Men in plaid button-down shirts and overalls held up by suspenders and women in bonnets and sixteenth-century-style skirts are industriously busy around the room. One logs on to the Internet to check the day's electronic mail messages and postings to the group's web site. Another handles calls on its 800 number for orders for the movement's line of old-fashioned wooden kids' toys and state-of-the-art disability equipment that contribute to the community's $20 million in annual revenues.
At noon, the workforce thins out as parents leave to pick up their children from community daycare. A crew of parents takes turns watching and instructing the children of Woodcrest, one of eight Bruderhof rural communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and England, where 2,500 Bruderhofers live and work.
After spending an extended lunch with their children in the communal dining hall, the adults return to work. One day a week is designated for the Interhof conference call, for which all 250 adults of the Woodcrest community in the rolling hills of upstate New York gather in a large meeting hall and, via sophisticated conference-calling facilities, are connected to the other Bruderhof communities. Heavy German accents fill the room as the communities pray and work their way down an agenda of community business.
Lately the agenda for this Anabaptist religious group has been brimming with controversial issues, including a passionate campaign for a stay of execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther journalist on death row who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. There also have been painful splits with other Hutterite groups and fending off of ex-Bruderhofers' accusations that the Bruderhof is a cult.