Life in Community

The Making of Inside the Bruderhof

August 12, 2020 by

Grumbling about the BBC is a national sport over here: Do they have a left-wing agenda? Why are they making old people pay the license fee? When will they show Inside the Bruderhof?

That’s right. Questions about the documentary made about the Bruderhof and cancelled at the last minute because of hot weather and Boris Johnson last year actually became a Frequently Asked Question on the BBC website. But now it has been rescheduled for August 13!

The saga started with letting myself be convinced that having a film crew hang about for ten weeks couldn’t possibly be that bad.

I didn’t actually think it was that bad. But my wife did. I guess it was the moment she came home and found them filming me talking about clothes in the Bruderhof, with the camera actually showing our wardrobe. I pointed out that there is nothing even remotely embarrassing about our wardrobe, but she wouldn’t have it. Go figure: the scene made the final cut, including an insensitive comment I made about skinny jeans. So I’m here to say I’m sorry, both to Rachel and to skinny-jeans wearers worldwide.

Inside the Bruderhof worked out pretty well though and gives a nice taste of our life, albeit in thirty-eight minutes, which is faster than I even give a basic tour of our community. Of course an awful lot of stuff couldn’t be squeezed into the final cut. For instance, my thirteen-year-old son Michael plays football on the Robertsbridge village team, and we actually organized the filming of a practice, which was a nightmare to pull off – parental permissions and everything. And not a second of it made the cut! So here’s a photo, just to try to make up:

BBC film crew with the village football team in Robertsbridge, England, including some boys from the Darvell Bruderhof

The reason our community agreed to let the camera crew – who were lovely, by the way – invade our life is this: it seems so many people right now are starting to think that things should be better, society should be fairer, and we should be able to build a world where all people can find fulfilment. The Bruderhof isn’t perfect, but we think that we have found a way to live that addresses those concerns, and we thought others might be encouraged by seeing it.

Since the documentary was filmed, lots has happened in the lives of the people featured. Let me catch you up on them.

Hannah Huleatt: Hannah put in a lot of effort, and at a critical moment in her life when she was trying to figure out what to do next. She stayed briefly at our community in Peckham (in the film), then moved out to live by herself (not in the film). It is important that young people really do experience a different way of life before they make any decision to join us.

After her year working with XLP, Hannah decided to return to the Bruderhof. She’ll be attending a university in New York City this fall, after spending a gap year as a teacher’s aide in the elementary school at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in upstate New York.

Hardy Boller: I can only admire Hardy’s complete lack of irony when he talked about life at the Bruderhof being “tough” while serenely fishing in a pristine lake. It’s not exactly how I would have illustrated radical, self-sacrificing discipleship, but to each their own.

The film crew were desperate for Hardy to get married during their filming, and often asked if there was something I could do about it. I had to explain that no, arranged marriage is not something we approve of, and Hardy would stay firmly unmarried until he fell in love of his own accord with someone who wanted to marry him. Well, he did - Hardy and Marguerite are now happily married, and the film crew missed it!

Hardy and MargueriteHardy and Marguerite, happily married as of February 2020

The Hibbs Family: My wife and I have managed to remain deeply in love, even though I inflicted all this on her. Of course, since we now have lots of nice photos (taken as publicity shots) that make it look like we are still in love, we had better keep it that way. Like this:

Bernard and Rachel HibbsBernard and Rachel, a couple from Darvell, a Bruderhof in England

The film crew were given free access to all aspects of our community, and faithfully made a truly observational documentary. Nothing was set up for the film, although we did end up going in and out of doors quite a few extra times! Watch the documentary if you can – it will at least give some insight into our community.

And now, three things I love about the Bruderhof, in no particular order.

It helps me be a better father.

I presume none of us set out to be feckless dads with feral children. But in reality, there are a thousand things that can distract us from our primary responsibility: raising our children to be useful members of society. Luckily, in the Bruderhof, we have a shared commitment to honouring this responsibility, so it is actually hard not to be at least a moderately decent dad.

In Bruderhof communities across the world, every father wakes up early and has breakfast with his kids. We read stories to our children and don’t let them fritter away their time on video games or social media. We expect them to try hard in school. We play games and do service projects with our kids on the weekends.

Why? Because these good, simple habits are normal in our community. My neighbours would think I was crazy if I didn’t have breakfast with my children or stop work promptly in the evening. It is easier to do the right thing when everyone around you is doing it.

The Bruderhof strives for true equality.

Since 1920, we’ve tried to create a society where people are equal. Right from the start, we accepted people who are abandoned by society – at the beginning young pregnant women, but then homeless, refugees, people who are disabled and those with mental health problems. We have members who are highly educated, and those who dropped out. People who have been addicted, been to war, or been to prison. Everyone has a role to play – in fact, you can read the stories of these people in our new book Another Life Is Possible, which was published to commemorate the Bruderhof’s centenary this year.

Another part of equality is the fact that a woman can go to work and social occasions knowing that no one is going to comment on the way she looks, let alone harass her. And despite the impression in the documentary that Bruderhof women do nothing but chop vegetables, they actually study and work as doctors, dentists, teachers, architects, lawyers, and physiotherapists (for example, my wife). Unlike their colleagues outside the Bruderhof, they get paid exactly as much as the men in equivalent positions. (OK, we all get paid nothing, but it sounds pretty cool to say that.) And lest I be misunderstood, there is nothing wrong with chopping vegetables – provided they are deep-fat fried afterwards.

It is a really fun place to live.

There is a common misconception that when you live in a religious community, you have to go around with long faces and spend lots of time in serious discussion as you try to work out your salvation. Not true: we work in satisfying, humane jobs, eat great meals together, and have plenty of time for our family and other people around us. There are always friends and co-workers around. Of course, it’s got its tough sides – say a prayer for the long-suffering people who have to live with me! – but we balance that with barbeques and beer, not to mention a shared commitment to a better world, so it kind of evens out.

A year ago, I would have told you to come visit to see for yourself. Visiting is a bit hard right now with COVID, so I’ll tell you to visit virtually. We are running some Zoom seminars. You can sign up here.


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