Dr. Denise Kettering-Lane

Dr. Denise Kettering-Lane Discusses Manchester, Church of the Brethren

Devon Allen

On November 28, 2022, Dr. Denise Kettering-Lane presented a VIA where she discussed Manchester and the Church of the Brethren tradition. Kettering-Lane is an Associate Professor of Brethren Studies and Director of the MA Program at Bethany Theological Seminary. Kettering-Lane’s relations to Manchester run deep and without it, she would not even be here; her grandparents met at Manchester University.

Kettering-Lane began her discussion by describing how Manchester began, stating that the story of Manchester starts with the United Brethren. The United Brethren were a group of German Baptist Brethren. Kettering-Lane then transitioned into a rhetorical question, asking the audience “How has Manchester lived into Brethren values?” This question would be a prompt for questions asked at the end of the discussion.

Kettering-Lane stated that Alexander Mack was someone who was skeptical about reformed faith that had shaped generations of his family. Mack found a lot of things that worried him about society in 1706, such as people not living up to their required church sessions. He felt as if people went to church not because they wanted to, but because they were required to. He also felt like these same people would not act on the values that were preached by the church. Mack was also curious why there was such little interest in higher education.

In 1719, the first group of Brethren came to America and settled in Virginia. It was believed that fears of studying the Bible in academic contexts would destroy views. After about 50 years of debating the value and impact of higher education, a breakoff group was created in 1880. There were five specific issues that were the reason for the breakoff, but possibly the biggest issue was that high school/college education was dangerous. On the other hand, there was a desire to develop believers that were more educated. While education did have a role into the nonconforming Brethren developing more nondenominational beliefs, the higher education added tools into biblical study that added value and benefited Brethren as a whole.

One value that the Brethren held dearly was “Continuing the work of Jesus.” They go by the New Testament in the Bible. They do not recite creeds during church services. They make their decisions in life by referring to the words of Jesus. There was an emphasis on “doing over being,” which is essentially servicing others before letting others take care of you. They believed that they were best when “they could do better for others,” said Kettering-Lane.

Kettering-Lane described that the Brethren used many different words for “peace,” but in the 20th century, the word “pacifism” started gaining some popularity among the community. Peace, for Brethren was not just to refuse violence, but was an order to put an end to violence through nonviolent protests and other acts of nonviolence. The belief that “all war is sin” was what they lived by and even when something like World War II arose, the Brethren still looked to provide alternative services to it.

There was a focus on simplicity, but also nonconformity. They dressed plain to signify separation from world fashion. Most materials that other groups of people would cherish were generally ruled off-limits, such as: voting, carpets/wallpapers, golden jewelry, etc. Brethren advised people to better share their resources, think more thoughtfully, be satisfied with what they have, and spend as little money as possible.

These values are what have shaped Manchester today, according to Kettering-Lane. “Because it [Brethren values] is so relevant here, it may be a motivation to go here,” said Kettering-Lane. She believes that students identify with this culture. When asked by an audience member about the relevance of the values, Kettering-Lane simply responded that it is relevant for students who are dealing with current conflicts in our world. This applies not only to students at Manchester University, but everyone in this world. This is a major factor, she said, as to why Manchester University is a place where many students can go and feel like they fit in.