Life in Community

New Paths Appear

December 2, 2020 by

Six months ago, my husband and I moved to the Bruderhof’s Sannerz community in Hessen, Germany. Sannerz was established in 2002, in the very house where Eberhard and Emmy Arnold and a handful of others founded the first Bruderhof in 1920. We had never imagined living there. Still less had we imagined being there when our community took the painful decision to sell the property. The sale was finalized in October.

“Closing the Sannerz Bruderhof? You must be kidding!” was the response of many of our friends, and, to be honest, some of us members as well. How could we leave this historical site so steeped in the precious memories of our community’s early years – years marked by backbreaking toil, painful inner crises, the spontaneous joy of youthful exuberance, and hopeful new beginnings? I had to grapple with this question too.

SannerzThe Sannerz community in June 2020

Our neighbors in Sannerz also grappled. There were all kinds of responses: anger, bafflement, understanding, and the occasional dose of German matter-of-factness. “O.K., so you move; that’s that.”

Many tried to explain why they found it hard that we were leaving: “But we won’t see your young people hiking through the village anymore! We will miss their free and open looks; that’s a rare thing these days.”

“I understand that you need to follow God’s calling, but that light that came from your house is gone . . . we will miss it.”

“I always came to Sannerz to be strengthened. I could talk about real issues right away, without making small talk for three days first!”

Their responses forced me to face the question squarely and to honestly confront my own feelings. I had to unravel my thoughts and reactions and ponder my own commitment and calling anew in order to answer sincerely.

Most folk’s first question is “Why?” In trying to answer, I realized many of our neighbors hadn’t understood that our Bruderhof house in Sannerz was just one location, a small part of a unified worldwide movement made up of many larger or smaller communities. They had not realized that, unlike our little community in Sannerz, larger Bruderhofs are like small villages, with facilities for everyone from babies to grandparents. There are schools for our children and common businesses where we can work together, and everyone – especially the elderly and disabled – are cared for. These communities are home to people like my father-in-law, Hugo, who was never happier than when working in the communal workshop, which he did almost to his dying day at nearly ninety-six years of age.

For years we have hoped for such a larger community in German-speaking Europe. Naturally we always thought of Germany, where our movement began. Unexpectedly, however, the Bruderhof communities were invited to start a new ’hof in Austria, and, well . . . why not?

But even in communally-lived Christianity, new ventures require tangible strength and investment physically, monetarily, and spiritually. These resources have to come from somewhere. It is unwise and not possible to stretch ourselves too thin. Thus, to follow this new path we have to be willing to leave an old place, even a most beloved one.

One of our final guests before we closed Sannerz thoughtfully pointed out that the early Christians were described as disciples of the Lord or followers “of the Way.” I had to think about that. If we are followers of the Lord’s Way, how can we stubbornly cling to the spot we are content in, that we determine is most important? To follow means to relinquish my own ideas, to focus on the far horizon, and to take a step away from the comfortable, the familiar – even the beloved homeland – to venture forth where God calls. I want to follow Christ – am I actually prepared to do it?

Another pastor friend invited us over one afternoon and addressed our gathering with a short message. Interestingly enough, he did not know about our move from Sannerz when he spoke to us, but he could not have picked a more apt text: Genesis 11:31–12:9. He spoke about how Abram left his homeland and journeyed to a strange land, simply because the Lord told him to. It was a step in faith. We must each ask ourselves: Do I have this faith?

This sign from a neighbor, who thought it a fitting parting gift to us, points us in the right direction. “When we move forward,” it reads, “new paths appear.”

Sannerz

Since the closing of the Sannerz community, my husband and I have returned to Holzland, the other small Bruderhof in Germany. Other members have gone either to our new location in Austria or to communities in the United Kingdom and the United States.

It isn’t necessarily easy to move forward. But I have experienced a peace about it, and with it the joy and assurance that God has not only us, but our whole community movement in His hands. It is His work, after all; not ours.

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About the author

Veronica B

Veronica Brinkmann

Veronica Brinkmann has lived in Germany, England, and the United States. At present, she and her husband Tobias live at...

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