Bruderhof Communities

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Bruderhof Communities (/ˈbrdərˌhɔːf/; German: place of brothers), also known as Church Communities International, are a Christian Church with community of goods, that has communities in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Paraguay, and Australia. Bruderhof Communities are widely seen as Anabaptist due to their connection to the Hutterites in the years from 1930 to 1955 and 1974 to 1995.[1]


The communities are best known by the name "Bruderhof Communities" or just "Bruderhof". They have been called The Society of Brothers since 1939. Since 2007 the group is also known as "Church Communities International". When the Bruderhof people were united with the traditional Hutterite they were sometimes like them called "Hutterian Brethren". The traditional Hutterites called the Bruderhof people "Arnold-Leut", analog to the pattern used in naming subgroups of them, like "Darius-Leut" or "Julius-Leut". During the time when they were part of the traditional Hutterites the names "New Hutterites" (German: "Neu-Hutterer") and "Eastern Hutterites" were also used.[2]


The center and main settlement of the Bruderhof moved from Germany, where it was founded in 1920 to England in 1937 and then to Paraguay in 1941 and finally around 1960 to the United States.

Beginnings in Germany (1920-1937)[edit]

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.[3] 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 (1937-1941)[edit]

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 (1941-1961)[edit]

Soon after England 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.[4]

During the first years in Paraguay, starting in the hostile Chaco region, then moving to the eastern part of the country, Bruderhof members founded three settlements as well as a hospital for community members and local Paraguayans. The main Setllement in Paraguay was called Primavera. 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 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. Hundreds of new members joined, many from other communal groups across the country. New communities were also founded in Pennsylvania (1957) and Connecticut (1958).

In the late 1950s and early 1960s something occurred among the Bruderhof people, that Yaacov Oved and Julius Rubin call "the great crisis".[5] In this time there was a power struggle between Heini Arnold, one of Eberhard Arnold's sons, and Hans Zumpe, who was the leader in Paraguay. This struggle was also a struggle between the "spirit of Primavera" and the the "spirit of Woodcrest". Rubin sees this conflict as one between two different themes: "international socialism" in Primavera and a "Pietist revival" in Woodcrest. The struggle was won by Heini Arnold and the Woodcrest Bruderhof. The settlements in Paraguay were disbanded and hundreds of members were send away.[6] In his book The Joyful Community Benjamin Zablocki states:

United States (since 1961)[edit]

In 1962 Johann Heinrich Arnold, Eberhard's second son, became the overall leader of the Bruderhof. By then, all remaining members had relocated from Paraguay to the northeastern United States, or to England, in part as a result of a "crisis of leadership" whereby descendants of the group's founder took decisive control of the group and thereby created a rift among members. Some members were not satisfied with the leadership and either voluntarily left the community or were abandoned in Paraguay with very few resources. While later Bruderhof leadership apologized for these transgressions, emotional wounds remained.[4]

In the years following the great crisis a theologian orthodoxy was created, that Rubin calls "Arnoldism", see below.[8]

The Forest River colony of Schmiedeleut Hutterites in North Dakota invited Bruderhof members to join them, and about 36 members moved to North Dakota. In 1955, the Schmiedeleut group excluded the Bruderhof and placed the Forest River colony under probation. In 1973, the Bruderhof leadership apologized for the problems among the Forest River colony and in 1974 was reunited with all branches of the Hutterian Church. However, in 1990 the more conservative Dariusleut and Lehrerleut Hutterites excommunicated the Bruderhof, refusing to recognize them as Hutterites because of practices that did not conform to standard Hutterite order including sending children to public schools, the use of musical instruments, and participation in a protest march. In 1990 the Spring Valley Bruderhof was founded adjacent to the New Meadow Run Bruderhof in Farmington, Pennsylvania.

In 2002 the Bruderhof purchased the house in Sannerz, Sinntal municipality in Hesse, Germany where the movement 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.[9]


In the history of the beliefs of the Bruderhof there were different influences: radical Protestantism, the German Youth Movement and International Socialism. In the early years in Germany the German Youth Movement had a huge influence besides radical Protestantism, but in the years in Paraguay Socialism became more important. Around 1960, in the years after the great crisis "Arnoldism", a Christian orthodoxy, became the main doctrine, see below. Pacifism that includes nonviolence and the self-perception as peace church whose members do not serve in the armed forces of any country and living in community of goods were basic convictions that were never challenged in the history of the Bruderhof.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]


According to Julius Rubin, a Christian orthodoxy, which he calls "Arnoldism", is dominant in the Bruderhof since the early 1960, the years following the great crisis of the Bruderhof. This orthodoxy is reflected by a number of English translations of Eberhard Arnold's works: Innerland (1963), Eberhard Arnold's Life and Work (1964), Children in Community (1963), When the Time was Fulfilled (1965), Salt and Light (1967), Why We Live in Community (1972), and Seeking the Kingdom. Several authorized books about its history were also published by the Bruderhof: Torches together by Emmy Arnold (1963), Torches Rekindled by Merrill Mow (1989), and Community in Paraguay by Bob and Shirley Wagoner (1991). In addition Freedom from Sinful Thoughts by Johann Heinrich "Heini" Arnold was published in 1974. There were also scores of sermons, tracts and teachings published.[13]

Present day[edit]

Most contemporary 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.

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

Children of Bruderhof families do not automatically become members, but are encouraged to leave the community and live elsewhere before deciding on their own whether or not to join the community.[14] Numerous guests visit the Bruderhof and all communities are open to guests.[15]

They are estimated to have around 2,600 members world wide.


Community Playthings, a line of classroom furniture and toys, was developed during the 1950s and soon became the Bruderhof's main source of income.[16] It still provides the community with a livelihood today. Other Bruderhof businesses include Rifton Equipment, which offers mobility and rehabilitation equipment for disabled adults and children,[17] and Clean Sheen Services, which provides cleaning and property management services.

The Bruderhof's Plough Publishing House publishes books and a quarterly magazine "Plough Quarterly". Plough publishes spiritual classics, inspirational books, and children's books, some of which are available as free downloads.[18]

Involvement in the wider community[edit]

Through the Bruderhof Foundation, a charity created to support outreach and service efforts, and through individual members, the Bruderhof remains actively involved in the neighborhoods that surround its communities,[17] and in the world at large. Bruderhof members serve on school boards, volunteer at prisons and hospitals, and work with local social service agencies[which?] to provide food and shelter for those in need of help. The Bruderhof community campaigns actively on social issues, such as the campaign in opposition to the death sentence for the activist Mumia Abu-Jamal who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer.[19]

Controversy and criticism[edit]

Former members have documented their experiences and criticisms in KIT - the Keep in Touch Newsletter (published 1989–current date). Find KIT in "Critics" section, below. Sociologist Julius Rubin, who interviewed former members for his book The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, was not allowed to visit the Bruderhof before publishing the book.[20]

John A. Hostetler, the American author and anthropologist at Temple University in Philadelphia whose work focused on Anabaptist groups, was close to the Bruderhofs and wrote articles for the group's magazine, The Plough, but later said he encountered what he called a "militaristic wall of hostility" from the Bruderhof's leadership after he wrote an article that criticised them.[20]

The Bruderhof employs a controversial method of shunning in which members who speak up with concerns of conscience to the leadership are silenced, condemned, and even excommunicated from the church. Members who are offered to leave (or in some cases, forced out) are given very little money or resources to conduct life on the outside, in what some would argue is a calculated move to force them to fail in the outside world and come groveling back (often after experiencing many of life's traumas-given their limited previous exposure to the outside world and lack of information about sex, drugs, finances, etc.). While the Bruderhof maintains their commitment to Christ, this is often not reflected in their treatment of leavers, who are often banned from interacting with their remaining family members, even by letter.[21]


  1. ^ Rod Janzen: The Hutterites and the Bruderhof: The Relationship Between an Old Older Religious Society and a Twentieth-Century Communal Group at Goshen College.
  2. ^ Society of Brothers at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
  3. ^ Mike Tyldesley (2003). No Heavenly Delusion?: A Comparative Study of Three Communal Movements. Liverpool University Press. 
  4. ^ a b 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. 
  5. ^ Yaacov Oved: The Witness of the Brothers: A History of the Bruderhof, New Brunswick, NJ, 1996, page 207-240.
  6. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, page 121-123.
  7. ^ Benjamin David Zablocki: The Joyful Community: An account of the Bruderhof, a communal movement now in its third generation, Baltimore, 1971, page 99.
  8. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, pages 82-103.
  9. ^ Richard Torbay. "Hansard Transcript: Bruderhof Community, Inverell". Parliament of New South Wales. 
  10. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, pages 43-76.
  11. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, pages 44, 60, 107.
  12. ^ The Bruderhof: Foundations of our Faith & Calling; The Bruderhof; The Plough Publishing House, Rifton, New York 2012.
  13. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, pages 170.
  14. ^ Richard Weizel (1996-12-08). "Of Family, Spirituality and Power". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  15. ^ Christopher Zimmerman (1996-12-15). "The Bruderhof, Another View". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  16. ^ "Excerpt from A Future Perfect: The Essentials of Globalization, By John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  17. ^ a b Steve Levin (2000-07-21). "Bruderhof youth festival readied". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  18. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-05-01. 
  19. ^ Andres Tapia and Rudy Carrasco (2007-06-21). "A Christian Community Makes Waves, Not War". Christianity Today. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  20. ^ a b Gerald Renner (1995-11-12). "Bruderhof Leader Defends Close-knit Community Against Outside Critics". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  21. ^ Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy among the Bruderhof, New York and Oxford, 2000, pages 132-155.


The works of Eberhard Arnold were written in German between 1918 and 1935 and later translated into English. Of most of the Bruderhof books there are more recent editions, sometimes with different titles. See also: Eberhard Arnold: Works.

Books of the Bruderhof[edit]

  • The Bruderhof: Foundations of our Faith & Calling, Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2012.
  • Emmy Barth: No Lasting Home: A Year in the Paraguayan Wilderness, Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2009.
  • Peter Mommsen: Homage to a Broken Man: The Life of J. Heinrich Arnold, Plough Publishing House, 2007
  • Eberhard Arnold: Why we live in community, 3. English ed. Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 1999.
  • Markus Baum: Against The Wind, 1998 Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing House, 1998.
  • Heini Arnold: Freedom from Sinful Thoughts, 1994.
  • Bob and Shirley Wagoner: Community in Paraguay: A Visit to the Bruderhof, Farmington, PA: Plough Pub. House, 1991
  • Merrill Mow: Torches rekindled: the Bruderhof's struggle for renewal, Ulster Park, NY: Plough Publishing House, 1989.
  • Eberhard and Emmy Arnold: Seeking for the Kingdom of God: Origins of the Bruderhof Communities, Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing House, 1974.
  • Eberhard Arnold: Why We Live in Community, 1972.
  • Eberhard Arnold: Salt and Light, 1967.
  • Eberhard Arnold: When the Time was Fulfilled, 1965.
  • Emmy Arnold: Eberhard Arnold's Life and Work, 1964.
  • Emmy Arnold: Torches Together, 1964.
  • Eberhard Arnold: Children in Community, 1963.
  • Eberhard Arnold: Innerland, 1963.

Other books[edit]

  • Ian M. Randall: Church community is a gift of the Holy Spirit: The spirituality of the Bruderhof community, Oxford, England, 2014, (53 pages).
  • Julius H. Rubin: The Other Side of Joy: Religious Melancholy Among The Bruderhof, New York, 2000.
  • Miriam Arnold Holmes: Cast Out In The World, San Francisco, 1997.
  • Yaacov Oved: The Witness of the Brothers: A History of the Bruderhof, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1996.
  • Belinda Manley: Through Streets Broad And Narrow, San Francisco, 1996.
  • J. Gordon Melton (editor): Encyclopedia of American Religions (5th edition), Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.
  • Nadine Moonje Pleil: Free from Bondage, San Francisco: Carrier Pigeon Press, 1994.
  • Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe: Torches Extinguished: Memories of a Communal Bruderhof Childhood in Paraguay, Europe and the U. S., San Francisco, 1993.
  • Roger Allain: The community that failed: An account of twenty-two years in Bruderhof communes in Europe and South America, San Francisco, 1992.
  • Benjamin David Zablocki: The Joyful Community: An account of the Bruderhof, a communal movement now in its third generation, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971.

External links[edit]