A Way to the Cross
Malta Colony, Montana – “When shall we three meet again,/in thunder lightening or in rain. When the hurlyburlys done /when the battle’s lost and won.”
The three witches at the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Macbeth reminded me of the portrayal of the Hutterites* broadcast on National Geographic. One scene depicted a group of women standing in a circle around a barrel fire casting clothes made by from the outside world and not their own hands.
While visiting my daughter in Montana, I decided to visit the Hutterite settlement about two kilometers down the gravel road from her and her husband’s ranch. I wanted to find out exactly what these people were all about. My daughter and I were invited to the colony (their term) for a visit.
We were met by Mary and her husband Patrick (not their real names). Mary was dressed in a subdued one piece dress and she was covered in a black coat with a black hat. Patrick had on black work pants and a shirt and black jacket.
The tour began with their home, a small four bedroom house, with two bedroom upstairs and two bedrooms down. These were connected together with 10 other houses, townhouse style. All of the furniture was handmade by Mary including the kitchen cabinets. She even made the sofas. They were crafted from highly polished knotty pine, probably the only wood available on the upper prairie.
Patrick gave us a tour of the ranch. We first visited the kitchen where the ladies were preparing the noon meal. Large walk-in freezers and refrigerators held very little food as the long brutal winter had passed and the time was coming for planting the garden and slaughtering the ducks, chickens, cows and pigs. All would be stocked up for next winter.
There was a common dining room where the men sat on one side of the room and the ladies sat on the other. Each lady took a turn every week planning the menu and directing the preparation of the meals.
The next stop was the chicken house. Hens were held in small cages, fed and produced eggs. Each egg was candled and the ones with blood spot were set aside. They were then placed in crates and sold in town. The other room held 400 fryers, a month away from being put in the freezer. Patrick and a friend had invented a feather remover device that held hot water and a tub that spun the chicken around. It was hobbled together from an old washing machine.
On other parts of the farm, there was a cow pen for fresh milk, a pig pen for pork and steers for meat. The processing took place in an immaculately clean room using stainless steel implements. The meat was then frozen for consumption by the colony.
For money, the men worked the ranch. As in all other parts of Northern Montana, the ranch produced calves for the feedlots in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. The cows were bred by bulls in the fall. After a nine month gestation period, the calves were born in the spring. All summer they fed on the grasses and then auctioned in October or November for further fattening in feedlots. Although the phrase is not used, I would call the entire region a “cow nursery.” From the sale of these animals, the Hutterites made a tidy profit to purchase many implements they could not make on the ranch.
The school held grades one through seven in one room. A trained teacher from “outside” conducted the classes. The first hour was devoted to 16th Century German while the rest of the time went to academic work. After the eighth grade, the male students could work on the farm and the ladies relegated to the kitchen. Students could also attend the local high school if they wanted to continue their education.
“Why do you guys all live in this colony separated from the rest of the world,” I asked after being encouraged to ask questions. The paraphrased answer was they wanted to remove competition and greed from their life in order to better worship Jesus Christ. If people don’t compete for material goods, then they can better devote their lives to Christ.
“What’s with the black clothes?” Again the greed factor. We don’t want to compete with each other and besides we don’t want to standout in society. I let that one pass.
“How come men and women eat and work separately?” To avoid adultery and to keep our concentration on our beliefs.
“What if somebody wants to leave?” They said they have no problem with that and they can return at anytime. However, if they marry outside the faith they cannot return. One lady had two children who left and married but they still saw each other and her grandchildren often came to visit.
“And the old German?” The language binds us together and we speak it among ourselves. It has been a unifying factor through many purges and religious intolerance.
“What about the National Geographic programs?” We heard (they don’t have television) about it and we think the producers spliced together the more sensational parts and made their own story. We know the people who were in it and they also heard what had happened. They were very sad.
“After meeting us, do you think we were depicted fairly?” No, I said, absolutely not.
“How are decisions made?” “Are they made by just one person?” No, we have meetings with rousing discussions and debate but in the end nobody leaves with their feelings hurt.
“Is it true all your clothes must be handmade and none from the “outside” is permitted?” No. We buy our coats and jackets because they are cheaper than what we can make them. We also use zippers and other implements.
“How about alcohol?” We do enjoy our beer and wine.
We had a great lunch with them, roast beef, baked potato, biscuits, gravy and milk fresh from the cow, plus a veggie. All homemade and home grown. It was delicious!
While leaving I thought about all the protestant religions and their philosophies. This was just another way to the cross I thought to myself, …another way to the cross.
…Life is good. . . .
*Hutterites are a communal branch of Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century.