As the new millennium dawns, anabaptists do a new thing in the city: Build a communal neighborhood populated by tens of thousands of simple-living sectarians.
The project is initiated by the Bruderhof and some Old Order Amish, partly for practical reasons: (1) the Amish and Bruderhof population explosions, making it necessary to continually branch out and establish new settlements; and (2) the shortage of affordable farmland, making it difficult to maintain a rural way of life.
More importantly, the initiative stems from a “quickening” amongst these plain people, who realize they’ve lost their ancestral impulse for going into the marketplaces & street corners, inviting others to become co-workers in God’s kingdom. They also realize geographical isolation no longer protects them against worldly influences. So they branch out to the Bronx, where they can influence the world instead.
To achieve critical mass, these “city Amish” and “city Bruderhofers” buy a large tract of land and buildings, then move in several thousand of their own people. Like-minded folks (Quakers, Brethren, Mennonites, Hutterites, Hasidim, Hindus, Buddhists, Ghandians, Tolstoyans, tree-huggers, cyclists, recyclists, etc.) are invited to live and work alongside them. Small manufacturing shops and cottage industries are set up, with the goal of creating a self-sustaining local economy. Fossil-fuel-burning machines are banned. Roof-top farms, windmills, solar panels, clotheslines, bike racks, and hitching posts begin to dot the streetscape.
“Bruderville” is dense, diverse, auto-free, and without a steeple-house in sight. For instead of building religious institutions, residents take their cues from the subversive social ethic of the Sermon on the Mount. No membership rolls, rituals, creeds or dogmas. They also draw on the “hospitality house” model created by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker movement. No coercion, no rejection.
As a result, the neighborhood becomes a haven for the city’s tramps, tormented souls, and other of “God’s ambassadors.” All are welcome, they say. And, as Emmy Arnold put it in describing the early Bruderhof communities: “We try to concern ourselves with each one who comes.”
Instead of engaging in a lot of talk about the world’s needs, Brudervillians decide to simply do what needs to be done. Why? Because Jesus wants it that way, they say.
–by Charlie Kraybill, Bronx, NYC. Charlie is a member of the Marginal Mennonite Society and the Pink Menno Campaign. This essay was originally written in the late 1980s, when it was entitled “Hutterville 2001: an urban anabaptist odyssey.”