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    PloughCast 71: On Giving Up All One’s Money

    By Clare Stober, Marianne Wright and Susannah Black Roberts

    October 25, 2023
    • Michael Nacrelli

      I'm curious about church governance. If I were ever consider joining a church with a common purse, members would have to have a very active role in choosing elders and meaningful input in decisions concerning church life. Handing all finances and total control of one's daily life over to a small group of church leaders seems ripe for abuse. I also wonder if any members have livelihoods outside the church, even if all earnings are shared. It seems to me that many professions would be difficult if not impossible to practice solely within the church community, such as mine, which is civil engineering.

    About This Episode

    Susannah speaks with Clare Stober and Marianne Wright about living without money.

    Clare didn’t grow up in the Bruderhof – she made the decision to join when she was in her early thirties, after a successful career. She describes her spiritual quest, and the doubts and worries that came with considering joining – and the freedom that she has felt since then.

    Marianne is fourth-generation Bruderhof, has never had her own bank account, but the decision to join was no less personal and intense.

    What these two women experience in their day-to-day lives, how they relate to work, to security, to each other, and to God, in this lifetime commitment, is the subject of this podcast.

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading


    Susannah Black Roberts: Welcome back to the PloughCast! I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough. Today I’ll be speaking with Clare Stober and Marianne Wright, Bruderhof members, colleagues, and friends, about what it looks like to make the choice to live without private property.

    Welcome to both of you. Pete is not with us today, but Marianne is Pete’s sister, so that’s something. Thank you. Marianne, do you want to introduce us to what we’re going to be talking about today?

    Marianne Wright: Sure. So good morning. This is a conversation about what it’s like to live without money, which both Clare and I do as members of the Bruderhof. For anyone who’s not aware of this aspect of our church, we have what we call a common purse, and that means that we share all of our money. Once you become a member and make the life vows that make you a member, you don’t have any possessions anymore. And we do this because we read about it in the Acts of the Apostles where in the first church, that’s what happened. And it’s a model that’s repeated itself through history, not often, but there’s been a thread of communities, the monastic communities from the third century on, the Waldensians, the Beguines and the Beghards. Francis and Clare of Assisi were an example of this. People who felt like that in order to follow Jesus fully, you had to divest yourself of everything.

    And then as Anabaptists, we look back to the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, the group known as the Hutterites who did this as well, who began sharing all their possessions, and they have been doing that for four-hundred years. So as I said, Clare and I are both members of the Bruderhof. I grew up as a child of Bruderhof parents and am actually fourth generation Bruderhof on my mom’s side. But like anybody, I had to decide as an adult whether or not I wanted to become a member of the community, which I did when I was twenty-two. And at that time I took vows.

    I was going to start by reading the vow that we take. This is one of five questions you answer when you take the step of becoming a member. It says, “Are you willing for the sake of Christ to put yourself completely at the disposal of the church community to the end of your life, all your faculties, the entire strength of your body and soul and all your property, both that which you now possess and that which you may later inherit or earn?”

    And so we are all in, and I think it’s important in that question, the material possessions are put in context of the other thing which we give, which is the entire strength of our body and soul. That is that we dedicate our whole life to following Jesus with brothers and sisters in this particular church.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Clare’s story is a little bit different than yours. She did not grow up in the Bruderhof and joined as an adult. Clare, do you want to sort of give us a little bit of that background?

    Clare Stober: Sure. I came about thirty-one years ago when I was thirty-seven. I’d come from a very different background. I’d grown up as a middle class boomer, and to me that meant you live within your paycheck. You only go into debt to purchase a house. You pay off your credit card every month, and you start saving for your retirement as soon as you can. I started in my twenties. People have asked how it feels to give in all your money and possessions. I found that there’s a lot more tied up in accruing wealth and all it represents – the word money didn’t begin to describe what one was giving up. I’ve learned that everyone looks at money differently. I happen to see it as security. I felt like it was a cushion that could protect me against what I called the vagaries of life, and I wanted to amass so much or enough that I could handle whatever life threw in my direction.

    So there I was in my late twenties, and I had been able to earn enough because I teamed up with a talented designer, and we started a graphic design and advertising business when I was twenty-four. And so fifteen years later, we were two undereducated suburbanites – I’d only finished two years of college and he barely finished high school – making more money than we’d ever imagined.

    But it didn’t fall into our laps. We worked hard for it, to build up the business. It took a minimum I’d say of seven years of sixty-hour weeks before I felt like I could slow down a bit. We both bought second houses on Nantucket. Granted, mine was a humble Cape Cod, but he was investing in museum quality antiques while I was building a nest egg for my early retirement – I thought. So that’s when I woke up one Saturday morning and I realized I could buy anything I wanted, and yet it wouldn’t fill a void within me that I needed to be filled.

    I couldn’t describe that void at the time, but I now see it was living for a purpose greater than my own security or happiness. And when I’d started out fifteen years earlier, I had nothing but a newfound relationship with Jesus. I’d had what I would call a Damascus road experience. And now here I was like the rich young man and realizing all I wanted was the meaning and assurance of that close dependence on him again. I’d lost my first love. So as I prayed to God and begged him for Jesus again to be my first love, and that I didn’t care what it took, I realized with a sinking feeling it would take everything. And yet I was willing if that’s what it took to have that relationship again. So that prayer set off a whole string of events that led me to arrive at the Bruderhof two years later.

    I, of course, left that business, went to live with another group of Christians, but still wasn’t finding what I was looking for. And as a new Christian twenty years earlier, I’d heard about the community and how they lived like the early Christians sharing all things in common. And since I had very little money at that time, I remember thinking that sounded really radical and exciting. And every few years I would think of the community that shared everything. And as I accrued more money, the less exciting that sounded. In fact, I was no longer even comfortable thinking about it. So when I did finally come to the community, it was out of a longing to find something genuine, a living community that put Jesus before everything else. And within the first nine months I found that and a lot more. It took me a while, but here I found Christians living at a depth of life and fellowship that I never dreamed existed.

    And it wasn’t something you could see every day or even right away. I found it was only apparent if I went below the surface, and it did come at a cost. I would have to change, and I would need to learn to trust and make myself vulnerable just like everyone else who lived here. And I’m sure I’m not the only visitor to the community who went to bed every night staring at the naked light bulb in the ceiling thinking, “Can I do this?” Or who woke up at four in the morning with what I call the icy fingers of fear, gripping my heart as I grappled with – What about no health insurance? What if the community collapses and I don’t have any retirement money saved up?

    And I laugh now at what I found hard because as soon as I became a member, I’ve never worried about health insurance, retirement again. In truth, I’ve had better healthcare in the community than I did before, and I’m now sixty-eight and not even thinking of retirement. I’ve also had to reject the idea of being defined by how much money one did or did not have. I had to let go of a lot of what I call false securities. So for me, it’s been a lot of, I would say, dismantling of who I thought I was and what I thought was important.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Can you remember your first night after joining, after you made the vows? What did that feel like?

    Clare Stober: Joy. Great joy, peace, contentment. But my first couple nights when I came here as a visitor everything was different. And you’re constantly needling yourself, “Can I see doing this the rest of my life?” But when I joined, and it was eighteen months later that I actually joined, so I had been here quite a while.

    Marianne Wright: I would like to answer the same question. So it was a very difficult decision for me to decide: Did I want to join this community? Being fourth generation doesn’t necessarily make it easier. You question yourself: “Am I doing this for my parents? Am I doing this because it’s what’s accustomed to me?” And I had a lot of ideas of things that I thought would be great for me to do and ways I felt like I could contribute to the world and so forth. But I came to a point where I did decide to become a member, and this was after just a really difficult and terrible period of about six months of self-questioning and doubt and so forth.

    And I made the decision, I publicly made my request, and I was just swept with euphoria and completely did not expect it. I often think back to that. And then like Clare says, once you have decided, the same as once you’ve decided who your person is that you’re going to marry, if you marry and you don’t look away from that, within that decision, everything could follow from that once you’ve made it and the fears and the ideas of what else might have happened. You’ve decided those are not things that you are going to have in your life anymore. And it’s great.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I often describe you to people as married monastics essentially. So you take vows of poverty and obedience and chastity within marriage if you marry. And it does seem to me the thing that is closest in non-Bruderhof experience other than someone who’s a Catholic, taking a monastic vow, is something like a marriage vow where if you’re taking marriage in the way that the Bible presents it, where you’re just like, “OK, there are many possibilities in the world. This is what God has called me to. This is the person who I’m throwing my lot in with completely.” Only you’re doing that – you’re throwing your lot in with each other completely.

    Clare Stober: I can remember thinking after I’d been here about six weeks and I was asked, “So what are you thinking?” And I don’t know where it came from, but I popped out with, “This place runs on trust,” and it’s not trust so much in the other people, but trust in their love of God and their willingness to serve and be obedient to God. So it’s not their personalities, but it’s their level of commitment that we are all held up in trust to.

    Susannah Black Roberts: When I was first converted in grad school, I think I read Bonhoeffer’s Life Together or I read some of it, and it totally freaked me out because he had some line about how we don’t encounter each other directly, we encounter each other through Christ. And I thought that sounded to me like you were isolated from each other. It was almost a Kantian thing where you could only encounter the phenomena of each other. You couldn’t really know each other. I just think of it so differently now. When you do have that kind of unity in Christ, it’s a greater unity, but you’re also trusting. You’re not requiring the other people to be God. You’re letting them be human beings because Jesus is God. And I could imagine that that must be a lot easier to trust than if you were just kind of trusting people flat out in a kind of secular communitarian way.

    Clare Stober: Definitely.

    Marianne Wright: And it is, like you say, you can compare this to a marriage. So you’ve married this one person and everyone comes with their flaws, and the community collectively and individually you have your flaws, but what holds you together is your shared purpose and your decision to not walk away from each other. And so then I think that’s an important part. Clare was talking about trust. Why do we trust each other? Because we’ve decided that we’re in this 100 percent to the end of our days, and we can do that because we have the shared purpose of believing that this is how Jesus calls us to live.

    Clare Stober: Another thing is another one of the questions that we’re asked at baptism is, “Are you sure that you were called to this way of life by God?” And to me that fits in with, again, marriage or even deciding for the community. When you’re married to someone – we all have flaws, as she said, but you have to go back to the fact that you were called by God to marry this person and work it out. The same with joining the community. I really felt called, and I really value that question.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So Marianne, you mentioned when we were talking about doing this that you have literally never had a bank account, you’ve never had a credit card, you’ve never had the kind of ordinary American style experience of money. When you’re talking to other people, it’s impossible to really ask this question, but how do you feel like your experience of the world is different based on what you’ve observed?

    Marianne Wright: It’s hard for me to know. I grew up in the Bruderhof. I did go to college and at that point I had a job, and I had a bunch of cash in my pocket, but I it was probably never more than twenty bucks in a week. And then I backpacked around for a while after that and, again, no financial stability there. And so then I came back and became a member. So I literally have never had a bank account or a debt and I don’t own anything, and I never have. I don’t actually know how it feels.

    What I do see, for instance, if I look on social media or read about people’s experiences and the things that are mediated by money for people, where their children go to school, what kind of healthcare their children have – my husband and I have five children – where people live, getting a mortgage, a house, having to advocate for your boss for a higher salary. All these things are not part of my life, have never been part of my life. My colleagues at work, the ones who are professionals and the ones like me who are college dropouts get the same salary, and we work together as brothers and sisters. The people I live next to at the Bruderhof, each family has their apartment, but then we live in houses with other families and apartments. Again, our neighbor is a dentist. Neither Kent nor I graduated from college. It doesn’t affect anything about our relationship, how we live together, what our houses look like Thinking about it, we’re told to be the lilies of the field, that we should not worry about tomorrow. And living in community and sharing all your money, you literally can be a lily of the field.

    I don’t worry about my children being taken care of. If, God forbid, I would not live tomorrow, they would be taken care of. So that’s the effect of making these promises. But that’s not the reason that we decide to not have money. We do that in obedience to Jesus. And then what follows is community. You make vows, you follow Jesus, because you want to love Jesus. And so these things are the result of that. It’s not like we say, “Well, we would like to set up the most efficient society possible,” which by the way, community is super-efficient. There’s so little redundancy in material things that we buy and so forth because we can share, because we do share, but that’s not why we do it.

    And so I think that’s really important to remember that we have made these promises, not because it’s some ideal system that we think should exist, but because we are told to do it and that’s how we want to live our lives in obedience to that calling. And I would do it even if it was not wonderful for me and my children, even if they didn’t go to an absolutely fantastic school and have top-notch healthcare, we would still do it.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So all these things are a byproduct of keeping your eye first on Jesus?

    Marianne Wright: Mm-hmm.

    Susannah Black Roberts: And that’s something that at least in my observation over the past seven years, I guess, of being around you guys, that’s something that you don’t take for granted. There is kind of this danger that you’re aware of putting community first in a way instead of putting Jesus first. And it seems to me that the importance of checking your hearts and making sure that in every year and in every generation, that it’s not about perpetuating the community for its own sake, that that’s kind of a side effect. And it seems to me that I’ve just seen that over and over again with you guys. You do have a very strong . . . the Bruderhof has been around for a hundred years, and obviously you look back to earlier Anabaptist communities and earlier Catholic communities as well. But it seems like that strong culture and that strong history is allowed to exist because it’s not put first. Does that make sense?

    Marianne Wright: Yeah. I think that that’s it.

    Clare Stober: Yeah, it does make sense. And there have been times in our history when we admit that it got backwards, that the community was first, and we had to consciously change that, repent of that and change it.

    Susannah Black Roberts: The other thing that money, it seems to me can be – in mystery novels or in thriller movies, there’s this thing that’s referred to as the McGuffin. It’s the thing that drives the plot. You’re looking for the treasure or you’re trying to find the telegram or whatever it is. It’s the thing that sort of sets off the hero or heroine on their quest, and it’s the thing that they’re aiming at. So in Indiana Jones, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s finding the Ark, so that’s what drives the plot. And it seems to me that for a lot of people, money is kind of the McGuffin in their lives. It’s the thing that tells them that they should do things.

    It’s the thing that organizes their effort and makes things seem interesting almost. It gives them a reason to get up in the morning. And it’s weird because taking money out of the equation, it’s not like you guys don’t work hard. You definitely work hard, but you work hard for the purposes, the ends that are natural to the work rather than for money, which is kind of extraneous to the work. So Clare, you designed most recently, the thing of yours that I love the most was the cover for the new Vodolazkin book. The purpose of that was very clearly, the purpose of your work was the beautiful graphic design, the cover of this book. The purpose of your work was not the money that you got from it. And it seems to me that that reordering of work is also really important. I guess I’d love to know what it’s like to work, especially for you Clare, because you’ve had both experiences.

    Clare Stober: Well, I would say what I’ve observed and participated in when you take money out of the equation or hierarchy out of the equation, you get a lot more cooperation. We have two businesses, and we design our own products that we make, and we have teams of designers working on them as a team. We call it strategic design.People can on their own come up with a eureka solution to something, but that isn’t going to solve all of the different things you have to solve necessarily. And so with a team, you can talk it over and each contribute to it and come up with something better than any one person could have done. And you do it without keeping score of who came up with this or that. There’s no raise in it or some person trying to become top designer.

    And I see it allowing people who individually could not do it or have done it come up with something much greater than the sum of themselves. And it’s the same with book design covers. I like to sit down before with the editors, talk to them about what the book’s about. Who are we talking to, what are we trying to achieve, et cetera, et cetera? Come up with a number of solutions, possible solutions, and then get their input and then adjust for their input. We also included with our covers, the input of our distributors who are even closer to the book trade and try to respond to that. And it’s worked well for us. They may not say what I would’ve liked them to say, but I’ve really got to hear them. So you can’t fail because you’re all working together. I think that’s another way of looking at it, and I just find it much more releasing to work in a cooperative situation.

    Susannah Black Roberts: What was the community that you lived in for a while or that you were part of for a while before the Bruderhof, and what happened with that?

    Clare Stober: Well, it was not really a community, it was a small meeting of Quakers. We met in our homes, and we followed the writings of the early Friends, and we dressed like Quakers. I think that in some ways helped our business. When I would show up in downtown DC with plain dress, they would sidle up to the window to look out to see if the horse and buggy was down on fifteenth Street or something. It gave us a veneer of integrity, and we actually felt like we really needed to live up to that and those values.

    But there was no sense of community and no sense of really building anything or living for something that you get in a community like this. And it was five people, and that would’ve been very difficult. I’ve always thought it would be difficult to live in a community where you didn’t share everything in common and you all had separate jobs and had to give a percent of your income. And then you begin, or at least I would find it very difficult not to begin to, look at, well, are they giving enough? Or how can they do that on that amount of money? Stuff like that. And this really levels the playing field in a good way to share everything in common.

    A few months into my long-term guest visit, a friend of mine and her husband had also gone and visited a different Bruderhof community. And her husband was a man of the world. He’d been on every continent including Antarctica and been to Vietnam and grew up on the streets of Philly, so he was not letting anyone “get anything over on him” in his words. And he called me from the other community a couple months in and said, “Clare, what do you feel about it? Are you going to join?” And I said, “Well, I’m feeling really good about it.” And he was like, “Well, have you asked where the money goes and where it comes from? Have you figured out all the finances?” And I said, “No, but I don’t feel like I need to. I trust everyone. I trust them, and that’s not a problem.” And he was sort of stupefied that worldly wise Clare had trusted everything.

    Marianne Wright: Which I think you only get because like I said before, everyone is all in. And I think that as Christians, we actually have to be all in. It’s not a hobby or a part-time expression of our spirituality. You have to be all in, and so that really appealed to me when I decided to become a member. Well, it more than appealed to me, it’s a calling, but it makes sense because the people that can drive me crazy or when I say, “What is this? Is this a decision or something that somebody might make about how to pursue an aspect of the work or something?” When you talk to somebody, you have the same basis and you have the same commitment, and it solves so many problems as far as just getting along and living. And as far as work goes, again, like I said, I’ve never worked for money ever.

    No, I worked in the college library, which was fantastic. I always wanted to be a librarian, so I had a chance, but I sent my paycheck home then, and then I got this spending money back from the community. Like Clare said, it enables you to work as a team with whoever you’re working with, and if anyone’s ever worked on a well-functioning team, they all know there’s really nothing like it. But you’re not worrying  social status or anything. All that stuff is taken away, and you can work. Work is big. God in Genesis told Adam and Eve they had to work, and we believe God expresses himself through creative work.

    And so it’s not just something we do, but that’s how we worship and that’s how we live together is by working together, whether it’s in the factory making equipment for disabled people, which is what we do here at the Woodcrest Community where I live or whether it’s making beautiful books in Plough or working in the garden. Those things are all in service of our calling.

    [Susannah Black Roberts: Just a little housekeeping: don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes! We’ll be back with the rest of my conversation with Clare and Marianne after the break.]

    Susannah Black Roberts: Periodically from what I’ve observed – so the other business that you guys have as well as Plough is Community Playthings. As well as the Rifton Equipment business, you also have the children’s furniture and toy business. And what I’ve seen is, which I think is probably pretty surprising to a lot of people, that when there’s a big order or when there’s a lot of things that need to be finished for a big order of furniture, Pete, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, and Sam, who’s the publisher, technically, of the publishing house, everyone will kind of chip in to do the woodworking part just because there’s not a sense of this is my job and that’s your job, and I don’t do your job because I’m not a woodworker, I’m an editor instead. And that is also really, I think, unusual. There’s a lot of cross training.

    Marianne Wright: We all work on the floor, yeah.

    Clare Stober: I just wanted to say that I noticed when I came, there was a strong work ethic, and we had people in their seventies and eighties who loved to go to the shop every day. They would be bored silly at home and find weekends long and boring and really prefer to . . . it’s a social interaction as well as the work that they get in the shop. The other thing that happened when I was, I would say a novice, which was about a two year period of time before I became a member, some reporters from the Wall Street Journal came, and they came to Plough and wanted to ask about the community life, and what they could not understand and really blew their gaskets I’d say or made it difficult for them to take it all in is, “You mean, you all work for no money, but you work really hard? Don’t you have any slackers?” No. “Well, what do you do if somebody does slack?” Well, that’s not the problem. And they just kept asking in many different ways, what if, what if, what if, and that’s not the problem.

    Susannah Black Roberts: The thing that it reminds me most of is growing up, you’re twelve, and you do want to slack, and you don’t really want to help around the house or whatever. And my family has this place in Connecticut where we all go, all my cousins go, and my aunts and uncles, and there’s a massive sense, and there’s always stuff to do because we have no electricity. And so everything is constantly in need of upkeep and repair, et cetera. And there’s a total ethos of pitching in. Not that we all work all the time on our vacations, but there’s always projects and doing a project or starting a project or getting together with a couple of your cousins and laying a new path or something like that, you wouldn’t not do that. There’s a sense of that’s what it is to be a part of the family. And that’s kind of the feeling that I’ve gotten observing you guys.

    Marianne Wright: I have something that I would like to read. It’s a selection from George McDonald. It’s a sermon about the Rich Young Man. And I think to me, this is a really helpful way to think about this commandment of Jesus to the rich young man to give everything up because it’s so easy to hear that as somebody asking to be deprived of something. I think even for me having grown up here, you kind of are like, “Wow, that’s a really tough thing to ask of somebody.” But I think you have to hear that question in the other way around as an offer.

    There was nothing like this in the law. Was it not hard? Hard to let earth go and take heaven instead for eternal life, to let dead things drop, to turn his back on man and follow Jesus, lose his rich friends and be of the master’s household.

    He would say it was hard who does not know the Lord, who has never thirsted after righteousness, never longed for the life eternal.

    And then he goes on to say, You have to take the steps that are set out in front of you in order to follow a path of discipleship. And the rich young man had gotten to that point. He had fulfilled the law, he had done all the right things. And then he said, “What’s next?” And the next thing was this really difficult and challenging request, and he couldn’t make it. Was the Lord then premature in his demand on the youth? Was he not ready for it? Was it meant for a test and not as an actual word of deliverance? Did he show the child a step on the stair too high for him to set his foot upon? I do not believe it. He gave him the very next lesson in the divine education for which he was ready, and then he didn’t obey.

    A time comes to every man when he must obey or makes a refusal and know it.

    And I really do think that, again, as Christians, we are given the example of the first church where love overflowed in them, and they gave up their money. And so that’s what we have been given to do in our particular church or part of the church. And this certainly doesn’t solve all your problems as a disciple. We still make mistakes and sin and so forth, but you do have to take the steps that are made, and then you can go on to the next step, which might be something seemingly even more difficult, but it’s there to help us enter the kingdom or become part of the kingdom.

    I think it’s a hard thing to do, harder probably for somebody unlike me who grew up knowing that this thing works. I didn’t have friends asking me, “Do you trust the people there?” Yes, I trust them. They’re my people, and we trust each other. And it’s worked for a hundred years now. But you do have to do the things that are set out in the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospels as things Jesus asked of his servants. And so that’s why we’ve made these decisions so that we can serve more.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It does seem it’s really striking the George McDonald sermon, the point being, it’s not primarily about giving up something, it’s not primarily about giving up money, it’s primarily about stepping from one household into another. So the direction is into the household of faith. And in order to do that, what that looks like in the case of the Bruderhof is giving up your money and giving your possessions over to the community, but you’re not then left alone. As you do that, the point of doing that is that you are entering into a new household. And that’s really interesting.

    Marianne Wright: And like I said, it hasn’t happened often in history, but there have been communities, there’s also been individual people. A story that has inspired Kent and myself very much is Hudson Taylor, who was a missionary who went to China in the nineteenth-century, and he went with nothing. He didn’t fundraise. And time and again through prayer, they were supplied with exactly what they needed.

    And there are many other Christians. Dorothy Day is one that many people would be familiar with who just freed themselves from possessions. And as Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply,” but you really have to have this radical trust and abandonment of your will to possess. So I think it’s something that’s not tried often enough. And it does take a church, it does take brothers and sisters who will be there for you when you need help, which we all do. But that really is, I think, I can’t imagine there will be money in the kingdom of God. And so we should leave the things that aren’t going to be there. Let’s try to leave them behind us and then go from there.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So let’s get down to some sort of nittier grittier stuff or the practicalities. Who does handle the money in the community? How does it all work? What are the mechanisms?

    Clare Stober: If someone is given responsibility to spend money on behalf of the community, you’re always thinking of how to do it wisely and how to make the most of it, and you’d never spend money on your own volition. At least I always try to get someone to approve it before it’s spent so that I’m not the one making the decision on it alone.

    Each of us is responsible for the earnings of the community and to be good stewards ourselves. We do have stewards, and we do have people that watch our finances and steward our money, but it’s more the responsibility that is shared by all.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I think one of the things that people might be worried about is a suppression of individuality or individual initiative. And what I’ve actually seen is almost the opposite. One of the things that the Bruderhof do a whole lot of, and I’m thinking in particular of Jay Swinger, but a lot of people do it, is just kind of get notions, get an idea to build a tree house, and then you organize it, and you do it or get an idea to start. And what’s the thing that the Swingers are working in?

    Clare Stober: Coleman Corners.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Coleman Corners. There’s a little sort of gift and produce stall that sort of serves the community. And I think they’re starting a coffee . . . aren’t they starting a coffee van or something like that?

    Clare Stober: Bus. A bus.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Coffee bus, yeah. So there’s a lot of small individual projects and hobbies that people take up really with gusto, with a degree of commitment and excellence. That seems pretty rare to me, partly because a lot of people don’t really have the skills or wouldn’t know where to begin with how to build a sort of Lord of the Rings-themed tree house or giant pirate ship or whatever else Jay’s done. I think he built a harp at one point. Anyway, so there is this kind of quirky individualism as well as the kind of community focus, which I’m not even sure you guys realize how unusual it is, but it is very unusual and it’s really charming. It’s just wonderful to be around.

    What are each of you working on these days or what do you know of other people working on? What are the latest kind of projects?

    Marianne Wright: Clare is a very skilled potter.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That’s right.

    Clare Stober: My other passion is pottery. I started doing that when I came to the community. I hadn’t done it before. And we had just built and opened a new school in the community I was living in. And one of the things the community does is as a whole group, you have 200–300 people trooping through the school looking at it, well, it’s brand new and sort of taking possession of the space and what’s been put into it. And I remember looking in the pottery and thinking first of all it was very clean because no one had used it, which is unusual. I’ve always wanted to do this. If I was living outside, I’d have to take lessons and I’d have to drive there, and then I wouldn’t have time to practice. Here I can just walk up and practice any time when I’m not working. And I just started doing that. And I found it’s a really good balance between if my work is not creative, I can go up there and be creative. If my work is creative, I don’t need that outlet as much. I’ve been doing that for about twenty-five years now.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah, I’ve eaten breakfast off of some of those plates.

    Clare Stober: Oh, yes. Well, what we do is I do it with another member of the community, and she does the plates and I do the things that are thrown on the wheel, and we sell them at Coleman Corners, and then we send the money that we earn from them to an indigenous community in Bolivia. I’d like to just keep that money flowing somewhere that it’s needed. And another potter in the community who’s since passed away started doing that and sending his proceeds to this community, and so we picked that up.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So this actually gets into another kind of area of Bruderhof finance: You guys are very charitable. You do give a lot to other people, other communities, other institutions and causes. How are those decisions made?

    Marianne Wright: Some things are like Clare’s. She has an initiative, she knows her pottery, and then she will tell the steward, “Listen, we took in $500 this weekend. I would like to send it to the community of Bolivia.” There’s many small scale missions like that that go on. And then we also partner with Save the Children, World Vision, some of the bigger organizations, and actually the contributions we make to them are often of personnel. So because of the way we live, we can send twenty volunteers overnight to a disaster zone. Our people have been trained by these charities, and they can just drop their work and everyone else will cover for them and go and help when there’s been an earthquake or go set up a hospital tent in a war zone or something Like I said, community is very flexible and efficient. As far as where we give money, people when there’s obvious needs of war with Ukraine, people will express that we need to send resources there, and we will.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That sort of ability to turn on a dime and reorganize and deploy people is also something that’s really, I think, unusual. Go on.

    Marianne Wright: I would like to recommend a book for anybody who wonders what it feels like to join a community, and I was actually thinking the main character in this book is a lot like Clare because she was a professional woman who after becoming very accomplished in her profession turned her back on it. And in the book, she becomes a nun, and it’s called In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. And it follows this woman’s path into a contemplative Catholic order. But reading it as a member of religious community, it absolutely nails a lot of the things you go through and the way that you have to relate to your community members who you might not get along with at times, and the things that surprise you by being more wonderful than you could have imagined. So it really gets that. It’s a really beautiful book, and as you read it, you’ll see that for this woman giving up her money is the least of her worries.

    And that reflects, I think, many of our experiences is that that’s kind of a small sacrifice compared to giving up the ability to choose what you do some of the time.

    Susannah Black Roberts: We will definitely link to that in the show notes, and we’ll also link to Foundations of our Faith and Calling, which is the kind of Bruderhof constitution, so to speak.

    Marianne Wright: I also think it might be a good idea, there are teachings on this by Anabaptist. The founders of the Anabaptist movement in the fifteenth century, they wrote on this subject of community of goods and why they felt it was important. And so I think we should link to those things as well for people who are wondering, is this really a thing or is this just a made up idea? Because it really is based in, and these were people who truly gave up everything who shared all their money and possessions, but more than that, they risked their lives. And many of them were led singing to their deaths for joy in what they had found as being members of this church.

    When I say we give up our choice to put it in the context of the choices that our fathers and mothers have made in history, it’s not much. But I do think it’s important to say these things are based on seeking in Scripture and also then a gift of the Spirit to be able to say, “Yes, we trust and love each other enough to completely throw in our lot with each other.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: So this is a mode of life and a kind of pattern of life that has stuck its head up periodically, not incredibly commonly, but very regularly throughout the history of the church. And obviously the Anabaptist communities of the Radical Reformation were a part of that, but they weren’t the only ones.

    Marianne Wright: I have a quote I love for Brideshead Revisited because this also cracks me up every time. And it’s very true for those of you who are out there being like, “Wow, I could never do this,” and so forth. But this is in Brideshead Revisited, the main character is talking to two Catholic monastics and they’re like, “Did you go to see the Cricket?” “Never, I said. And he looked at me with his expression I’ve seen since in the religious, of innocent wonder that those who expose themselves to the dangers of the world should avail themselves so little of its varied solace.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: Well, Alastair is making me see the Cricket.

    Marianne Wright: I’ve never seen Cricket. I have no idea. Clare, does that sentiment ring true to you?

    Clare Stober: Yes, but I found Cricket very confusing.

    Marianne Wright: I’m not saying for Cricket, I’m just saying in general.

    Susannah Black Roberts: No, I think we should focus on Cricket. I think Cricket is really the key here.

    Marianne Wright: You see there’s a great show on in the Met. I’m like, “You could go if you wanted.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: OK. I’m really feeling very motivated to either give up all my possessions or go to the Met.

    Marianne Wright: Yeah, do one of them.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Literally, so the bargain is I’m going to make Alastair take a dance lesson, and in exchange for that, he’s making me sit through a test match.

    Marianne Wright: It’s like four days.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I don’t know. He says there’re one day ones and he’s going to let me off with it. Yeah, he was trying to explain it. I’ll get back to you. Not being a member of the Bruderhof, I am going to go see the Cricket.

    Marianne Wright: Oh, good. Makes me feel a lot better.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Thanks for listening, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met, and share with your friends! For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $36/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to to learn more.

    On our next episode, I’ll be talking with Sohrab Ahmari about his new book, Tyranny, Inc.

    Contributed By ClareStober Clare Stober

    Clare Stober is creative director at Plough and the editor of Another Life Is Possible: Insights from 100 Years of Life Together, a book that celebrates the hundredth-year anniversary of the Bruderhof.

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    Contributed By MarianneWright Marianne Wright

    Marianne Wright, a member of the Bruderhof, lives in southeastern New York with her husband and five children.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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