The church of God is repeatedly reminded of what it actually is by the way God calls believers to take community seriously, generation after generation. The church, in the widest sense, constantly slips back into being either a hierarchical body where some decide and others obey, or else a loose association of individuals sharing a common inspiration but little else. The Bruderhof movement has, over the last century, firmly and consistently declared that neither of these will do. The Good News is nothing if not embodied in a style of living together – learning, praying, working, deciding together – that simply manifests what God makes possible. As our civilization shakes and fragments, and begins to recognize belatedly what violence it has done to the whole created order as well as to the deepest levels of human dignity, this embodied witness is more and more significant.
The Bruderhof gently holds up a mirror to the Christian world and asks, “Why not this?”
The Bruderhof communities are not the creation of wild and eccentric religious speculation. These are people who accept the great central mysteries of the Christian faith – the eternal threefold life and love of God, the coming of God’s Word in the flesh – and seek only to live in faithfulness to the gifts of the Spirit and the guidance of Scripture, read prayerfully and intelligently in fellowship. For all who call themselves Christian, this simple witness to the implications of the classical central affirmations of faith should give pause. If God is truly as we say; if Christ’s spirit is truly manifest – as Paul says – in the style in which we live together without resentment, rivalry, and fear; if the Christian is truly set free from the violent power structures of this world; why are the priorities and practices of the Bruderhof not more evident in other Christian communities? The Bruderhof gently holds up a mirror to the Christian world and asks, “Why not this?”
My own contacts with the community have been a joy and enrichment over many years. The Darvell community has welcomed me as a guest, and I have had the special pleasure of sharing a little in the educational life of the group, speaking with children in the school and discussing some of the publishing work. One of the most striking things about the Bruderhof is what you might call their spiritual and intellectual hospitality – as warm as the literal hospitality the visitor experiences. This is a community willing to learn from and to celebrate the early Christians and Saint Francis, Catholics such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Jean Vanier and the L’Arche communities, Russian Christians such as Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and many more. In that sense, this is a genuinely catholic reality, a community seeking to nourish itself with the wisdom and experience of the whole Christian family extended in time and space. There is no sectarian aggression here – clear and uncompromising principle, yes, but not the urge to demean or despise others.
This is a beautiful book on several levels, beautiful in the images it gives of simple and harmonious relation with an environment, but beautiful also in its chronicling of lives that have been held and healed in this shared enterprise of the Spirit. It is a gift, and a welcome one – but above all a gift that speaks of the first and greater gift of the presence of the Bruderhof in this world. My friends on the Bruderhof are witnesses to the peaceable kingdom – not merely people who believe peace is an ideal worth pursuing, but men, women, and children who trust the God of peace sufficiently to give their lives to incarnating the peace of God. I hope this book will help all its readers learn something of how such trust becomes possible and real.
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, is a master of Magdalen College in Cambridge and chancellor of the University of Wales.