April 28, 2017
By Bette McDevitt
Some readers may know members of the two Bruderhof communities located in Fayette County near Ohiopyle. In the past, Bruderhof members have participated in, and volunteered with, Merton Center programs. At this time two members of the community are living in Pittsburgh, providing a home base for several young members of their community who are attending local universities.
Bruderhof is a German term that translates as Brother’s Place. Founded in Germany, there are fourteen intentional Christian communities spread across the world. They live by some simple rules, stated in their literature; “Like the first Christians described in Acts 2 and 4, we have been called to a way of life in which all are of one heart and soul, no one possesses anything and everything is shared in common.”
The commonality is shown clearly in the work they do, in the factory that is part of the Spring Valley Bruderhof. It is a large factory, bright with daylight. Dave, the plant manager who welcomed me with the warmth I would find again and again, explained that this factory focuses on making showering, bathing and toileting equipment for handicapped people.
The factory provides work for all members of the community, generates income to cover their needs, and enables them to help others less fortunate. This factory is an integral part of Rifton Equipment, one of three companies which belong to the Bruderhof. The others are Community Playthings and Danthonia Designs, and are situated in other communities.
At the time I visited, there were around 20 people working. “It is designed that way,” said Kent, another community member. “There are 120 work stations, and in a two-hour evening, the entire community will work together, which is important for all of us. If we were profit driven we could automate or outsource some of the work, but it is important for us all to work together.”
“And we are all paid the same amount, which is nothing,” said Marianne, Kent’s wife. “We are not employees. We are brothers and sisters working together.” “Our business is unique,” said Dave, echoing Marianne’s feeling, “in that it is not hierarchal, where the higher up you go, the more important you are. It’s the very opposite of that each of us consider it a tremendous privilege to be working here and to know that each product we send out the door is going to help someone that desperately needs it.
“Everything is under one roof. Product design, testing, production and assembly are all in-house so we have to remain flexible. We learn mostly by rolling up our sleeves and taking up an apprentice program, working under a master. You can get a degree in engineering or accounting, but we also have to learn on the job.”
That flexibility was evident in the transition from metal to plastic parts ten years ago. Plastic, being lighter in weight, would work well for the modular designs, with no need for tools to interchange the modular parts. This complex transition was overseen by one member of the community, who had in his past life been an organ repairman.
All plastic parts are made at this location and shipped, as needed, to the other factories. The factory has a large number of highly sophisticated machines, made in Europe to create plastic molds and products. One machine recycles the scraps of plastic and spits out an oatmeal like plastic that is reused in making more parts.
In this region of high unemployment, due to the loss of the steel and coal mining industries, the irony is not lost. “We in this country are as smart as the people making this machinery in Europe,” Marianne said, “Why can’t we be doing this?”
That’s another story, and one we think about, but it’s enough right now to think about this model where people work together, for the good of all.
You can learn more about the Bruderhof, by looking at their website. www.bruderhof.com. Both communities welcome guests for Saturday evening dinner and conversation. They like to know ahead if you are coming, and that can be done on the website.
Bette McDevitt is a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective.