Life in Community

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Life in Community

The Supreme Adventure of Communal Living

February 21, 2020 by

In my twenty-five years as a committed member of the Bruderhof, I have yet to meet anyone who did not react positively to my vocation.

People who meet me on the street (my distinctive dress often prompts inquiry) are intrigued that I am a member of a religious order – one that embraces family communal living. I use words such as sharingcare, and commitment to describe my vocation, but it’s my denial of personal wealth that arouses the most curiosity. When I explain that I have no money or savings to my name, I catch a fleeting sense of envy: “Sounds nice.” “Wow, no pressure!” “Stress-free.” Or even, “Utopia!”

These are common responses.

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At this point, it is my turn to dampen the enthusiasm. My community is no Christian utopia. Sometimes there is even stress and pressure. We are human beings. Imperfect individuals. And giving up personal property is only a fruit of unpossessive love. To be a part of the Bruderhof, members need to be ready to surrender their opinions, time, and energy. To put it another way, giving up personal property is easy-peasy – at least compared with getting along.

In fact, communal living is not possible without an experience of rebirth. Before I saw the sense in surrendering my earthly possessions, I needed a personal Pentecost. As any new believer knows, being cut to the heart is painful. Like others before me, I cried out in great anguish of soul, “Brothers, what shall I do?” (Acts 2:37). But the pain of rebirth quite quickly gave way to joy. Rebirth turned me from being of my own mind, to being of one mind (Acts 4:32). It took an intervention of God to work this change – no human effort could have brought about this reversal.

Being of one mind is perhaps the key to communal living, only possible after a conversion. Then we are reborn out of our aloneness into the body of Christ.

This spiritual rebirth reminds me of my original arrival on earth. My parents rejoiced at my birth. I was so special that I received my mother’s name. Photos offer a timeline of my parent’s pride and joy: the baby bundle, the toddler, the college graduate, the bride, the new mother. And as the years go by their affection only increases. I always feel singled out, loved.

So do my nine siblings. The last girl, I joined an already well-established household. I grew up in a home that could hardly hold the hubbub and commotion. When we worked, the results were outstanding. When we played, the games were exceptional. When we ate together, we packed the room. We built a bond that not even death could break, because we were family.

We did not tiptoe around each other. At times we fought like cats and dogs. We were not above making faces of contempt at each other, or settling disagreements the old-fashioned way. The rewards of family life are too many to number. But it is a lot of hard work. No one can hide or escape the daily energy needed to keep a family together.

Our parents believed in order, even if there was plenty of misplaced enthusiasm. It started at daybreak: if I overslept, my sister threw cold water at me. When she failed to rise, I returned the favor. In the evening when we were tired, there were still tables to set, vegetables and babies to scrub, before everybody came to the table. Dad said grace before one macaroni entered one mouth. Fairness seemed to come and go, and I found myself tasked with dishes after dinner when it was not my turn. When I complained bitterly to my father, he simply headed for the sink and began to wash. I closed my mouth and stood next to him, relegated to rinse and dry – wishing with all my heart that I had kept quiet and that my dad would surrender the station, which moments before I had so despised. He washed on, and even worse, whistled steadily. In my shame I loved him then.

Through it all, we were fiercely loyal to each other because, as G. K. Chesterton wisely quipped, “The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap... When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.” As fellow adventurers born into a family, we relied on each other to make it through unknown terrain. 

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Likewise, when I stepped into this church community my lifetime vows of commitment united me with others who are similarly called. We are each unique and special, but also small and insignificant. Since I arrived late to the party, (the Bruderhof is 100 years old) gratitude overrides any pickiness regarding the suitability of my fellow companions. To quote G. K. Chesterton again, “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men…In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us.”

Jesus brings about an order that keeps us of one mind. Keeping Jesus in mind is like keeping your family in mind.

The “supreme adventure” of communal living is costly, but richly rewarding. We are fiercely loyal, but like loving siblings, we have disagreements. We demand excellence of each other, but need to be willing to acknowledge our own shortcomings. And not everything comes out even. When we fall short, there is forgiveness.

Jesus brings about an order that keeps us of one mind. Keeping Jesus in mind is like keeping your family in mind. It doesn’t mean you stifle your individuality, but it does mean you are ready to be part of something bigger. It means rejoicing in the good times. When trouble comes, you stick around to sort things out, because we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

At the first Pentecost, “awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done” (Acts 2:43). I too am filled with awe each day. In exchange for giving up myself, I have community with a family of believers. Living in a church that practices community of goods is not a distant utopia. It is a miracle, tangible and real.

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About the author

Dori Moody holding a cat

Dori Moody

Dori Moody lives at the Danthonia Bruderhof in Australia. She and her husband, Henry, nurture four children, one cat, and...

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