NOVEMBER 7, 1958
NEW YORK—I enjoyed a most interesting experience last Monday when I visited a community near Rifton, N.Y., wherein lives the Society of Brothers, and viewed their unique way of life.
This is a community of people who claim no denominational labels but who, having similar basic religious beliefs, come together and try to live according to the ways they think were taught by the early Christians. There are a number of these communities in different parts of the world—in Uruguay, Paraguay, England, Germany, Canada and the U.S.
Everyone in the group works, men and women alike, and everything is owned in common, but family life is highly prized and a certain amount of private life is encouraged. Each family has an apartment adequate to its needs, but washing and toilet facilities serve several apartments.
One or two membership meetings is held each week, during which each member requests the things he needs, and the community as a group decides on the wisdom of the request.
They maintain that life must be lived with satisfaction and joy. And though they believe that people should be content with the necessities of life they are not averse to considering that pleasures also should enter into the scheme of existence.
In Rifton the major financial support comes from making educational toys. These are made from fine, well-seasoned wood, and since they are meant for groups to play with they are particularly strong and enduring. The toys are sold to nursery schools, kindergartens and institutions of all kinds. One most unusual product they have developed is a cradle that can rock in any direction and two or three children can sit in it and do the rocking. This has been particularly successful with blind children.
Their blocks for building are of such good size that I should imagine a child would (unclear) he was building something permanent. The little dolls' houses, which are built in units and can be arranged in several different ways to the delight of the youngster, are inexpensive and very simple but ample enough to lend themselves to furnishing with doll furniture.
We lunched with our hosts and found the food excellent. The lamb stew was delicious and there was plenty of it, with plenty of vegetables and good biscuits with butter and marmalade. We were offered milk or water to drink, and then we were told that they can afford whole milk only for the children. So I gathered it was powdered milk that was served to the elders, though I did not take it. One of the brothers read during the meal, and there was community singing.
The elementary school which we visited seemed to be exceptionally well run. The older children go to the high school in Kingston, and I think there must surely be a period of adjustment for them. For this is a religious community which people can join only on a voluntary basis and where peace of heart and mind is emphasized. This makes a rather remarkable atmosphere in which to bring up children.
The village of Rifton has taken the Society of Brothers in as friends. And this was proven last winter when it replaced one of the group's main buildings which had burned down. This, of course, also means that all have been good neighbors.