Everyday Faith: Quiet Piety Permeates Hutterite Thought, Deed
Aksamit, Nichole. "Everyday Faith: Quiet Piety Permeates Hutterite Thought, Deed." Forum, 15 November 1999, sec. A1 & A12.
The modest women of Spring Prairie Colony
share a quiet moment in the early morning sun on a trailer behind
a tractor headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, Minnesota.
Quiet piety permeates Hutterite thought, deed
By Nichole Aksamit, The Forum, Staff Writer
Published in The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota, November 15, 1999,
page A1, A12
Spring Prairie Colony, Minn.
A bell in the courtyard chimes the time for the noon meal.
At once, the men and women of this Hutterite colony northwest of
Hawley walk briskly toward the central dining hall, heads bowed
The kerchiefed women enter a door on the north, the men a door
on the south and, like two flocks of birds, they fall into formation.
The women seat themselves at long tables on one side of the room,
in order by age and marital status. The men hang their hats on the
wall and seat themselves in order on the other side.
At once, as in response to some silent signal, 284 metal chair
legs grate against linoleum as 71 bodies slide their chairs toward
the tables and wait in silence for the leader to say grace.
They fold their hands at their chests and bow their heads in supplication
as a deep voice from the male side of the room intones the opening
prayer in German.
After the "Amen," the men and women begin dishing up
the roast pork, homemade potato chips, coleslaw, boiled carrots
and onions, creamy egg soup, tomatoes and whole milk that has been
set before them.
They eat quickly, silently and in near-perfect unison.
Two teen-age girls move swiftly from table to table, collecting
the uneaten food from the serving dishes at the women's tables and
redistributing it to the men's. And the kitchen manager brings out
a piece of chocolate cake for each person, a special treat for the
ladies who butchered 1,400 chickens this morning.
Exactly 12 minutes after the opening grace, the same deep voice
recites the closing prayer:
"Danke, Gott, fur diese Speise. Bitte geben uns mehr - unser
geistliche Speise. In den Namen Jesus Christus, Amen."
(Thank you, God, for this food. Please give us more - our spiritual
food. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.)
At once, 71 bodies push their chairs from the table.
Like so many aspects of everyday life at Spring Prairie Colony,
even mealtime has a religious undercurrent.
"What is in our society a routine function, such as the gathering
of a family around the supper table, becomes to the Hutterians an
expression of worship," writes the late Moorhead State University
sociologist and archivist Victor Peters, in "All Things Common,"
a sociological study of the Hutterite way of life.
"The taking of nourishment to them is more than just that;
it is a religious service, a tribute to the glory of the Provider
And, if asked why they do something a certain way, Hutterites at
Spring Prairie will usually quote the Bible or say simply, "God
Even the Hutterites' modest clothing style has its roots in religion:
the biblical imperative that women cover their hair and believers
have "all things common." They believe their uniform dress
code identifies them as Christians, sets them apart from the world
and reduces the coveting of material things.
From birth, Hutterites are taught to value piety and humility.
Daily prayers are among the first words a child learns to speak.
The colonists at Spring Prairie typically pray at least 13 times
a day - once in the morning, once at night, before and after three
meals and two snacks, and during church services held Sunday morning
and each evening before supper.
Prayer, they feel, is part and parcel of a life guided by God and
"If you're going to be a Christian," says John Waldner
Sr., the colony's elder minister. "You can't be a half-Christian.
You must read and live by the whole Testament. You must strive to
be like Christ in thought, word, and deed."
The daily services at Spring Prairie are a serious affair. At about
5:45 p.m. each day, the same bell that calls the congregation to
dinner reminds them it's time to go home and prepare for church.
The men and women wash their hands and faces, put on their black
jackets and aprons and wait in the dark of their houses for the
colony elders to begin the somber procession to the meeting hall.
As at mealtime, it is considered rude to arrive early or late and
the congregation assembles quickly, parting at the main aisle of
the church. Again, everyone has his or her place by gender, age
and marital status.
Men sit on the left with their hats in their laps. Women sit on
the right with their hands folded. The youngest Hutterites sit toward
the front, the oldest at the back - with the exception of the elected
elders who sit at the front and face the congregation.
Children under age 5 remain at home with their baby-sitters.
The church at Spring Prairie is on the main level of the same building
that houses the adult and children's dining halls, the kitchen,
the bakery and the laundry. It is a low-ceilinged, wood-paneled
rectangle of a room with linoleum floors, uncushioned wooden pews
and three windows at the front.
It is notably unadorned. The only thing on the walls is a wooden
clock. The plain windows wear ghostly white curtains. There are
no crucifixes, no candles, no sound system, no piano or organ, no
There is no altar, but rather a simple table behind which the two
ministers kneel for prayers or stand to read the hymn verses and
the sermons, some of which date to the 1500s.
The services, conducted entirely in high German, begin with a formal
prayer asking God's help and guidance in thought, word a and deed,
and about 10 minutes of song.
During an evening service in August, the younger minister, George
Waldner, stands and reads several verses of the day's hymn, "Wer
Ohren hat zu horen" (Those Who Have Ears to Hear") - from
a small songbook.
The seated congregation sings the hymn unaccompanied, line by line,
recalling the plaintive melodies from memory. With strong, reedy
voices they sing eight verses about the importance of Demut (humility)
when tempted by the apparent splendor of Pracht (fancy, unnecessary,
John, the elder minister, then reads the sermon, word for word,
from a black-bound book. A breeze billows the curtains behind him
and the congregation sits with slightly bowed heads, their eyes
averted from the minister as if to better hear and understand his
One of many passed down from the 16th century, the sermon talks
of Christ's example. It centers on biblical accounts of his behavior
on Earth: turning water to wine at the wedding of Canaa, throwing
merchants out of the temple, healing a sick man, and forgiving his
The sermon argues that man must live by Christ's example - strive
for the spiritual, abandon the material, help his neighbors and
love his enemies - in order to attain heavenly reward.
The congregation then kneels for about 10 minutes on the hard linoleum
floor while George says the closing prayers.
After the benediction, the men file out, oldest to youngest, then
the women, oldest to youngest.
They go home to remove their black jackets, discuss the sermon,
hold their children and wait for the supper bell.
Prayer and preaching are an integral part of life for Hutterites,
who attend church every day and twice on Sunday. The Spring
Prairie colonists hurry to evening church services.
Reprinted with permission of The Forum