The Bruderhof Communities (German: place of brothers) are Christian religious communities with branches in New York, Florida, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania in the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, Paraguay, and Australia. They have previously been called The Society of Brothers and were loosely affiliated with the Hutterian Brethren. The group is also known as Church Communities International.
The Bruderhof's foundation is faith in Jesus. His teachings are central to Bruderhof life – particularly the command "Love your neighbor as yourself", the Sermon on the Mount, and teachings concerning nonviolence, faithfulness in marriage, and compassion for the poor. Bruderhof members share the beliefs as recorded in the Apostles' Creed and the Didache.
The Bruderhof tries to follow the practices of the first church in Jerusalem as related in the Acts of the Apostles, for example Acts 4:32–37: where the church members were of "one heart and mind, and shared all things in common". Bruderhof members do not hold private property, but rather share everything. No Bruderhof member receives a salary or has a bank account. Income from all businesses is pooled and used for the care of all members and for various communal outreach efforts.
The Bruderhof is a peace church whose members do not serve in the armed forces of any country. They claim to model a way of life that removes the social and economic divisions that bring about war. The goal of the Bruderhof is to create a new society where self-interest is yielded for the sake of the common good.
The Bruderhof movement draws inspiration and guidance from a number of historical streams including the early Christians, the Anabaptists and the German Youth Movement.
The Bruderhof was founded in Germany in 1920 by Eberhard Arnold, a philosophy student and intellectual inspired by the German Youth Movement in post-World War I. In 1920 he rented a house in Sannerz, Germany, and founded a religious community.
When the group outgrew the house at Sannerz, they moved to the nearby Rhön Mountains. While there, Arnold discovered that the Hutterites (an Anabaptist movement he had studied with great interest) were still in existence in North America. In 1930 he traveled to meet the Hutterites and was ordained as a Hutterian minister.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, the Rhön community moved its draft-age men and children to Liechtenstein around 1934 because of their conscientious refusal to serve in the armed forces and to accept Nazi teachers. This community became known as the Alm Bruderhof. Continuing pressure from the Nazi government caused others to move to England and found the Cotswold Bruderhof in 1936. On April 14, 1937, secret police surrounded the Rhön Bruderhof, confiscated the property, and gave the remaining community members forty-eight hours to flee the country. By 1938, all the Bruderhof members had reassembled in England.
While in England, the population grew to over 350 members, largely through the addition of young English members seeking an alternative to war. Even before the outbreak of World War II, the community’s German members and its pacifist stance attracted deep suspicion locally resulting in economic boycotts. When confronted with the option of either having all German members interned, or leaving England as a group, the Bruderhof choose the latter, and began to look for refuge abroad. Soon after England entered the war, the Bruderhof emigrated to Paraguay—the only country that would accept a pacifist community of mixed nationalities. This move was assisted and facilitated by the Mennonite Central Committee.
During the first years in Paraguay, starting in the hostile Chaco region then moving to the eastern part of the country, Bruderhof members founded three settlements as well as a hospital for community members and local Paraguayans. The only clinic in the area, it served tens of thousands for the next two decades. By the early 1960s, the community in Paraguay had grown significantly.
In 1954, the Bruderhof started a settlement known as the Woodcrest Bruderhof in the United States near Rifton, New York, in response to a dramatic increase in the number of American guests. Hundreds of new members joined, many from other communal groups across the country. New communities were also founded in Pennsylvania (1957) and Connecticut (1958). By 1962, all remaining members had relocated from Paraguay to the northeastern United States, or to England, in part as a result of a "crisis of leadership" whereby descendants of the group's founder took decisive control of the group and thereby created a rift among members. Some members were not satisfied with the leadership and either voluntarily left the community or were abandoned in Paraguay with very few resources. While later Bruderhof leadership apologized for these transgressions, emotional wounds remained.
The Forest River colony of Schmiedeleut Hutterites in North Dakota invited Bruderhof members to join them, and about 36 members moved to North Dakota. In 1955, the Schmiedeleut group excluded the Bruderhof and placed the Forest River colony under probation. In 1973, the Bruderhof leadership apologized for the problems among the Forest River colony and in 1974 was reunited with all branches of the Hutterian Church. However, in 1990 the more conservative Dariusleut and Lehrerleut Hutterites excommunicated the Bruderhof, refusing to recognize them as Hutterites because of practices that did not conform to standard Hutterite order including sending children to public schools, the use of musical instruments, and participation in a protest march. In 1990 the Spring Valley Bruderhof was founded adjacent to the New Meadow Run Bruderhof in Farmington, Pennsylvania. In 2002 the Bruderhof purchased the house in Sannerz, Sinntal municipality in Hesse, Germany where the movement started. It is one of two Bruderhof houses in Germany. In 2003 the Bruderhof opened a new community in Inverell, New South Wales, Australia, where they operate the sign-writing business Danthonia Designs.
Most contemporary communities have a nursery, kindergarten, school, communal kitchen, laundry, various workshops, and offices. Bruderhof life is built around the family, though there are also many single members. Children are an important part of each community and participate in most communal gatherings. Disabled and elderly members are loved and cared for within the community and participate in daily life and work as much as they are able.
Like the Hutterites, the Bruderhof members do not hold private property individually, but rather share everything in common. No Bruderhof member receives a salary or has a bank account. Income from all businesses is pooled and used for the care for all members, and for various communal outreach efforts.
Children of Bruderhof families do not automatically become members, but are encouraged to leave the community and live elsewhere before deciding on their own whether or not to join the community. Numerous guests visit the Bruderhof and all communities are open to guests.
Community Playthings, a line of classroom furniture and toys, was developed during the 1950s and soon became the Bruderhof’s main source of income. It still provides the community with a livelihood today. Other Bruderhof businesses include Rifton Equipment, which offers mobility and rehabilitation equipment for disabled adults and children, and Clean Sheen Services, which provides cleaning and property management services.
The Bruderhof operated the publishing house Plough Publishing from 1920 to 2005. The community has also published books and periodicals under its own imprint, the Plough. Plough published spiritual classics, inspirational books, and children’s books, many of which are still available as free downloads.
Involvement in the wider community
Through the Bruderhof Foundation, a charity created to support outreach and service efforts, and through individual members, the Bruderhof remains actively involved in the neighborhoods that surround its communities, and in the world at large. Bruderhof members serve on school boards, volunteer at prisons and hospitals, and work with local social service agencies[which?] to provide food and shelter for those in need of help. The Bruderhof community campaigns actively on social issues, including an active campaign in opposition to the death sentence for murder of the activist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Controversy and criticism
Former members have documented their experiences and criticisms in KIT - the Keep In Touch Newsletter (published 1989–current date). Find KIT in "Critics" section, below. Sociologist Julius Rubin compiled a book of ex-members' stories, The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, did not visit the Bruderhof before publishing the book. John A. Hostetler, the American author and anthropologist at Temple University in Philadelphia whose work focused on Anabaptist groups, was close to the Bruderhofs and wrote articles for the group's magazine, The Plough, but later said he encountered what he called a "militaristic wall of hostility" from the Bruderhof's leadership after he wrote an article that criticised them.
- Against The Wind, Markus Baum, 1998 Plough Publishing House, ISBN 978-0874869538
- A Joyful Pilgrimage: My Life in Community, Emmy Arnold, 2007 Plough Publishing House, ISBN 978-0874869569
- No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness, Emmy Barth, 2009 Plough Publishing House, ISBN 978-0874869453
- An Embassy Besieged:The Story of a Christian Community in Nazi Germany, Emmy Barth, 2010 Cascade Books, ISBN 978-1608998791
- Cast Out In The World by Miriam Arnold Holmes, ISBN 978-1882260126
- Community in Paraguay: A Visit to the Bruderhof, Bob and Shirley Wagoner, ISBN 978-0874860337
- Encyclopedia of American Religions (5th edition), J. Gordon Melton, editor, ISBN 978-0787663841
- Free from Bondage by Nadine Moonje Pleil, ISBN 978-1882260072
- Homage to a Broken Man:The Life of J. Heinrich Arnold, by Peter Mommsen, 2007 Plough Publishing House, ISBN 978-0874869316
- The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy Among The Bruderhof, by Julius H. Rubin, ISBN 978-0195119435
- The Joyful Community: An account of the Bruderhof, a communal movement now in its third generation by Benjamin David Zablocki, ISBN 978-0226977492
- Torches Extinguished: Memories of a Communal Bruderhof Childhood in Paraguay, Europe and the U. S. by Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe, ISBN 978-1882260010
- Seeking for the Kingdom of God: Origins of the Bruderhof Communities, Eberhard and Emmy Arnold, ISBN 978-0874861334
- Through Streets Broad And Narrow by Belinda Manley, ISBN 978-1882260089
- Official website of the Bruderhof
- Index of Bruderhof related websites
- Plough Publishing House (Bruderhof Publishing House)
- Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
- Peregrine Foundation: – A non-profit organization critical of the Bruderhof
- Yahoo! Group KIT-exBruderhof-CCI. The KIT Newsletter (Keep In Touch) - A newsletter and contact for ex members of the Bruderhof(CCI)
- Archive of KIT Newsletters