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BACKSTORY | A glimpse at life in a Christian commune

Writer Amy Lewis speaks with Chris Voll while reporting on the Bruderhof community. Photo by Simon Scott

Everything together
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Amy Lewis moved to Australia with her husband and three youngest children in 2021. Since then, she’s given WORLD readers and listeners a window into life Down Under, especially its natural beauty and diverse ecology. When I learned about a community of Christians living out their unique lifestyle on a farm in the bush, I knew I wanted Amy to visit. I was interested in the agriculture angle (read more about that in “Cultivating community,” in this issue), but I really wanted to know what it was like to live a life so radically different from my own—where community trumps individuality. Here’s what she told me.

The Bruderhof people are welcoming of outsiders and open about their beliefs. They even post their foundational documents online. But they’re also very careful about how much personal information they share. Do you feel like you got a true sense of what life is like in their community? Leaders carefully curated my time and whom I could interview during my three-day visit, so I was sad to not have broader interaction while there, to talk with people who struggle with the rules. At the same time, the approved people seemed genuinely friendly and willing to talk about life at Danthonia. I think I got a true story, but maybe not the whole story.

The line between an intentional community and a cult is really thin. What evidence did you see that indicates the Bruderhof hasn’t crossed it? This is a tricky question, but I don’t think they are a cult. In the 1990s they realized they had drifted from founder Eberhard Arnold’s vision, so they made directional changes. Living by covenant allows them to keep members accountable but also creates opportunities for coercion, control, and abuse starting at a young age. They truly strive to follow Jesus in radical obedience in ways that make me wonder why we aren’t all doing that—and at the same time glad we aren’t.

The Bruderhof members take vows of poverty as part of joining the community. That means they don’t own anything individually. But you discovered their daily lives are far from impoverished. The vow is to renounce personal property. It’s not a commitment to ascetic living. As a community, they eat well and often enjoy wine around the campfire in the evening. Much of their food comes from the farm, but families can also order special foods they might want. There’s room and finances to pursue activities and possessions that simply bring pleasure. The community has a sauna they can all enjoy. On the other hand, most families live in housing blocks with shared kitchens and bathrooms. Communal living definitely comes with trade-offs.

Leigh Jones

Leigh is features editor for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD News Group. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.


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