Sunday, 14 August 2016

Hutterite Diaries Review by Leonard Gross

I'd like to share a recent review of Hutterite Diaries, written by Leonard Gross, author of The Golden Years of the Hutterites.  It was first published in the Mennonite Quarterly Review. My sincere thanks to Leonard Gross for taking the time to write this beautifully detailed and insightful review, and for granting me permission to post it on my blog.

 Leonard Gross, a Mennonite, has long held deep interest in Hutterian history and faith. His book, The Golden Years of the Hutterites, was first published in 1980, and is still available as a paperback. He also co-authored Selected Hutterian Documents in Translation, 1542-1654, a reprint of which is also again available from the Baker Colony Bookstore. His numerous articles on the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites have appeared over the decades in North American and European scholarly journals. He and his wife, Irene, live in Goshen, Indiana, and are parents of two grown daughters, Suzanne and Valerie, and three grandchildren. Leonard appreciates the many fine visits he has had among all three Hutterian groups, and also the visits of those who have come his way to Goshen, Indiana.

Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community. By Linda Maendel. Harrisonburg, Va.: Herald Press. 

Since the time of their arrival in North America in the 1870s, Hutterites have produced little in the way of analytical interpretive history or other writings depicting their faith and life. Such was not always the case, as can be seen in the large array of Hutterian handwritten codices, extending all the way back to the 1530s, and continuing throughout the Hutterites’ European sojourn. This vast Hutterian literary production included chronicles, correspondence, theological treatises, prison epistles, hymnody, and sermons. Much of this corpus, found in leather-bound codices, is still extant. Indeed, virtually all Hutterite preachers yet today continue to preach verbatim from the sermon booklets of yore, with a repertoire of well over 500 such sermons (Lehren and Vorreden) from which to choose.

Published interpretation of the Hutterian way, then and now, has for the most part resided in the hands of outsiders, whatever the language. This has included volumes on history, theology, and culture, and on the intersection of faith and life. (An early exception is Paul S. Gross, The Hutterite Way: The Inside Story of the Life, Customs, Religion, and Traditions of the Hutterites, 1965.) Outside interpretation, however, has its limitations, as Hutterite writer Linda Maendel notes in her book, Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community: “When others write about us, things tend to get twisted, either intentionally or because the author couldn’t grasp certain aspects of our communal life” (13). Maendel attempts to set the record straight by describing in broad strokes the Hutterian life, faith, and history of her own people. In her endeavor, she succeeds superbly.

Maendel’s volume comprises twenty-two stories, grouped into four sections: fellowship; celebrations; values; and heritage. But these stories are sandwiched between an extensive prefatory description of the life of one person during a typical day, “A day in the life of the author,” and a well-rounded epilogue containing “FAQs about the Hutterites: The Author Answers.”

One essential part of the larger account of a people is story and history from the inside—what “we” think and believe, what the vision toward which “we” aspire entails. Linda Maendel possesses the gifts and education to accomplish this task. She is a superb storyteller, one of the few Hutterite storytellers, currently, whose works are published. She writes: “while other Hutterite women love to sew, I would rather write. It’s not something I have in common with many of my fellow Hutterites, but I’m fine with that” (56).

Several stories are historical in nature. One such story, “The Amana-Hutterite connection” (131-135), describes the support the Amana colonies granted to the Hutterites during the 1870s, through their first decade of existence as refugees and immigrants in South Dakota. Along with providing financial support, the Amanas also sent supplies, including bolts of black fabric laced with white polka-dots. And so began a new tradition of polka-dot Tiechlen(women’s head coverings), which up to that time were solid black. The same story recounts how a Hutterite, Michael Hofer, whose eyes were severely damaged in a dust storm, traveled to see an Amana doctor, who successfully treated Hofer—who then, instead of returning to the Hutterites, became an Amana member. Maendel notes that Hofer “chose to stay and made Amana his home, thus leaving one Christian community for another one” (133).

We gain insights into how Hutterites view those who leave in another story, “Two Empty Chairs” (61-63).A family left the colony, and the next day, in school, as a consequence, there were two empty chairs. Maendel’s interpretation of how this affects Hutterites is worth quoting:

Even though we don’t advocate staying if the heart is somewhere else, this
does not lessen the pain when people choose to leave. We’re together on a
daily basis: we worship, work, eat, play, travel, learn, relax, and visit in big
or small groups, year in, year out. Therefore, when someone forsakes the
colony, they leave an ache that is unlike any other—and hard to explain to

In her last story, “Love without End,” Maendel underscores the deeper significance of a shared love and life. The sharing on all levels of life bridges past with present, which all Hutterites experience; this is “another reminder of how invaluable multiple generations are to our communal life. In working together, tenets of our faith, values, work ethic, culture, and heritage are passed onto our children” (154).

Maendel writes experientially, weaving into her gathered stories many strands of what, together, constitute Hutterian faith and life. The reader thus comes away with the feeling of having experienced the Hutterian way where faith, theology, and history each finds its place, interwoven existentially into everyday life. Maendel somehow is thus able to integrate various components into a larger whole, each of which is seen as an essential part of the total Hutterian reality, without which the whole would fall apart. For the Hutterites, home and vocation, and faith, family, and friends are seamlessly intertwined and correlated with each other, resulting in a degree of fulfillment socially and culturally rare in Western human history. Maendel is a master in her capacity to describe this seamless way of life.
This volume of stories is already making its rounds. Melodie Davis, syndicated columnist, reproduced Maendel’s Christmas story (75-76) in the Goshen News(December12, 2015), introducing it as follows: “There are stories that grab us and stop us in our tracks to say, yes, yes, this is what Christmas is truly about.”

Educated and well-traveled, Maendel represents a growing number of Hutterite women from the progressive faction within the Schmiedeleut group. But her experience is not shared by most women living among the more conservative Lehrer and Darius groups. Nevertheless, at its foundation her description of the Hutterian “way” rings true for all Hutterites, centering as it does in having all things common.

It is said that we need the Amish to remind us of what simplicity can be. We also need the Hutterites to remind us about the richness and depth of what the gathered community, as the Body of Christ, can be.

Goshen, Indiana LEONARD GROSS (author of The Golden Years of the Hutterites)


  1. I was wondering where you can order the book The Golden Years. I tried on Chapters, but it was not available.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Cynthia, the book is most likely available on Amazon.


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