Conservative Christian communities are struggling to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions as they balance public safety with their communal lifestyle.
Hutterites, the Amish and Old Order Mennonites live simply and separately from wider mainstream society.
“When a person joins the community, they take vows of poverty, and all of our resources, our time and our energy is shared and guided in a communal setting. We typically eat three meals a day together, we worship together, our lives are inextricably intertwined,” said Kenny Wollmann, a member of the Baker Hutterite Colony in Manitoba.
“When we hit times like this, it gives us pause. What does it mean? How can we now gather? How can we keep the vulnerable in our community safe?”
There is a diversity of views on technology among Hutterites, but overall, they believe their society is best preserved in a rural, village-like setting.
Even so, many operate large farms and some have also diversified into manufacturing. This has created some close economic ties to the outside community.
“We, too, are part of this world and we are citizens of Canada and we need to navigate this well, just the way everybody else does,” said Wollmann, who is a student teacher nearing graduation. “In many ways, it’s easier for us as Hutterites, but in other ways it’s more challenging.”
For example, physical and social distancing is difficult. In Alberta, gatherings larger than 15 people are prohibited right now. That number is 10 in Manitoba and five in Ontario. It’s as low as two in Quebec.
However, in Hutterite colonies, every meal is prepared and eaten communally in one large dining room. The entire community also attends church services, weddings and funerals.
“It’s a massive paradigm shift for us, because our entire life is organized in such a way that we intentionally get up in each other’s business,” Wollmann said.
Despite a suspicion of technology and social media, some community leaders are starting to use video conferencing applications such as Zoom and Skype to conduct worship services.
“Because of this new reality, we are forced to imagine how the body of Jesus Christ gathers in new ways, and it transcends our limitations of time and space in a beautiful and astonishing way,” Wollmann said.
Many Hutterites are following the news and are aware of the pandemic globally and closer to home.
So even the technophobic, neo-Luddite, famously separatist Anabaptists, who used to believe in isolating themselves from the world, now no longer do, and have embraced modern technology for worship as most other Christians have. And have given up their communal dining in favour of nuclear-family-centric social distancing…
Have to say, I’m sorry to see it.
If there’s anyone who shouldn’t get coronavirus, it’s gotta be the Old Order Anabaptists. They generally eschew the ways of the world and separate naturally from it…
But then, many are not completely Old Order.
Heck, it appears, from the story, that few use Plattdeutsch as their everyday language any more, having switched to English instead…
Modernity dissolves all, even the Anabaptists…