren generally see themselves, not as a denomination, but as a network of like-minded independent churches.

image: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/images/localworld/ugc-images/276351/binaries/brethren4.png

Why is it named after Plymouth if it was founded in Dublin?

The origins of the Brethren are usually traced to Dublin, Ireland, where several groups of Christians met informally to celebrate the Lord's Supper together in 1827–8.

Believers in the movement felt that the established Church of England had abandoned or distorted many of the ancient traditions of Christendom, following decades of dissent and the expansion of Methodism and political revolutions in the United States and France.

To get away from the sectarianism of dissenters, people in the movement wanted simply to meet together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ without reference to denominational differences.

The first meeting in England was held in December 1831 in Plymouth. The movement soon spread throughout the United Kingdom and by 1845, the assembly in Plymouth had more than 1,000 people in fellowship.

They became known as "the brethren from Plymouth" and were soon simply called "Plymouth Brethren".

What makes Brethren any different to normal Christians?

Plymouth Brethren don't use computers in their personal lives and they don't own televisions.

Bizarrely, they are only permitted to marry on a Tuesday but are expected to attend church every day.

On a Sunday, they attend church up to three times.

When it comes to family life, men are expected to work while married women stay at home.

Girls are also expected to wear skirts and their hair down, with a bow of some sort or hair piece attached.

Brethren are also encouraged to set up their own businesses while children usually attend Brethren-only schools.

There is a Brethren-only school situated in Foulston Avenue, Barne Barton.

Some of the more hardline Brethren groups also refuse to eat among non-members or strangers.

They believe only those formally recognised as part of that or an equivalent assembly should break bread.

Why are women expected to wear a head piece?

Scripture states that any woman caught praying with an uncovered head causes herself shame.

That's why Brethren women wear head scarves while attending church services, though it is common for Brethren ladies to wear a ribbon or headband when out amongst the general public.

Can anyone become a Brethren?

The majority of members are born into the church. However, those without a family connection can choose to join by meeting with a local group.

Where in Plymouth do the Brethren still operate?

There is one worship centre situated in Brest Road, Derriford, and another in Lower Compton Road, Compton.


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