A Lesson in Meaningful Work

As I mentioned in a previous post, three of The Family Tree members recently visited the Spring Valley Bruderhof community in Farmington, PA.  The daily routine at the Bruderhof involves:

  • 6:15am breakfast and morning family devotional
  • 7:45am- school bell rings
  • 8:00am- Adults begin their work- housekeeping, grounds keeping, food services, communal laundry, workshops
  • 10:00am- Communal “Snack” break- stop working, enjoy a hot drink, mention prayer concerns or sing a song
  • 10:30am-12:00pm- back to work
  • Noon- Communal meeting or Meal
  • 1:00pm- Family rest time
  • 1:45pm- school bell rings
  • 2:00pm- back to work
  • 5:00pm- work day ends, pick up kids from school
  • 5:30pm-Family Snack or Meal
  • 7:00pm- Communal meal (children stay home with watchcare) or meeting
  • repeat

The schedule was quite an adjustment to our normal routine.  We, along with our neighbors, get up a bit later in the day and tend to go to bed later as well.  Getting up this early meant getting up before the Roosters did.  It was a refreshing change, but we did not keep the routine once we got home.

My work assignment was to help out in the Rifton workshop.  Rifton makes high quality adaptive equipment for children and adults with disabilities.  It is one of many businesses that The Bruderhof have created and maintain in order to support their community.  Across the street at the New Meadow Run Bruderhof was the  Community Playthings workshop. Community Playthings offers an assortment of wooden furniture for daycare, school, and home use.

When I entered the workshop, I noticed immediately that my coworkers were at least 20 years older than me.  MaryAnn sat beside me.  At 93 years of age, she contributed to making the instruction booklets for adjustable bath chairs.  Each time a new task was assigned to our table of ladies, the task came with a story.  “This plastic piece is used along with this one to form the brake system for our caster wheels.  The caster wheels are an incredible invention.  They can be adjusted to different speeds and can be made to only go forward.  This way, a physical therapist can control the disabled person’s movement more easily. ” Someone would show us where the piece is located in the wheel and how it works.  The ladies would smile with joy at the thought of helping a disabled person improve their step.    Every single task came with a story that gave it meaning and this gave us a sense of purpose and joy.

Most of the pieces that we snipped, sorted, and assembled were made of plastic from the molding machine downstairs in the workshop.  The Bruderhof has very bright members.  They have learned how to use very high tech equipment and have invented many of the products they make.  Some of the pieces that we worked on came from other Bruderhof locations.  I asked someone why we were receiving certain metal pieces from another location.  A member of the community explained that sustaining a business is important to The Bruderhof, but it is not the most important thing.  While it is important to do a good job and make money, the most important thing for the brother/sisterhood is to love one another.  The metal pieces in question were sent from another community because the task of oiling them was something that the elderly women at my table could do and the community wanted to provide them with work that they would enjoy and would find fulfillment in doing.  

The Bruderhof knows the value of each person having meaningful work and they choose to create meaningful jobs for each person in the community- no matter their age or background.  Providing meaningful work for each member is a practice of love and justice.  The practice of sharing stories and testimony with one another about why what we do matters transforms our work into a labor of love.

I am thankful to the Bruderhof for teaching me this lesson and am interested to discover how we might be able to utilize their insight and practice in our own community.