#38:  West Richmond Church of the Brethren


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I likes me some Brethren! 

Much to my surprise, while attending all these Christian church’s this year, I’ve found that I am most attracted to the serious Christians.  The ones who urge their members to be in the world but not of it.  The ones who don’t just throw out the works because they have all this grace.  The ones who don’t hold a cigarette and 5th cocktail of the evening in one hand on Saturday night but preach about the tender mercy of God on Sunday morning. 

However, when I first embarked upon this project, I had intended to find a church that did just the opposite.  I wanted a church that would allow me to rationalize my secular behavior and still profess to be a Christian. I searched high and low for the church that would encourage me to practice moderation not abstinence, a church that would continue to allow me to curse as long as it wasn’t the F word, bring my coffee into the sanctuary and tell me it was okay that I was just a bit hungover—at least I was there!  But my taste in churches has certainly changed.  Now I have great respect for those that maintain that an obedient and loving lifestyle is a byproduct of sincere Christian faith.

I rejoice when I find a church that believes that the presence of Christ is enough to transform the heart and sanctify His children, therefore making them holy as He is holy.  Church #38, West Richmond Church of Brethren located at 7612 Wanymala Road has some of the most beautiful, humble, gentle members of the body of Christ that I have met yet, and they are one of these church’s that I now respect so greatly.

In a very me-like fashion, I inconspicuously slipped into the service about 10 minutes late and took a seat in an empty pew by the door.  Maybe it’s because I’m somewhat of a spiritual secret shopper but I often feel the need to maintain some type of anonymity when I attend church, never letting on to the fact that I’m watching their every move while intending to write about it on my blog for all the world to see.

The congregation couldn’t have been made up of anymore than 40-50 people and it appeared that many of the church members belonged to the same family.  The service was kicked off with a speech by a young gentleman who discussed the importance of Christian stewardship.  He proudly offered up a success story he had about the effectiveness of a Haiti humanitarian project he implemented a few months back.  The congregation smiled upon the gentleman, silently but no doubt prayerfully, encouraging him to continue being a servant for the Lord to the international community.

Afterward a few church members met up front and performed a skit about welcoming visitors into the church.  They established some best practices and ground rules for doing so.  Urging them to “encourage people to wear name tags but don’t insist” and “sit next to them but don’t make them feel like you’re targeting them as friends, just be real.” “Do your best to make sure you say hello and invite them to stay for the meal, but if they don’t seem interested, don’t be pushy.”  “If you see lots of people introducing themselves, maybe it’s best you don’t do so, we don’t want people to feel bombarded.”    As they were talking, I looked to the left and right of me and realized I was sitting in the pew alone.  I then realized I was one of the only people not wearing a nametag. I began to feel quite relieved about being late.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with what they were saying, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t kind of strange to hear them talking about how to best interact with me while I was sitting right there.

After the skit ended, like most churches, we engaged in some congregational singing.   Much to my pleasant surprise, many of their songs were sung A Capella, like the Church of Christ.  I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “I love A capella music!” but for fear of being dragged out of there, I refrained.  But I swear, I can get way too excited about this!  I mean, I know this isn’t a salvation issue or anything, but A capella music in a sanctuary just feels right.  I can just feel God’s presence permeating everywhere!  If I was king of the land, I’d make all churches get on board. 

Once the music concluded a gentleman (who I was later told was not the pastor) did a short sermon on the gospels.  It wasn’t incredibly profound or a deep biblical study of any one subject, but he did show ways to apply the basic principles found in the stories to our modern lives.  It’d be difficult for me to join a church that bases their entire theology on the New Testament alone, but if you know them by their fruits, these cats are certainly bearing some serious apples.

I hadn’t done any research prior to attending, but I got the same vibe from the Brethren community that I did at the Mennonite service.  It almost seemed like it was the same denomination.  The skits they performed, the members of the congregation giving a snapshot of the church projects (the Mennonites had a quilt project), the fact that many of them shared the same last name, the potluck afterward, the sermon focusing on the NT church and the gentle atmosphere that made me want to revel in it forever all resembled the Mennonite service I’d attended a few months back.

When I got home and looked it up online, I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that the Brethren and Mennonite church came out of the same movement during the Protestant Reformation.  I thought it was almost funny that without actually knowing that, I could see the resemblance based solely on the personality of the church.  It makes me wonder what happened that made them separate and form their own denomination.

So, I have no biblical basis for this idea, so take it for what it’s worth, but recently I was discussing this concept with a friend.  I’ve noticed while checking out different denominations that it seems as though the Holy Spirit takes on a different type of personality depending on the audience that’s present.  Not that the Spirit Itself changes, but different characteristics are highlighted depending on the type of people present at the worship service.  I guess the best way to explain what I’m talking about would be like how I would present myself differently in front of my husband than our neighbor.  While still being myself, I would certainly come across differently depending on who I’m addressing.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but there are very distinct feelings that I get when walking into different churches.  To give an example of what I’m talking about:  While attending the Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker church, there was a gentle, serving, humble Spirit that filled my heart.  While attending the Assemblies of God, non-denominational and Nazarene churches, I would describe the feeling as more celebratory, joyous, and revelatory, like a teaching type of Spirit.

I’m sure much of it has to do with the music and worship style, but I just find it interesting that changing around music, the manner in which you pray, and the general style of the service actually makes a profound impact on the feeling you get from God.  Or maybe it’s not God but it’s something else I’m picking up on? Who knows?

Anyway, all in all, I’d definitely go back to the Brethren church.  I am pleased to report that they strive to exemplify the peaceful nature of Christ and take His command in Matthew 20:26 incredibly seriously “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”  I highly suggest that anyone looking for a church community to fellowship with give this denomination some serious consideration.   

Some interesting things to note:  Brethren have a couple spiritual practices so I kept the descriptions of each below for anyone caring to read them.  I openly admit that I’d like to partake in a love feast and have every intention on doing so this year!

  • Brethren are one of 3 peace churches.  The other two are Quaker and Mennonite.
  • Brethren base values on the New Testament rather than society and call their members to the following: freedom of religious choice, health for the whole person; honesty in all of life; simple living; nonviolent resolution of conflict, and service to the world.
    Brethren encourage baptism by immersion for adults and not infants and baptize people three times forward, in keeping with Jesus’ instruction to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Brethren practice Love feast and it has been central to the life our faith community, and has typically been celebrated on World Communion Sunday early in October and during Holy Week before Easter.  Seeking to call to mind Jesus’ Last Supper with disciples, we gather around candlelit tables and engage in preparatory reflection, foot washing, a meal and bread and cup communion. Songs, prayers, scripture, and words of meditation invite us to love God and each other. Usually men and women wash feet separately in a circle.
  • When people become broken emotionally or sick physically, we offer anointing with oil as a symbol of God’s healing love. We derive this practice from instructions in James 5:13-18.  Anointing is not seen as a magical act or last rite. It is simply a practice to help open us to God’s love. In the service, James 5:13-18 is read, and perhaps a few other scriptures. Then, the person being anointed is given moments to express from within anything positive or negative. Olive oil from the anointer’s hand is rubbed on the forehead, sometimes in the sign of the cross. The oil is rubbed on three times to symbolize the forgiveness of mistakes, the strengthening of faith, and the healing of the whole person. Hands are then laid on the head and prayers offered with everyone in the room concluding with the Lord’s Prayer in unison. 

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  • Patrick

    Patrick November 04, 2010

    First the Jehovah’s now the Brethren, what’s with you sneaking in on the recruitment services?

    Also, I remember how mad you’d get when you couldn’t take your coffee in.

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