Life in Community

Working for a Common Goal

October 30, 2020 by


October 2020 marks the 111th anniversary of Annemarie Arnold’s birth. This remarkable woman was an early convert to a life of community in Christ, and her words still teach us today. In this excerpt from a letter, written to her family outside of the “hof” shortly after she first arrived in 1932, she describes to them some of what she found in living and working in the young community.

Today I wanted to write you a bit about the meaning of the communal work, as far as I have understood it up to now. The first and foremost thing is this, that people have gathered together here in order to live their lives filled by a clearly defined and common purpose. It is a community of people from the most varied classes and professions who have come out of groups with the most diverse world outlooks. . . . They wish to live and work – and also even be ready to die – for one common goal. They are affiliated neither with a mainstream church nor a political party, and also obey the government only insofar as its demands do not conflict with their convictions. The one and only thing to which they feel themselves bound is contained in the words of the Bible, especially the New Testament. That means, they feel deeply gripped by and committed to what comes to us through the Bible from God, the coming of his kingdom, the sending out of his Holy Spirit, the life of Jesus, and what he requires of mankind. This compelled them to such a degree that they had to break off their former lives that they had been leading within the framework of the normal middle class world, in order to place their entire lives and whole strength from then on into the service of discipleship to Christ and in the faith and hope in the kingdom of God.

The fundamental thing – always hard to grasp at first – is that through an encounter with the divine they received such a great faith that they were able to discard all obstacles from their former lives in order to dedicate their whole lives until death to the new task and direction which they recognized because of their faith in God. This will be especially difficult to understand in our time in which there are so few people willing to live and die in a manner consistent with their convictions. The community members believe in God and his Trinity as an absolute reality. He is the first and the last Truth. He is reality; there is none greater. To them, he is neither a beautiful ideal arising from the affectations of the emotional life nor an indeterminate, problematic entity.

God is love, faithfulness, grace, mercy, and justice. God loves all people as his children and no one is greater than another. That is why all people should love each other as brothers. . . . It is not always easy to recognize the brother in every man, and not to believe oneself higher and better than another. That holds true not only in personal relationships but also in the attitudes of whole groups of people, even of whole countries, towards each other. Such a stance necessarily leads to conscientious objection to war and to the bearing of arms, because a consistent adherence to a life of love will not tolerate violence in any form.

Living by love implies a life of social justice, because love encompasses each person equally – it cannot show partiality. Therefore, the type of communal life that is lived here cannot recognize the generally established class distinctions. There are no higher or lower social classes for the members here. A person’s family name does not make him a better person. And economic injustice can be accepted just as little as human injustice. Such a community must reject capitalism and desire to live in complete community of goods, in the communism of the original apostolic church. Personal property and earnings are completely renounced.

You will understand now why there can be no payment of wages for work done here. All egoistic impulses, all selfishness and self-will must be combated. As soon as we begin to look out for our own interests, loving service towards others ceases. Only when we free ourselves from everything that binds us to property and possessions can we be given a life of love; only then are we able to follow Christ. This community has therefore taken a life of simplicity and poverty voluntarily upon itself. Because it is only through this voluntary poverty that a life of social justice, one that is increasingly free from material and temporal things, can be found. Such a life points to irrevocable and final values, to the eternal. Put into practice, it means that in this community of currently around ninety people there is no private enterprise through which each individual would seek to acquire as much as he could for himself. Whatever a person owns they give to the community. Whatever support and necessities he or she needs is provided by the community.

Such a life in community therefore means a battle against the egoistic nature of humankind. It cannot be carried out in comfort and self-satisfied tranquility. Every uncompromising stance requires struggle, effort, and loyalty. In just the same way this life calls for concentration, privation, hardship, sacrifice, martyrdom. The people here know that they want to – and must – go this way just as Christ had to endure death on the cross in order to rise again. By doing this he did not relieve us from having to go the same way, but rather showed it to us by example. And because all here are conscious of the difficulty and bitterness of the way, there is no sweetly gushing Christianity, no false enthusiasm that fades into thin air with empty phrases (as one may be tempted to think), but rather a Christianity of true conviction and faith and therefore a Christianity of deeds. That is the pivotal thing. As part of its ultimate goal and through the strength of God and his spirit, this Christianity seeks to penetrate the whole of life right down into the smallest practical details. It undertakes this with ardent zeal and exertion. It is precisely in the most mundane routines of daily life – those that are not filled by the elation of holier hours – that this Christianity must be tested lest it remain empty and useless. Then everyone will see that the great cause must be made alive and visible through deeds, through actions.

. . . All daily practical work can only be done well if it is done in the spirit of the cause. And therefore a lot of work is also really accomplished. That is the difference to all the many intentional communities that have, as you know, almost all failed: here everything is done under the clear sign of the one great goal. All work therefore simply has to be done, and does get done quite naturally and objectively.

Such objectivity means clarity, purity, truth. It cannot tolerate any half-heartedness or compromise, only a clear all or nothing. The greatness of the cause demands a pure, responsible decision from all those who want to live here to serve in true faithfulness, poverty, and willingness. A person must wish to joyfully and completely surrender their own will and strive to overcome all egoism. This way demands the joyful, voluntary shouldering of all bitterness and hardships of this way. It demands a constant focusing of all capacities in order not to lose sight of the goal.

And yet this all remains senseless human efforts and decisions unless one is given the conviction that it cannot be otherwise; that one can and must act. The life of the community is not something that can be lived by a decision of the will or the intellect. Heart and soul – one’s entire being – must be gripped by this cause. Once the reality and the coming of God’s kingdom – for this is the name of the cause – is revealed in even the tiniest corner of a person, it causes them to radically change the direction of their life in order to become ever more open and receptive to this reality of the kingdom of God. The task is so great that each person must find a wholly childlike heart in order to serve the cause in the deepest sense, in full trust, true humility, and surrender, and be overwhelmed ever anew by its greatness.

Annemarie Arnold, née Wächter, (1909–1980) was active in the German Youth Movement between the two World Wars, and her journals give a rare insight into the worldview and spiritual searching of youth of that era. She was a relative of renowned German educator Friedrich Fröbel, and studied education herself before joining the nascent Bruderhof community movement. She married J. Heinrich Arnold (1913–1982) and they had eight daughters and one son.


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