BBC 1 have recently aired a documentary about a group you may not have heard of called the Bruderhof Community. They have a centre down in Sussex as well as around the world. CR chats to Bernard Hibbs, who is a member of the community.
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They know the standards upheld in the Bruderhof mean they can be free of that sort of harassment. I would never even comment about what a woman looks like or what clothes she's wearing; it would never be part of my life.
Jeff: I guess one of the accusations people are always going to make about any group that is different and separate in any sort of way is they are going to accuse you of being a cult. Yet you would subscribe to traditional Christian teaching, like the Nicene Creed, the apostolic Creed?
Bernard: Absolutely. We read the same bible as all the other Christians in this country. We don't try and read anything different than that. We simply try and live out the passages around money and materialism in a very intense way. It's not the right way for everyone but it works for us. People will accuse you of being a cult just because you are different but that's ok. People accuse us of all sorts of things, you get used to it.
Jeff: I guess because there have been so many bad instances and bad examples in the press, even up to the present time, that that happens. What is the leadership structure? Who is responsible to whom in the hierarchy?
Bernard: We have pastoral care in the community. We have a set of pastors who there to care for people's marriages, for children, give advice to parents. There is a very pastoral set up in the community. These people are not chosen because of their ability to give great sermons or for their theological knowledge but for their ability to care. But then there are all sorts of responsibilities and leadership within the community: finances, work, the different departments that we work in. We run a business; we run a farm. So there has to be leadership otherwise we'd have chaos.
Jeff: But it's very much team based rather than an individual?
Bernard: It's very much based on working together. You may have the ability to make financial decisions on behalf of the community, but you'll work together with whoever you need to, to make prudent financial decisions. At the same time we're a democracy and we don't talk about every decision cos that would just drive everyone crazy.
Jeff: An interesting thing is with a youngster who is part of the community and they reach the age of 18, you would encourage them to discern whether this is a way of life for them for the rest of their life.
Bernard: That's right. We don't allow any one to join as a sort of birth right membership. Young people growing up in the community have to test their faith as well. Very often that will involve going off somewhere, going to university. The woman who is in the film, Hannah, goes off and does a year's internship in London with a youth charity called XLP. Others may go abroad. Some leave the community completely; some come back again. We want to make sure that if someone does decide to join, they really are sure that this is the way God is calling them.
Jeff: It must be a culture shock for those who leave because I get the picture that they are not walking round with their head buried in a mobile phone, looking at Facebook and social media, playing games on computers.
Bernard: My children don't have access to the Internet; they don't have mobile phones, they don't have social media and as a parent I'm really happy about that. We do go to great lengths to expose our children to the rest of the world. They know about politics; they know about the wars that are going on. We have many guest speakers who come. Our children aren't kept away from the world but as a parent I have the freedom to introduce them to different aspects at different times, when it's right for them.
I think what young people find when they leave the community is they discover things like loneliness; they discover that people don't always want the best for them. Those are the hard things for young people to adjust to.
Jeff: Thank you for pointing that out. The obvious thing is to ask how do you manage without a mobile phone but moving out is to leave the security of a loving and supportive, all things in common community. That must be quite scary.
Bernard: Life here is very fulfilling as a Christian and a disciple. That's why I chose to come back here. I left when I was 19 then chose to return because I could not find fulfilment in my life. I could have money, I could have fun, I could have pleasure but fulfilment and a sense of belonging is what people crave and that's what the Bruderhof can offer.