In face of pandemic, Bruderhof continues its caring mission

A member of the Bruderhof sews a PPE mask.

A member of the Bruderhof sews a PPE mask.


ESOPUS - Social distancing is difficult in this time of virus and uncertainty; some sense of community and relationships is vital to maintaining normalcy. But when your entire community is based on communal living, as it is for the Bruderhof communities sprinkled around the Mid-Hudson Valley, the impact takes on new meaning.

The Bruderhof is a 100-year-old intentional Christian group that lives in community, sharing income, skills and other resources to take care of each other. The group was founded in Germany in 1920, in the aftermath of World War I.

About 2,900 members now live in 23 communities, or settlements, worldwide. Locally, about 1,100 members live in communities in Chester, Walden, Esopus, Ulster Park, Rifton and Kingston.

Everything is shared, including a noonday meal every day in a dining hall within each community. But the coronavirus pandemic has halted those shared meals and has modified the group’s actions to maintain safety. Still, their main goal – caring for each other – is number one.

“Community is such a core value for us,” said Dr. Anneke Maendel, a Bruderhof member and a physician with Esopus Medical in Ulster County. “We’ve been working on restructuring our community to ensure social distancing so everyone remains safe. And we’ve been proactive in educating our people on that.”

Families now eat in their own homes, instead of in dining halls, Maendel said. But that kind of isolating does not mean total isolation. Hot meals are delivered to the elderly and disabled, and their other needs are met, Maendel said.

“We’ve tried to allow elderly people to remain in their homes,” she said. “We pick up their laundry and return it, bring groceries to them.”

Technology-based learning and fellowship

A childcare center and preschool operated by the Bruderhof are closed, as are the Mount Academy high school in Esopus and kindergarten-8th grade schools in each community. Maendel said that, just as in local public schools, technology is lending a hand.

“Teachers issue work and check up online or by phone,” Maendel explained. “We understand it’s difficult; some parents may have to juggle work and child care, but we are all managing the best we can.”

Technology has helped improve fellowship for Bruderhof members, too.

“Even though we are social-distancing, we’re connected and involved,” Maendel said. “We try to continue to share in each other’s lives on an ongoing, daily basis. There is a large use of phone and technology. We conduct conference calls most days, to catch up, to worship; sometimes, it’s an open forum for people to share their joys and their challenges.”

Like other medical practices in the region, Esopus Medical is using telehealth whenever possible, the doctor said; when in-person visits are warranted, the practice has avoided using the waiting room to prevent patient congregation.

Helping others is paramount

Each settlement has a certain focus, whether it’s industry, education or other impact. The Maple Ridge settlement in Ulster Park is home to Community Playthings, a business that manufactures children’s furniture and classroom essentials.

“Community Playthings is now producing face masks, shields and gowns, to be donated locally,” Maendel said. “In the workplace, everyone is following social distancing guidelines and is masked.” In addition, the Bruderhof created privacy shields that are being used at the Kingston High School gym, which has been converted to an overflow field hospital, Maendel said.

Other members of the Bruderhof are using their talents more intensively, she added: “Some of our members are working at the Central Park field hospital in New York City, and working at nursing homes in Montgomery and Kingston. We are also working with local food banks to volunteer and to donate food.”

Embracing blessings

“The changes that are affecting all of society are affecting us,” Maendel continued, noting that a few members have suffered from COVID-19. “We’re following whatever guidelines are provided by our local and state governments.”

As restrictions are lifted, the group may slowly return to familiar activities, but communal meals – which were shared once a week with the public pre-coronavirus – may not be practiced right away, Maendel predicted.

“Still, we are blessed to have each other and support each other,” she concluded. “We live in a great locality and have seen great things. We can take this as a time of renewal and regrowth. People are spending a lot of time outdoors with their children. We are lucky to have a beautiful, great outdoors.”

“Our prayers are with you, and with everybody who’s just doing what they can to help others.”

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