Life in Community

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Life in Community

Three Things I Love Most about the Bruderhof

July 23, 2019 by

Life has been a little nerve-wracking here since last September. It all 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 on 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 will be aired soon on BBC1 (we’ll keep you posted!). I think it worked out pretty well, and gives a nice taste of our life, albeit in 38 minutes, which is faster than I ever give a tour of our community. Of course an awful lot of stuff couldn’t be squeezed into the final cut. For instance, my twelve-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 is a picture, 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, that we should be able to build a world where all people can find fulfilment. The Bruderhof isn’t perfect, but we like to 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, so let me catch you up on them and then tell you a few things I love about the Bruderhof. After all, it’s a great question, and one I get often: “What do you like about living here?”

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 having serious discussions as you try to work out your salvation. Not true.

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. Hannah decided to come back to the Bruderhof after her internship at XLP (a great programme, by the way). Right now she is a summer camp counsellor for nine- and ten-year-olds at the Woodcrest community in New York, and is looking forward to starting at St. John’s University in New York City in the fall, where she plans to study education.

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. Since the filming, Hardy has managed to travel to the US and Australia to work on various mission or building projects. He’s now back in Darvell, and probably fishing.

The Hibbs Family: My wife and I have managed to remain deeply in love, even though I inflicted a film crew 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, a couple from Darvell, a Bruderhof in England

Our older kids are rather ambivalent about the whole thing, but five-year-old Jonathan just loved having our house filled with journalists. It allowed him to talk endlessly about polar bears, penguins, and people being eaten by sharks to people who actually seemed interested.

Watch the documentary if you can – it took a lot of effort and really, we did it for you.

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 quite 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, and give them stern lectures when they don’t try hard enough. 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 didn’t ditch my phone when I came home in the evening. It is easier to do the right thing when everyone around you is doing it.

It’s a place of true equality between men and women.
It seems to me that almost all major problems in the world were and are caused by men. Yet women have had a bad deal since creation. Even today, women are often treated terribly – just read the newspaper.

Since 1920, we’ve tried to do the opposite in the Bruderhof. Women have always had a voice in our communities, always contributed to decision making and church matters. Objectifying or sexualizing them is taboo. A woman can go to work and social occasions knowing that no one is going to comment on her looks, let alone harass her for them. Again, when everyone around you is also trying to do the right thing, and you have a shared focus on something important, it really is possible.

At the Bruderhof there’s no gender pay gap. (OK, we all get paid nothing, but it sounds pretty cool to say that.)

It’s hardly surprising that the way the women dress is often the first thing people notice. Many people assume that wearing simple clothes and a head covering automatically means women are being oppressed. Some, my wife included, find this assumption deeply offensive. One of the journalists who visited noted that none of the women she met on the Bruderhof were “meek.” But in our society at large, women are constantly being told what to wear and how to look by “influencers” and fashion executives. No doubt Rachel will correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess is that she’s happy that she and our daughter are free of that particular brand of exploitation.

Oh, 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. 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 vegetable chopping. I pride myself on my julienne technique.

It is a really fun place to live.
Of course, intentional community has its tough sides but we balance that with barbeques and beer, not to mention a shared commitment to a better world, so it kind of evens out.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 having serious discussions as you try to work out your salvation. Not true: we work in satisfying, humane jobs, eat great meals together, and then 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.

That’s it. Come and see if you like. We are running a bunch of visit days in the UK because of all the interest from the documentary. Sign up here.

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What is the Bruderhof? We're an intentional Christian community with locations worldwide. We try to love our neighbor and share everything, so that peace and justice become a reality.

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  • Hi Steven, The BBC delayed the programme because the News at 10 overran. Pretty annoying! The 7th of August was a replay date that was already selected, but that of course has now been removed. Keep checking our website or the BBC page for details.

    Bernard Hibbs
  • Muzammal, thanks for your kind words. I think they took about 100 hours of footage and had to squeeze it into 40 minutes, so a lot of really great stuff never even got a mention. Oh well. We didn’t have any control over what they videoed (they spend 10 weeks and just filmed what they wanted) or the editorial process. It’s always nice to have visitors, so come along!

    Bernard Hibbs
  • Hi. Why did the BBC not show the programme about your community? I was really looking forward to it. On the BBC web site it did say that it would be shown at 0200 on 7th August but that message has been removed. There is also a comment about the programme not be available on BBC iPlayer. Confused. Steve

    Steven Reed
  • Thank you Bernard. I very much enjoyed reading your post and getting a personal story behind what is to be a very public offering! I only heard about the community recently. Oh, and what a shame, despite all the effort and organising that none of the football practise got into the final cut! I feel the pain! Hopefully one day I'll get to visit :)

    Muzammal
  • I won’t to Learn more

    Lisa