Voices

A blog from the Bruderhof

Did the Experiment Work? Community in 1930s England.

May 30, 2018 by

A Christian Peace Experiment book cover

In June of 1937, the Spectator published an article entitled “The Fate of a Christian Experiment” concerning the Bruderhof’s expulsion from Nazi Germany and subsequent settlement in England.

The article describes the vision and activities of the Bruderhof before outlining the persecution faced in Germany. Of those who fled, the article says: “England seemed to be the country in Europe most open to hear their message, and they wished to build up a Bruderhof where the spirit behind their life could be fully expressed.”

Now more than eighty years later, a new account of that era has been published. Ian Randall, a church historian, has detailed the history of the Cotswold Bruderhof in A Christian Peace Experiment.

The book brings to life in great detail the incredible outpouring of God’s spirit on a group of refugees who fled for their lives when their peaceful witness was crushed by Nazi power. Against the backdrop of extreme poverty, hardship, and the growing sense of war, hundred of young English people joined the community in the years from 1936 to 1941. Motivated by a desire to devote their lives to peace at a time when Europe was descending into a bloodbath, these young people joined the Bruderhof with the expectation that their lives would be every bit as hard as that of their friends going to fight in France. Randall weaves together the stories of individuals who came and joined the Bruderhof with accounts of persecution, struggle, and victory as the community thrived in precarious circumstances.

Men working on the Cotswold BruderhofCotswold Bruderhof members making bricks, 1936

But it wasn’t long before the community in the Cotswold started to face persecution from its neighbors who weren’t happy with a group of German, Swiss, and British people living and farming together on their doorstep. Questions were raised in the House of Commons, and an antagonistic local media campaign started. Some amazing rumors were circulated about the Bruderhof being German spies (which was plausible, I guess) or that they had constructed a submarine in a landlocked pond (which was not)! Despite all this, the community set about continuing the mission work it had started in Germany with a zeal that outweighed the resources available.

It was not to last forever. In 1941, the British government ordered that German nationals be interned until the end of the war. Rather than face this, the group decided to stick together and, becoming refugees once more, relocated to Paraguay in South America. (For that story, read No Lasting Home by Emmy Barth.) The move brought the peace experiment to a halt in the Cotswolds.

So did the experiment work? Well, that is still to be seen – the experiment is still going in existing Bruderhof locations around the world. If you are interested in the history, read the book. But if you are interested in joining the experiment, and contributing your abilities, gifts, and life to it, why not come and visit?

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