Most of us know a few bits about horse-and-buggy driving, technology-shunning Amish and conservative Mennonites. But unless we’ve grown up in the Dakotas or on the Canadian prairie, it is unlikely that we know much about their Anabaptist cousins, the Hutterites. The Hutterites share a common spiritual heritage, but are distinguished by their distinctive communal lifestyle.
Canadian author Mary-Ann Kirkby’s memoir of her experience growing up Hutterite – and then leaving the community at age ten in order to join the “English” (non-Hutterite) world is a fascinating look into a world closed to outsiders. Ann-Marie’s childhood impressions of the nurture and familial warmth of the community were at odds with the power politics and dysfunction that her parents were experiencing. When they uprooted their seven children in 1969 with no warning (but as much advance, adult preparation as they could muster under the watchful gaze of the tight-knit community), the entire family had to learn a new way of living. Compounding this, they left the colony with nothing, as Hutterite communities share a common purse. This translated into lots of awkward growing pains for the poverty-stricken family:
“Mother had never made school lunches before. Now she had to make five of them every night while I tried to explain to her what the English kids were eating. We were complete sandwich novices. On the colony we ate full-course meals daily, and only on special occasions, such as weddings or funerals, were ham sandwiches served as a night snack…the only luncheon meat we could afford was bologna that was weeks past its ‘best before’ date and mottled with mold. Mother trimmed the green edges from the meat with a knife and tucked an uneven piece between two slices of stale white bread.”
Kirkby describes her experiences as a teen learning to fit in to the English world while clinging to the cloistered Hutterite family community she loved. She also tells the story of her parents’ and grandfather’s attempts to forgive leaders who’d abused their power. Though it is not explicitly stated in the book, it appears that both her parents and grandfather became born again, and eventually found the freedom they longed for the day they moved away from the colony.
I Am Hutterite (Nelson, 2010) is compelling reading not only for those interested in religious communities, but for anyone who finds themselves living in the confusing world that exists between two different cultures.
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.