The Hutterian Brethren - Strict Religious Sect

Anababtist,Jacob Hutter, founded the Hutterian Brethren during the Reformation. His was a strict religious sect that believed in humble communal societies.

By the time the Reformation took hold in Europe in the 16th century radical leaders like Martin Luther formed more liberal Protestant movements. Other more radical sects proclaimed that the Protestant church was still too ritualistic, that it should remain separate from affairs of the state and that a good Christian should never take up arms against another. They also believed that baptism should be performed when an individual was an adult, and by choice. These sects became known as "Anabaptists", and were based primarily in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

Jacob Hutter was one of the more outspoken Anabaptists and further espoused the concept of "communalism", meaning the equal sharing of all goods. In 1529, Hutter, with a small group of loyal followers, joined other exiled Anabaptists who'd fled to Moravia and whose leader was named Jacob Wiederman. The groups united and established a communal way of life, Hutter becoming their leader and the founder of the "Hutterian Brethren". He was eventually betrayed to the authorities who were trying to put a stop to what they considered his heretic behavior. In 1536 Jacob Hutter was burned at the stake in Innsbruck, Austria after refusing to renounce his devout beliefs.

Peter Reideman was another influential member of the Hutterian Brethren, serving as an elder from 1542-1556. He and many other members of the sect suffered religious persecution for years, Reideman eventually spending close to a decade in prison. During one of his incarcerations, he wrote "The Confession of Faith", a document of Hutterian beliefs and doctrine, which is still widely read today.

By the 17th century the Peace of Augsburg stated that only 3 religions would be recognised: Catholic, Protestant and Reform. Persons who practiced any other faith were branded heretics. After Hutter's death, many more members died as martyrs, yet this did not stop people from continuing to convert to the Hutterian way of life. Between 1551 and 1870 the Hutterites suffered continued persecution. Hungary, Slovakia, Rumania and Transylvania were only a few of the countries where the Hutterites built new communes, only to be forced out again and again until they were finally allowed sanctuary in Russia by Catherine the Great. After her death, the regime adopted a more militaristic attitude and became intolerant of the Hutterites peace-loving way of life. Left with few options, the Hutterian Brethren decided to emigrate to the United States.

By the time the Hutterite emigration actually got under way in 1874, only 18,000 members ended up leaving Russia and other communes in the Ukraine. Their first settlements were established in South Dakota and Nebraska. The North American Hutterites originated from three founding colonies: the "Schmiedeleit", the "Dariusleit" and the "Lehrerleit". The suffix "leit" means "people". The Schmiedeleit were named after their founding elder, Michael Waldner, a blacksmith by trade. Today other Schmiedeleit colonies are located in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and the province of Manitoba, in Canada. The Dariusleit took their name from their founder, Darius Walter, and the Lehrerleit (Teacher's People) from their leader, Jakob Wipf, a school teacher and elder. These colonies descendants live in Montana and Washington state and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskachewan. Currently there are about 40,000 Hutterites living in 430 separate colonies in North America.

Colony structure is strictly patriarchal, the men holding all the key positions, the most important being the senior elder or bishop. He provides all the spiritual leadership for his colony and presides over church sermons, marriages and funerals. Under him are a council or advisory board who are in charge of daily decisions and duties like banking and bill paying or distributing the work for all members over 15 years of age. One man is also assigned as German teacher, which remains the Hutterites first language.

A Hutterite colony's livelihood is centred primarily around diversified agriculture. The men are responsible for all the farm work. Certain members are elected as cattle boss, hog boss, chicken boss, garden boss, carpenter, plumber, blacksmith, etc. One or two other members are assigned as the bosses helpers. Women are expected to carry out all the domestic chores like cooking, baking, laundry, gardening, canning and of course child rearing and teaching in the colony kindergarten. The garden boss's wife is usually assigned as head cook. Women work in pairs and rotate jobs on a weekly basis. Meals are distributed in a communal dining area three times a day, men sitting in one section, women in another. Seating arrangements are

organized by age.

Once a Hutterite colony expands to over 100 members it is considered too inefficient, so it splits. Half the members usually leave to organise the new colony. All provided for in an equal manner and no one is allowed to keep anything for personal gain. Everything a Hutterite member or family needs is distributed from within the colony. Televisions and radios are not allowed. Like the Amish, Hutterites also dress in a "plain" and humble manner. Men usually wear black garb and a hat, and once married, are expected to grow beards. Women wear patterned dresses in subdued colors and are required to wear scarves in public to symbolise a woman in prayer. All clothing is sewn by the colony seamstresses.

Members gather for a short church service daily and a 1-2 hour service on Sundays. Special church services are conducted by the head bishop for baptisms (carried out at around age 20-25) and weddings. Unmarried members visit other Hutterite colonies to find a mate, but marriages may not take place until the couple has been baptised. Once married the couple resides at the groom's colony.

Education for a Hutterite member begins at age 2 1/2 in a colony kindergarten. The children are taught at an early age to conform to communal living through sharing, cooperation and respect for one another. All instruction is oral and conducted in German using religious verse and song. Once children begin regular school at age 6 they are taught in English, usually by certified teacher from outside the colony and according to the public school curriculum. German lessons are conducted for two additional hours each day by the colony-appointed German instructor. Once the Hutterite student reaches age 15, their "English" schooling is considered finished and they are assigned their work tasks. At this time members are allowed a "transitional period" where they may leave the colony. Some members to decide to abandon the Hutterite way of life, but this happens seldom.

Mixed crop and livestock farming has sustained most Hutterite colonies since their inception. Much of the farm machinery and equipment and the hog, chicken, turkey or dairy buildings is state of the art. Large scale, modern farming has become very costly so some colonies have diversified even more by branching out into the production of farm equipment like hog feeders or ventilation systems. Other colonies manufacture various plastic products, wooden furniture, or window and doors for new homes or for renovation projects.

In today's fast-paced and technologically advanced world, most people look upon the Hutterites communal way of life and their mode of dress as strange and archaic. Yet despite continued misunderstanding, and in some cases mistrust, the Hutterian Brethren have successfully integrated themselves into many agricultural regions of the north western United States and western Canada. They've strengthened their local economies through the buying and selling of a diverse mix of goods and services. And they continue to remain as dedicated today as they were over 500 years ago in upholding their religious beliefs and their communal lifestyle.

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