My first steps were baby steps in the arms of one of my loving parents. I was born into a Christian family. My parents loved both God and each other, and continue in that love to this day. I am the fourth and youngest child; my two oldest brothers, Eric and Ryan, and my older sister, Lori, preceded me. When I was about four or five years old, I remember praying with my Dad what must have been my "salvation prayer." Honestly, I don't remember all that I said. I remember my Dad being happy. Though I was little aware of it, I had another Father who was also very happy on that day. With the understanding and faith of a child, I had entered into a relationship with Jesus that I would grow into as I became more aware of Him and the world around me.
My family belonged to a group of Christians called by others, "the Plymouth Brethren." Those within the gathering preferred no title, but accepted it reluctantly as a simple way of identification. Based on my experience of about fourteen years in Plymouth Brethren (PB), I came to define certain characteristics of PB which seemed to set them apart from other Christian groups I encountered in later years.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and does not define the theology of PB as much as the structure of PB. PB share the core orthodox theological beliefs of Christendom; in other words, they do preach the gospel! However, I rarely remember any unbelievers attending our meetings.
I lived a sheltered life when I was young. I remember once asking my mom whether the people who went to a church we were driving by were Christians or not. "Well, I suppose some of them might be," she replied, "but they have ordained clergy, which isn't Biblical."(paraphrase) Here, the conversation ended, for at my young age I lacked the knowledge to respond. However, this small excerpt from my childhood years sums up my early view of those "worldly people" who did not belong to our particular group of Plymouth Brethren. While I and my siblings attended public school and made friends there, we were not allowed to go over to their houses or have them come to ours. The reasoning (supposedly) was to protect us from bad influences; the idea I internalized was that evil overcomes good, and therefore all encounters with evil must be avoided. The absence of TV or radio in our lives further supported this idea. My friendships in school were affected by my belief that PB were somehow "better" than unbelievers and even other non-PB believers. I approached every religious discussion with the view that I was obviously right, and I became quite good at logical argumentation. I also grew used to not being wrong, and my Christianity became wrapped up in my ability to win the theological discussions I had with my peers. Not until high school did my outlook begin to truly change. (More on that later!)
Most of the knowledge I gained about the Bible actually came more from around the family dinner table than during meetings. The PB meetings I attended were long and dull, at least from a child's point of view. Every Sunday, we attended three meetings; each lasted about an hour. First, we would observe the Lord's Supper, followed by prayers (spoken by men only) and hymns (chosen by men only). The hymns were my favorite part, since I enjoyed singing and it gave me something to do. Next, we had the "Reading" meeting, which was primarily a Bible study where only the men could speak and ask questions. Last, one of the men would preach. Most of the time, I would sit and doodle pictures. When my parents decided I was too old for that, I would pass time by daydreaming or reading my Bible or hymn book. In addition to Sunday meetings, we attended two night meetings during the week: a prayer meeting and another "reading meeting." Perhaps what I disliked most about going to meeting besides sitting and being bored for an hour was having to dress up in a skirt and hat. A few times a year, we would drive to other states to attend "three-day meetings," which consisted of attending meeting three times a day for three days in a row. These meetings usually drew one or two hundred PB from different PB gatherings around the United States, Canada, and sometimes overseas, which brought some unity to the widespread groups of PB who were "in fellowship" with each other. As a child, the only plus I drew from these meetings was getting to play with my cousins and other kids in between meetings and during meals.