Ministers, Hutterite

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One of the features that have impressed visitors to Hutterite Bruderhofs ever since the very beginning and which occasionally also caused internal problems are the special honors allotted to their ministers (Diener des Wortes, i.e., elders or bishops). While in general a puritanical way of life and a democratic sharing of all goods prevailed, ministers as a rule were given somewhat better quarters and better food wherever possible. This was naturally resented by some strict members of the group and it likewise aroused surprise, perhaps even criticism, by foreign observers.

The Chronicle of the Hutterites is quite frank in this regard, reporting as early as 1540 an internal conflict on this count. A certain Herman Schmid (of the more radical wing of the brotherhood) openly censured the practice "that the brotherhood treats their ministers with special food and drink" (Zieglschmid, 211). An ensuing meeting (without the ministers) readily reaffirmed that it is according to divine Scripture that those who serve the group spiritually as shepherds should receive "double honors" in things temporal. Schmid, however, was disavowed and excommunicated. He went to Hesse, where Peter Riedemann at that time was imprisoned, and asked Riedemann for his intercession.

Riedemann now (1540) wrote a lengthy epistle to the brotherhood in Moravia, "Concerning the Office of the Ministers and What is Due Them" (Der Diener Amt und Gebühren halben), now in the Chronicle (Zieglschmid, 212-223), in which he discussed the issue in general along the lines approved by the brotherhood. He wrote it "impartially," inasmuch as he could not know whether or not he might ever profit from such an "opinion." This great letter then became a real cornerstone of Hutterite practice for all the future and thus created a tradition within the brotherhood, which is still alive today. The gist of this rather elaborate document is the reference to 1 Timothy 5:17, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." As it is the Word of God, the brotherhood should by all means conform to it.

This principle was repeated in 1556, when Hänsel Schmidt or Raiffer explained the practice of the brotherhood to Swiss Brethren around Kreuznach in a seven-point statement. Point 4 deals again with what should be allotted to ministers in all things temporal (Zieglschmid, 363). The "double honor" principle is expressly mentioned. Again in 1652 this seven-point statement is reproduced by Andreas Ehrenpreis in his great Sendbrief, one of the few Hutterite documents ever printed. The brotherhood has accepted this practice as a matter of course ever since 1540.

Visitors and guests, however, did not approve this policy. We hear, for example, of Polish Brethren (Anti-Trinitarians: see Polish Church) who lived on a Bruderhof for a whole year (1569/70) to learn how to run a community farm, and who now strongly criticized this usage; in fact, they called the Brethren for this reason outright "hypocrites." Likewise later visitors had a similar impression, and of course all the local antagonists, e.g., Catholic clergymen such as Erhard and Christof A. Fischer. Indeed this practice has to the present day aroused surprise, amazement, and sometimes resentment. It seems incongruous in the face of the uttermost strictness and Puritanism among the Brethren in general, that the food and living conditions of ministers and elders are distinctly better and more ample. Today, as an expression of honor, the ministers do not eat with the other brethren and sisters in the common dining hall but separately in their own rooms.

With the Society of Brothers a similar practice was the rule, but it was abandoned in later years, although certain privileges were still granted the ministers.


Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1957

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Friedmann, Robert. "Ministers, Hutterite." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 26 May 2020.,_Hutterite&oldid=90021.

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Friedmann, Robert. (1957). Ministers, Hutterite. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 May 2020, from,_Hutterite&oldid=90021.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 698-699. All rights reserved.

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