Life in Community

Holy Obedience

June 9, 2021 by

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“Are you willing, for the sake of Christ, to put yourself completely at the disposal of the church community to the end of your life – all your faculties, the entire strength of your body and soul, and all your property, both that which you now possess and that which you may later inherit or earn?"

Twenty-three years ago, I answered yes to this vow when I became a member of the Bruderhof. It is one of several vows that all members make upon joining and is, at times, the hardest to put into practice.

People often wonder what is hard about living in community. They ask about things like taking vacations (which we don’t really do) and wonder how anyone could give that up. They wonder what it’s like not to have your own money or bank account, not to own your own car, not to be able to go shopping whenever you want, not to pick out the clothes you wear, or decide what you want to eat for dinner. In short, to relinquish control over the small decisions of daily life that seem to make up a happy, independent life.

To be honest, I don’t really think much about any of those things. When I joined here I knew those were among the trappings and frills to a “comfortable” life that I was choosing to give up by choosing to become a member. That makes them a non-issue; they are part of the package of membership.

What is much harder but perhaps not so obvious to the casual observer is this: to “put yourself completely at the disposal of the church community to the end of your life – all your faculties, the entire strength of your body and soul…” – in short, the obedience piece of the vows I took. Several weeks ago my faithfulness to that promise was put to the test. I was asked to move to the Mount Community, a different Bruderhof, as they were short-staffed in the kitchen and needed another hand. Gulp. Swallow. Leave my home? Leave the niche I have carved out for myself at Maple Ridge, where I have lived almost half my life, where everyone knows me, knows (and either loves or hates) my habits, knows my likes and dislikes? Relinquish my daily hike up the ridge behind my house? Leave the family that I have come to love so much?

Fortunately for me, the very day that I heard the news I left for a birthday retreat. (See, we do sometimes take vacations! It’s just that we don’t arrange them for ourselves; rather they are “given” to us by the community.) One of my friends at Maple Ridge had arranged for me to go to a small cottage on the property of the Mount Community, and the two days I spent at the cottage gave me some much-needed quiet time to reflect, to pray, and to re-direct my inner compass. And what I realized over those days was that this move was the answer to my prayers. Not the answer I had planned on receiving, but the right answer.

Over the last months I have prayed especially ardently for God’s will to be done in my life. I have felt conflicted inside, torn by the many things I would like to do – particularly my desire for mission work outside of the community setting. I’ve never forgotten the weeks I spent in Lesvos in 2015 working with the refugees from the Middle East, and have always wanted to go back and do more. At the same time, it has been a long-held dream of mine to join one of the urban “mission outposts” of our own community movement, which are scattered around the United States. And I realized some months ago that I needed to stop asking God that I be sent to one of the places I wanted to go. I needed to change the tone of my prayer to an earnest and sincere request that my life be used as God and the church desire it to be used.

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And so as I walked the trails around the Mount Community during my retreat, I fell in love with the place and found peace about moving. The property is magnificent! Set on the banks of the Hudson River I realized that there would be no lack of places for me to walk, and that exchanging the ridge for the river was actually a good deal! But on a deeper level I came to the realization that I was being given a unique opportunity to put into practice what we have discussed in our members’ meetings so many times – our willingness (or I should say my willingness) to fulfill new tasks, take on new responsibilities, work longer hours; whatever it takes so that others can go out on mission. Yes, so others can go out. It’s not about me being sent out, it’s about the church sending out those who are called to that task. And the task that is being asked of me, at least for this season, is to live at the Mount Community, serving three lunch shifts a day to the community and the approximately 150 students of the Mount Academy and their numerous staff members. It’s pretty busy, sometimes hectic! And the summer promises to be equally full, with several building projects going on as this is one of our newest communities and still needs a lot of building up.

It’s kind of ironic how God answers our prayers, and although I actually knew this already I have discovered once again that the answers he gives, if we can embrace them, open up new opportunities and bring new forms of fulfillment to us. Of course I will miss my friends at Maple Ridge, but I love action, I love hard work, (of which there is no lack around here) and I have learned over my years of living in community that no matter what I am asked to do, I will love it if I choose to put my heart into it. And so I can say a whole-hearted yes, I will put myself completely at the disposal of the church community, as I promised. And that gives me a sense of peace and purpose that is far deeper and more lasting than any that come from a purely selfish pursuit of happiness.

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About the author

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren lives at The Mount Community, where she cares for the elderly and works in the community kitchen.

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