Pastor’s ‘brethren’ ties span two continents
By LARRY MITCHELL – Staff Writer
The beauty of “archaic” is in the eye of the beholder. Chico pastor Paul Rhodes sees beauty and also flaws.
He may know as well as anyone why the dictionary calls “brethren” an archaic plural form of “brother.”
Now the pastor of Grace Brethren Church, he was raised in the Plymouth Brethren Church in England.
While he admires what’s old and traditional in these churches, he also feels archaic elements hinder success.
Though their names are similar, the Plymouth Brethren and Grace Brethren churches aren’t closely related. The former originated in Britain in the early 1800s while the latter has roots in a movement that began in Germany in the early 1700s.
Rhodes grew up in Leeds, in northern England. His father had joined the Plymouth Brethren and become an unpaid minister.
This church first appeared in England in 1830. There had been small Christian communities in Ireland in the 1820s that called themselves “brethren.” An Anglican priest, the Rev. J.N. Darby, became convinced the Church of England had become faithless and that he should leave it and go to Dublin. There, he met some of these “brethren,” and from that encounter, a new religious movement was born.
“They were austere days, growing up with the Plymouth Brethren,” Rhodes said of his childhood in the 1940s. “We were very poor. Dad posted billboards and worked in a mill.”
Members of the church were very strict and bound by tradition, he said. They wanted to remain separate from the world, citing James 4:4 — “Surely you know that love of the world means enmity to God?”
“My father would not even go to a soccer match. He didn’t want to hear the profanity,” Rhodes said.
As a teenager, Rhodes had a rebellious streak. He excelled at playing classical accordion and even became national accordion champion for northern England. But he didn’t stay apart from the world. He began playing swing music in pubs — until he had a striking conversion experience at the age of 17.
After that, he preached on the streets.
Rhodes became a nurse and moved to the United States in 1972 to take a job at a Southern California hospital. He moved to Chico in 1977. For 14 years, he was in charge of the night shift at Enloe Medical Center’s intensive care unit.
He never stopped teaching adult Sunday School in churches and sometimes did some preaching. In this country, he’d begun attending a Grace Brethren Church (he was drawn by the familiar “brethren” name, he said). And when he first came to Chico, he served as associate pastor of Grace Brethren Church for a year. He later attended Neighborhood Church for many years, and, eventually, at the invitation of Senior Pastor Larry Lane, joined the staff there. He served as associate pastor for pastoral care from 1999 to April of this year.
In May, Rhodes was called by Grace Brethren Church.
Of his religious upbringing, he said, “I’ll be eternally grateful to the Plymouth Brethren. They taught me the word of God — they really did. They had so many people so knowledgeable who never went to Bible college or seminary. Just spirit-taught people.”
On the other hand, the Plymouth Brethren, like many evangelical churches, put too much emphasis on human sinfulness and “thou shalt not,” he said. In reality, “the biblical view is you’re a saint, unfortunately, you occasionally sin.”
The Plymouth Brethren are dying out in many parts of England because members won’t change with the times, he said. “The message never changes, but the method of delivery will change over time. It’s got to be culturally relevant, or you’re just wasting your time.”
Rhodes said he “sees things through different paradigms now.”
He hopes for a bright future with some innovations at Grace Brethren Church.
“I love people and I love this community,” he said. “If we want to do an evening of 50s music and do swing dancing, we’ll do it, just to bless the community.”