When I was eleven years old, a major split occurred in the branch of PB my family and I belonged to. Although I hardly understood what was going on at the time, several years of hearing my father retell the story over and over again clued me in. The split began all the way across the world in Australia. One of the brothers there had apparently joined a volunteer fire service. Another brother "withdrew" from him, which basically means he refused to take communion with him or be "in fellowship" with him any longer. His basis for doing so was the claim that the fireman was "unequally yoked with unbelievers" by being part of the fire service. A third brother sided with the fireman, claiming that being a volunteer, and not a member, did not result in an unequal yoke. In an attempt to gain support from PB worldwide, the brother who kicked the fireman out called up two of his friends: one in Europe and the other, a man (who also happened to be a drunkard) who belonged to our meeting in New Jersey. Rumor spread that the fireman was indeed a member, therefore justifying his removal from fellowship. However, a roster was soon obtained listing the names of all the members of that particular fire department in Australia. The volunteer's name was missing. Those who heard about and believed the roster sided with the fireman and were given a new label to define their division within the many branches of PB: the "Helmets." Those who chose to ignore it in order to remain with the majority sided with the original action to remove the fireman from fellowship and were consequently titled the "Non-helmets."
The whole situation now appears so absolutely ludicrous that I almost laugh at it. However, the division caused a lot of strain within our local meeting and within my extended family. One other family and my grandparents sided with our family as "Helmets." The other dozen or so PB in our congregation remained with the "Non-helmets." As we drove away from the meeting of the local split, I grabbed the opportunity to ask to begin "breaking bread," or taking communion, which was somewhat synonymous to becoming a member of a church, although PB did not technically have "members." Although it had been in my heart to ask for some time, God apparently used this moment as confirmation to my parents that they had done the right thing. I have come to agree that God did direct our family that night to split in the particular direction we did, but I believe there were greater reasons than a fireman's name being missing from a membership roster. These reasons only became apparent much later.
Within my extended family, many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins remained with the "Non-helmets." Long conversations ensued as my Dad and my uncles each tried to convince the other he was wrong. The arguments only divided the family more, and years later when my cousins got married, those of us who were not "in fellowship (with the "Non-helmets")" anymore were not invited to the weddings.
In the years following the split, efforts were made to bring together several couples and families of PB in New Jersey who were from different divisions of PB. Ultimately, however, the underlying differences in opinion and beliefs that had caused the divisions years before surfaced and minimized the success of such efforts. In addition, the other family who had been on our side in the split became involved in Amway, which is viewed by many Christians as a cult. After my parents and brothers made efforts to present the dangers of this organization to our friends, our two families also split, leaving my family isolated. This second division proved to be a harsh blow to the survival of our PB meetings. While my family attempted to continue having meetings in our living room, one by one my siblings and I stopped attending. My brothers were in their late teens or early twenties around this time, are rarely contributed during the meetings. Once they both stopped attending, my father was the only one left who was allowed to speak. Not gaining anything from meetings where one person's ideas dominated, my sister and I also stopped attending.