The Bruderhof Community
various locations across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Paraguay
I'm excited to share with you the fourth and final in a series of guest posts to celebrate the liturgical season of Epiphany. I've asked a few friends who live around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods, and share some of the ways they encounter and exhibit the presence of Christ.
Of all the pleasant surprises 2016 held for us, the friendship I've made with members of the Bruderhof community rank as one of the most surprising and pleasant. Last spring, one of the editors of Plough Publishing House (an initiative of Bruderhof) reached out to me after I shared some quotations one of Plough's books for Lent. I was delighted to begin a correspondence (now almost a year old) with Maureen Swinger, and count her as a lovely friend especially meaningful in the season of transition we've experienced this year. In December I was honored to publish a piece in the Plough Quarterly magazine, and have been happily reading through many of the titles in the Plough catalog.
A highlight of this new relationship was a visit Brian and I made to the Fox Hill community in Walden, NY the week after Thanksgiving. I was able to put faces with the names in my email inbox, and we were treated like special guests. Our visit included rich conversation, a shared meal, a tour of the settlement (including the brilliant Community Playthings woodshop), and time with Maureen and her family in their apartment, in which her children sweetly entertained these two sad empty-nesters with delightful conversation and musical performances. Of all the gifts we received that day, the highlight might have been singing a capella with the entire community before lunch was served. It might have been the acoustics of the dining hall, but the sound of four-part harmony sung by several generations joyfully singing together is a sound I never want to forget.
I've learned much from reading and conversations about the Bruderhof's Anabaptist heritage and commitment to intentional Christian community. I'm heartened by their dedication to issues of justice, beauty, and dignity of life. I'm enriched by their emphasis on curating voices from across time and faith backgrounds in all of the work they publish. I'm grateful to the whole Bruderhof community for sharing a bit of their lives with us on the blog today.
Before we begin, here's a brief summary of Epiphany, in case you're not sure.
What is Epiphany?
Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world. He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God. Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism). All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.
Walking EPIPHANY blog series
Each of the friends contributing to the series this year has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts (collected from my subscription to these excellent daily readings) to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods.
Will you join us?
p.s., Don't miss the opportunity to engage with thought-provoking questions for your own neighborhood, listed following each prompt.
Prompt: God's household
Life, breath, food, companionship -- every good thing is a gift from the abundant providence of God. The kingdom of God, this great economy, is embodied in the world when God's people respond to God's provision with gratitude, sharing God's gifts generously with others. The word economy reminds us again that creation is God's household; we are tasked with sustaining it and keeping it in the order God intended. It should be a place where all humans and all creatures are loved and honored and where generosity is commonplace.
C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
New babies born into the community are embraced not just by their parents and immediate family, but by everyone in the community. We welcome every child, just as Jesus welcomed each one. In all children, and especially in the unborn, we recognize the link between human life and eternity. The family of father, mother, and children is a creation of God and must be held sacred. Parents have the God-given task of raising their children in His stead, but all members of the community are responsible to love, care for, and provide direction in the lives of each child.
To learn more about how the Bruderhof community enjoys life together:
Prompt: Salt and light
The way of being salt and light is a role (a part and position) that Christians are called to in the world. It is a role that requires us to take up a place in our world, at work, at school, and in the neighborhood. Christians are called to imagine another world, and to do so by living amid the divisiveness, alienation, suffering, and violence, as well as the good things, the loves and hopes of where we live now.... However, we are called to make a home that is not established on our own authority and perfection, but instead is set on the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, mutual care and correction, and reconciliation.
David Matzko McCarthy, The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class
We live in church community because we must concern ourselves with the need of the whole world. We each acknowledge our share in humanity’s guilt and suffering, and we must respond through a life devoted to love. Love of neighbor means doing the works of mercy commanded by Christ: giving food to the hungry and water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, giving alms to the poor, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Like the early Christians, we see piety as false unless it is proved authentic through deeds of social justice. Our outreach takes many forms. In seeking to fulfill Christ’s calling, we work with others of goodwill, regardless of their faith or affiliation. We support the works of global nonprofits addressing high-profile crises, yet we also labor side by side with town neighbors to re-roof a local food bank, tutor children, or visit with senior citizens. It is by no means our task to solve all the problems of the day. But we must do what we can.
To learn more about the ways the Bruderhof community reaches out locally and globally:
Prompt: Practice resurrection
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
Wendell Berry, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage
Most Saturday dinners at our Bruderhof locations are open to the public. Many locations, especially the larger settlements, host public seasonal events, such as summer barbecues, open houses, Christmas carol singing, or autumnal lantern walks. These events typically draw a few hundred visitors from the area. Our smaller, urban house communities often host weekly bible studies, youth conferences, block parties, and more.
To learn more about community events at the Bruderhof:
Prompt: Subversive Christianity
Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open. Multiply in a world of debt. Have children at the end of history. Seek shalom in a violent world of geo-political conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah's word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah's subversive word to us. And in this vision we just might see, with Jeremiah, "a future with hope" (Jer. 29:11). This is what it means to work and wait for a miracle. This remains at the heart of a subversive Christianity.
We’ve been blessed with some beautiful, child-friendly properties, both urban, and rural. Whenever possible, we meet, worship, and share common meals outdoors.
To learn more about the Bruderhof's beautiful settlemens:
Prompt: Foreigners As Neighbors
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Pope Francis from "Pope Francis' Address to Congress" on Sep. 24, 2015
Love of neighbor means that we keep an open door. The blessings of a life of brotherly and sisterly community are available to all people, rich or poor, skilled or unskilled, who are called to go this way of discipleship with us. Following the example of Christ himself, the Apostle Paul sought contact with a wide range of people: Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, intellectuals and statesmen. The Apostle Peter was led to people who were deemed “unclean” by the Jewish Christians of his day and yet who were chosen by God. As Jesus said, the wind blows where it will, so we are constantly on the lookout for where God’s Spirit is moving. Connecting with seeking people, whoever they happen to be, enables our movement to be stirred by the working of the Spirit and by the dedicated, compassionate service of others.
To learn more about how the Bruderhof community connects with refugees:
We're a bunch of families and children, singles and older people living together in Christian community. We share our money, possessions, and we try to live our lives like the first Christians as described in the Acts of the Apostles. There are more than twenty Bruderhof locations around the world in Europe, Australia, South America, and the United States. Our vocation is a life of service to God, to each other, and to you, our neighbor. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one, and we believe this can, and does, happen when people commit themselves to a life of sharing and mutual care.
A few previous posts from the WALKING EPIPHANY series:
p.s. The affiliate links in this post are to help me be a good steward. When you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism, my family gets a little pocket change. Thanks!