Bruderhof Communities

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Darvell Bruderhof meeting outdoors
Darvell Bruderhof meeting outdoors

The Bruderhof (/ˈbrdərˌhɔːf/; German: place of brothers) is a Christian Church that practices community of goods. They have communities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Paraguay, and Australia. The Bruderhof is seen as Anabaptist due to its beliefs and practice.[1]

The Bruderhof practices adult baptism, non-violence and peacemaking, full community of goods, the proclamation of the gospel and lifelong faithfulness in marriage.[2]

The communities are best known by the name "Bruderhof" or sometimes "Bruderhof Communities", though "Bruderhof" is the name used on their website. The communities are legally incorporated in the US as "Church Communities International". Their corporation used to be called The Society of Brothers (1939 to 1978).[3] When the Bruderhof was part of the Hutterite church, they were sometimes called "Hutterian Brethren".

The Bruderhof in Peckham


Beginnings in Germany (1920–37)[edit]

A gathering of the Youth Movement in 1920

The Bruderhof was founded in Germany in 1920 by Eberhard Arnold, a philosophy student and intellectual inspired by the German Youth Movement and his wife Emmy, née von Hollander.[4] In 1920 the young family with five children rented a house in Sannerz, Germany and founded a religious community.

When the group outgrew the house at Sannerz, they moved to the nearby Rhön Mountains. While there, Arnold discovered that the Hutterites (an Anabaptist movement he had studied with great interest) were still in existence in North America. In 1930 he traveled to meet the Hutterites and was ordained as a Hutterian minister.

With the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, the Rhön community moved its draft-age men and children to Liechtenstein around 1934 because of their conscientious refusal to serve in the armed forces and to accept Nazi teachers. This community became known as the Alm Bruderhof. Continuing pressure from the Nazi government caused others to move to England and found the Cotswold Bruderhof in 1936. On April 14, 1937, secret police surrounded the Rhön Bruderhof, confiscated the property, and gave the remaining community members forty-eight hours to flee the country. By 1938, all the Bruderhof members had reassembled in England.

England (1937–41)[edit]

Tea break at the Cotswold Bruderhof
Avila Star - one of the boats that transported the Bruderhof to Paraguay.

While in England, the population grew to over 350 members, largely through the addition of young English members seeking an alternative to war. Even before the outbreak of World War II, the community's German members and its pacifist stance attracted deep suspicion locally resulting in economic boycotts. When confronted with the option of either having all German members interned, or leaving England as a group, the Bruderhof chose the latter, and began to look for refuge abroad.

Paraguay (1941–61)[edit]

Cattle Round-up in Paraguay

Soon after the United Kingdom entered the war, the Bruderhof emigrated to Paraguay—the only country that would accept a pacifist community of mixed nationalities. This move was assisted and facilitated by the Mennonite Central Committee.[5]

Starting in the hostile Chaco region, the Bruderhof then relocated to eastern Paraguay where three settlements were founded on a large tract of land called Primavera.[6] Bruderhof members founded a hospital for community members and local Paraguayans. The only clinic in the area, it served tens of thousands for the next two decades. By the early 1960s, the community in Paraguay had grown significantly.

In 1942, several leaders of the community came in conflict with a group of members over the community's trajectory. This group, which included the founder's wife Emmy Arnold, argued that the founder's vision was rooted in a pietistic faith in Jesus Christ, not primarily in communitarian ideals. Eventually the church leadership, headed by the founder's son-in-law Hans Zumpe, banished the dissidents from the Bruderhof. Those who supported them were silenced, often with harsh discipline.

Eventually allowed back to join their families, the dissidents re-joined the community. One of them, Johann Heinrich Arnold, a son of Eberhard and Emmy Arnold, was sent with his family to the United States to raise funds and eventually started a new community called Woodcrest, in Rifton, New York, in 1954. Over the following years, conflicts between Zumpe and Arnold continued, culminating in a crisis resulting in Zumpe being relieved of his leadership role by the community. Zumpe left the community in 1960 after revelations of personal issues.[7]

Many members who supported Zumpe, and some who were confused by the turmoil, left or were asked to leave the community. Eventually, the communities in Paraguay were dissolved and the members who remained relocated to the United States. Many of those who left the community during the 1960s later returned, but some remained outside of the community and formed a group of critics of the Bruderhof. Their stories formed the basis for the 2000 book written by Julius Rubin, The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof.[8] Rubin himself never visited the Bruderhof.[9]

United States (1954–present)[edit]

In 1954, the Bruderhof started a settlement known as the Woodcrest Bruderhof in the United States near Rifton in upstate New York, in response to a dramatic increase in the number of American guests. Woodcrest absorbed the Macedonia Cooperative Community in Georgia and many members of the Kingwood Community in New Jersey. Through the Macedonia Cooperative Community Woodcrest inherited the business Community Playthings.[10] Additional new communities were founded in Pennsylvania (1957) and Connecticut (1958).

In 1990 the Spring Valley Bruderhof was founded adjacent to the New Meadow Run Bruderhof in Farmington, Pennsylvania, and further communities have been founded since.

Europe (1971–present)[edit]

In 1971, the Bruderhof purchased a property in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, called Darvell. The property had previously been a tuberculosis hospital. In 1995 a former sports college in Kent was purchased. In 2005, the Bruderhof started a small community in East London.

In 2002 the Bruderhof purchased a house in Sannerz, in the Sinntal municipality in Hesse, Germany, where the movement had originally started. It is one of two Bruderhof houses in Germany. In 2003 the Bruderhof opened a new community in Inverell, New South Wales, Australia, where they operate the sign-writing business Danthonia Designs.[11]

Beliefs and Practice[edit]

The Bruderhof is a Protestant, evangelical Christian group, strongly influenced by radical Anabaptist and early Christian beliefs.[9] Eberhard Arnold drew inspiration from a number of historical streams including early Christianity, the Anabaptists, German Pietism and the German Youth Movement. Johann Blumhardt (1805–1880) and his son Christoph Blumhardt (1842–1919), both German Lutheran theologians, are important sources of Bruderhof piety.[12]

The Bruderhof tries to follow the practices of the first church in Jerusalem as related in the Acts of the Apostles, for example Acts 4:32–37: where the church members were of "one heart and mind, and shared all things in common". Bruderhof members do not hold private property, but rather share everything. No Bruderhof member receives a salary or has a bank account. Income from all businesses is pooled and used for the care of all members and for various communal outreach efforts.[13]

The Bruderhof practices adult baptism, which does not equate to membership. Membership is lifetime and by vows after the age of 21.[14] The Bruderhof also practices what they would call "The law of love" based on the house rule of the first Bruderhof in 1925.

It is therefore out of the question for someone in our community to hold something against a brother or sister or to talk behind his or her back. Relationships within and to the church community are spiritual bonds based on trust and on the readiness to forgive again and again.

— Foundations of our Faith and Calling

The Bruderhof believes marriage to be "the lifelong union between one man and one woman" and believes that sexual love should only be shared in such a marriage relationship. They believe divorce and remarriage to be wrong.[15] The Bruderhof has been criticized by some for its position[16] on homosexuality.[17] It has supported and run marriage events to promote marriage between one man and one woman both in the United States and the United Kingdom.[18] The Bruderhof also participated in Humanum, a conference held in the Vatican from 17–19 November 2014 and attended by Pope Francis to discuss the complementarity of man and woman.[19]

Present day life[edit]

Bruderhof members by the sea

Most communities have a nursery, kindergarten, school, communal kitchen, laundry, various workshops, and offices. Bruderhof life is built around the family, though there are also many single members. Children are an important part of each community and participate in most communal gatherings. Disabled and elderly members are loved and cared for within the community and participate in daily life and work as much as they are able.

Bruderhof members do not have any private property, but rather share everything in common. No Bruderhof member receives a salary or has a bank account. Income from all businesses is used for the care of all members, and for various outreach efforts.

The Bruderhof runs schools for the children on each community, up to the age of 18. From there, young people go onto further education at university or do a practical training. They do not automatically become members, and many are encouraged to leave the community and live elsewhere before deciding on their own whether or not to join the community.[20]

Membership in the Bruderhof is a voluntary, adult decision and should be made with the full knowledge of what non-Bruderhof life is like.

— Bruderhof website

Numerous guests visit the Bruderhof and all communities are open to guests.[21]

The Bruderhof is estimated to have around 2,800 members worldwide.[22]

Bruderhof locations[edit]

List of known Bruderhof locations[23]
Community name Country Location Established
Armidale Australia Armidale, NSW 2005
Bayboro United States Florida 2006
Beech Grove United Kingdom Nonington, Kent 1995
Bellvale United States Chester, New York 2001
Danthonia Australia Elsmore, NSW 1999
Darvell United Kingdom Robertsbridge, East Sussex 1971
Fox Hill United States Walden, New York 1999
Harlem House United States Harlem, New York 2006
Holzland Germany Bad Klosterlausnitz, Thuringia 2004
Inverell Australia Inverell, NSW 2005
Maple Ridge United States Ulster Park, New York 1985
Morgantown Community United States Morgantown, West Virginia 2007
The Mount Community United States Esopus, New York 2012
New Meadow Run United States Farmington, Pennsylvania 1957
Parkview United States Albany, New York 2006
Peckham House United Kingdom Peckham, Lewisham 2016
Platte Clove United States Elka Park, New York 1990
Rondout United States Kingston, New York 2004
Sannerz Germany Sinntal-Sannerz 2002
Spring Valley United States Farmington, Pennsylvania 1987
Villa Primavera Paraguay Mariscal Estigarribia 2010
Woodcrest United States Rifton, New York 1954


The Bruderhof run a variety of businesses that provide income:

Community Playthings was developed during the 1950s and soon became the Bruderhof's main source of income.[24] Community Playthings designs and manufactures quality wooden classroom and play environments for schools and daycare centers. The business is run by the communities in the United States[25] and United Kingdom.[26]

Rifton Equipment, run by some of the American communities, sells mobility and rehabilitation equipment for disabled adults and children. It was founded in 1977.[27]

Danthonia Designs is the business that supports the Australian Bruderhofs. It specializes in hand-carved three-dimensional signage and was founded in 2001.[11]

Involvement in the wider community[edit]

The Bruderhof is actively involved in the neighborhoods that surround its communities,[28] and in the world at large. The Bruderhof sees justice and the works of mercy as a gospel command.[2]

Bruderhof members serve on school boards, volunteer at soup kitchens, prisons and hospitals, and work with local social service agencies such as the police to provide food and shelter for those in need of help. They are active supporters of various international aid organisations, such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.[29][30]

The Bruderhof's Plough Publishing House publishes books and a magazine "Plough Quarterly". Plough publishes spiritual classics, inspirational books, and children's books, some of which are available as free downloads.[31]

In response to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the Bruderhof created a program of school assemblies that have now reached tens of thousands of youths in the United States and United Kingdom. Operating under the name "Breaking the Cycle", speakers with forgiveness stories speak to children at school assemblies.[32]

The Bruderhof community has at various times campaigned on social issues, such as the death penalty and the Iraq war. They were involved in the campaign in opposition to the death sentence for the activist Mumia Abu-Jamal who was convicted in 1982 of murdering a Philadelphia police officer.[33]

The Bruderhof and the Hutterites[edit]

The Bruderhof Communities and the traditional Hutterites were in fellowship between 1930 and 1955 and between 1974 and 1990. In 1990 the Lehrerleut and the Dariusleut withdrew, while the Schmiedeleut maintained their bond to the Bruderhof. After the split among the Schmiedeleut in 1992 the more traditional group also withdrew, while the more progressive branch, led by Jacob Kleinsasser, kept the bond till 1995. Since then the traditional Hutterites and the Bruderhof are separate groups.[34]

The reason for the withdrawal of the Hutterites in 1955 was a conflict about the Forest River Hutterite Colony, which joined the Bruderhof by a majority vote. In 1974 there was reconciliation between the two groups.[35] In 1990 two of the three branches of the traditional Hutterites withdrew over concerns in regard to education, worship services and relations with outsiders.

According to Rod Janzen there are differences between the traditional Hutterites and the Bruderhof Communities on many fields. Besides cultural differences, there are differences in regard to education, leadership, decision making, church discipline, ecumenism, what constitutes the "Word of God" etc. All these differences led to the final break in 1995.[34]


  1. ^ Murray, Stuart (2011). The Naked Anabaptist. Paternoster. ISBN 978-1-84227-725-6. 
  2. ^ a b "Foundations of our Faith and Calling". Retrieved 16 November 2016. 
  3. ^ Merrill Mow: Torches rekindled: the Bruderhof's struggle for renewal, Ulster Park, NY, 1989, page 30.
  4. ^ Mike Tyldesley (2003). No Heavenly Delusion?: A Comparative Study of Three Communal Movements. Liverpool University Press. 
  5. ^ Levinson, David; Christensen, Karen (2003). Encyclopedia of community: from the village to the virtual world, Volume 3. Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publications. p. 105. 
  6. ^ Barth, Emmy (2009). No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness. Plough. ISBN 9780874869453. 
  7. ^ Mommsen, Peter. Homage to a Broken Man. Plough. ISBN 9780874866131. 
  8. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, pages 132-155.
  9. ^ a b Randall, Ian M. (2014-10-01). "Church Community is a Gift of the Holy Spirit - The Spirituality of the Bruderhof Community". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. 
  10. ^ " - Our History". Retrieved 2016-11-23. 
  11. ^ a b "Danthonia Designs". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  12. ^ "Guides". Bruderhof. Retrieved 2016-11-24. 
  13. ^ The Bruderhof: Foundations of our Faith & Calling; The Bruderhof; The Plough Publishing House, Rifton, New York 2012.
  14. ^ Foundations of our Faith and Calling. Plough. 2014. pp. 29, 50. ISBN 978-0-87486-888-3. In obedience to this commission, the church community offers baptism to every person who believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ and whose repentance comes from the heart, bearing fruit in deeds. In order to receive believer's baptism as instituted by Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a person must have reached the age of accountability. 
  15. ^ Foundations of our Faith and Calling. Plough. 2014. pp. 58–61. ISBN 978-0-87486-888-3. 
  16. ^ "Bruderhof Marriage". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  17. ^ "Andrew Sullivan and "Christianists"". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  18. ^ "Marriage event in London". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  19. ^ "Man, Woman and Family: Convergence Among Faiths". Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  20. ^ "Education". Bruderhof. Retrieved 2016-11-26. 
  21. ^ "Visit Us". Bruderhof. Retrieved 2016-11-26. 
  22. ^ "Bruderhof Official Website". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  23. ^ "Where We Are". Bruderhof. Retrieved 2016-11-24. 
  24. ^ "Community Playthings". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  25. ^ " - Community Playthings - Childcare Furniture for over 60 years". Retrieved 2016-12-05. 
  26. ^ "Community Playthings | Nursery school furniture and equipment". Retrieved 2016-12-05. 
  27. ^ "Rifton Website". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  28. ^ Steve Levin (2000-07-21). "Bruderhof youth festival readied". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  29. ^ "Bruderhof Common Causes". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  30. ^ "Save the Children Strategic Partners". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  31. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-05-01. 
  32. ^ "Breaking the Cycle". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  33. ^ Andres Tapia and Rudy Carrasco (2007-06-21). "A Christian Community Makes Waves, Not War". Christianity Today. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  34. ^ a b Rod Janzen: The Hutterites and the Bruderhof: The Relationship Between an Old Older Religious Society and a Twentieth-Century Communal Group in Mennonite Quarterly Review 79 (2005), pages 505-544.
  35. ^ Merrill Mow: Torches rekindled: the Bruderhof's struggle for renewal, Ulster Park, NY, 1989, page 29-31.

External links[edit]