Cover image for A joyful pilgrimage : my life in community
A joyful pilgrimage : my life in community
Arnold, Emmy.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Farmington, PA : Plough Pub. House, [1999]

Physical Description:
176 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Rev. ed. of: Torches together.
Format :


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BX8129.B64 A8 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In the tumultuous aftermath of the First World War, thousands of young Germans defied the social mores of their parents - and the constricting influence of the established churches - in search of freedom, social equality, nature, and community. Hiking clubs were formed and work camps organized, and hundreds of rural folk schools and communes sprang up across the country. In the 1930s, Nazism swallowed this so-called Youth Movement virtually whole.

A Joyful Pilgrimage is the engaging story of a remnant that survived: the Bruderhof, a 75-year-old community that began when the author and her husband, a well-known writer and lecturer, abandoned their affluent Berlin suburb to start a new life and "venture of faith."

At first glance a memoir, A Joyful Pilgrimage is a radical call to faith and commitment against great odds. It is also a remarkable testimony to the leading of the Spirit, which, as Emmy Arnold writes, can hold together those who believe in the "daily miracle" of community "through thick and thin."

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Between the two World Wars in Germany, writer and lecturer Eberhard Arnold and his wife, Emmy, founded the Bruderhof, a communal Christian fellowship that later formed a loose affiliation with the Hutterite communities. Emmy's memoir carries the reader through the Arnolds' courtship and marriage, their involvement in Germany's postwar youth movement, the founding of the Bruderhof in 1920, and the community's struggles until its expulsion from Nazi Germany in 1937. Arnold's portrait of communal life is brutally honest. Although her commitment to the ideals of such a life are clear, she does not veil the personality conflicts inherent in community life. In addition, the Bruderhof's life of voluntary poverty and hard labor, writes Arnold, led to numerous health problems in the community. Still, Arnold endured these problems because of her strong call to community. Perhaps most valuable is a short summary of the Bruderhof's theological history and vision. While Arnold's style is not eloquent, she is factual and precise in her memoir of the Bruderhof way of life. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Origins As I was asked to write down the story of my life, I want to tell a little of everything I remember. I especially want to tell about the first years of the Bruderhof communities (since I am one of the few who still remember them) and how we were visited and moved by the Spirit in spite of our human weakness and failings. I don't really know where to begin, but because my personal background somehow belongs to it all, I will start there.     My husband, Eberhard, and I both stem from upper-middle-class academic circles. Both of us enjoyed protected childhoods, and we were rather isolated from people of other classes. Although both of us always felt we owed a great debt of gratitude to our parents, we also felt we must go our own ways. Somehow we did not feel that our lives were complete. We longed for a fuller, more meaningful life and could not help feeling a certain boredom. Eberhard was born on July 26, 1883, in Königsberg, East Prussia. His father, Carl Franklin Arnold (born in Williamsfield, Ohio, on March 10, 1853), taught in the grammar school at Königsberg at the time Eberhard was born. Eberhard's mother, Elisabeth Arnold (formerly Voigt), came from traditional academic circles. She was born on September 20, 1852, in Oldenburg, Germany. Eberhard was the third child in the family. He had one brother and three sisters. When he was still a young boy his father became Professor of Theology and Church History at the University of Breslau in Silesia.     I have been told that in his boyhood days Eberhard was very lively -- full of mischief -- and that he caused quite a lot of trouble, especially for his teachers. They, as well as the parents of his schoolmates, were not always pleased with the influence he had on the other students. Already at that time he felt drawn to poor people and tramps. He found these people much more natural and warmhearted than those of the middle class. This was hard for his parents to understand, and a number of conflicts resulted. Once, for instance, Eberhard befriended a passing tramp; by the end of the encounter, they had traded hats, and soon afterward his mother discovered lice!     At sixteen, Eberhard was no longer satisfied with the stuffiness of life at home. That summer he spent his vacation at the rectory of an uncle, Ernst Ferdinand Klein, at Lichtenrade near Berlin. There he was exposed to a kind of Christianity he had never known before.     Through a personal experience of Christ at his former parish in Silesia, where there were many badly underpaid weavers, Onkel Ernst had decided to support the poor. This had brought him a good deal of hostility from wealthier parishioners, and he had been forced to give up his pastorate.     Once Eberhard was present during a talk his uncle had with a young officer of the Salvation Army. He followed what was said with eager interest. The brotherly way in which these two men conversed, and the love of Christ which he saw in both, aroused in the sixteen-year-old a deep longing to find the source of this love for himself.     On returning home from this vacation, Eberhard began to seek more earnestly to find Christ. Later he told me how in October of 1899, after a prolonged inner struggle, he had visited a young pastor one day after hearing him speak. When he asked the pastor about the Holy Spirit, the pastor said, "It is just this Spirit that has led you here." So it happened that Eberhard experienced conversion.     Eberhard was very moved when he told me about this time in his life. It was the same period when the Fellowship Movement (which started in England and America) was spreading in Germany, Switzerland, and other countries as well. Members of this movement felt Christ was more than the Son of God: he was their Redeemer. But it went beyond that. People met in private homes, forming groups and fellowships in which they worshiped together. Something had begun to move. Immediately after his own conversion, Eberhard tried to establish contact with these groups.     As a first step he talked with his parents and teachers in an effort to straighten things out. Alas, they neither understood nor believed him. One teacher even thought Eberhard was playing a joke and sent him out of the room as a prankster! But step by step people began to accept the fact that he was indeed earnest. Classmates soon gathered around him and a small group came into being. As a result, Eberhard's room was hardly ever empty, and he had great difficulty applying himself to his schoolwork.     The situation became worse when Eberhard began to associate with the Salvation Army. Drawn by its attempts to put Christianity into action, and by its concern for the plight of the downtrodden, he frequently attended its meetings. He also visited, with its members, some of the worst sections of Breslau at night. Eberhard did this, he later told me, because he felt called to save those who were lost and to reach out to the most desperate people of the "submerged tenth," as old Salvation Army General William Booth used to call them.     Naturally this development caused a great deal of excitement at home, especially when Eberhard's parents read large posters all over town saying, "Attention! Salvation Army. Tonight missionary Eberhard Arnold will address a large meeting." Grammar school boys were legally prohibited to engage in public speaking, and Eberhard's disregard for the law did nothing but aggravate his already strained relationship with his parents. Already then (as several times later) Eberhard's father feared that he would be forced to give up his professorship at the university because of this ill-mannered son who was destroying his good name.     Soon school authorities put an end to Eberhard's public appearances, and his parents, making use of an opportunity to change his environment, sent him to the little town of Jauer for further studies. At Jauer, Eberhard was supposed to prepare for his final exams, undisturbed by all these interruptions. Yet even there a small group gathered around him for regular Bible study. All the same, Eberhard was able to graduate. Many years later, even after his death, I met people who had not forgetten this time of Eberhard's youth -- so great was his zeal for Jesus. Many said they received an inner direction for their entire life during those days.     For a while Eberhard wondered whether he should join the Salvation Army. During one summer, while vacationing at the North Sea, he wrestled with this question as never before. His love for those who were "lost" and unjustly treated -- those for whom Christ had come -- drew him toward the Salvation Army. Yet he realized more and more that they approached things in a rather one-sided, religious way, and that they lacked a certain depth in the way they handled the various social problems with which they were confronted.     Eberhard decided, then, not to join the Salvation Army, though he always maintained a special feeling of friendship and love for its members. Right to the end of his life he continued to attend their meetings when he could, and even to speak at them on occasion. Now I want to tell about my own childhood and youth. I was born on December 25, 1884, in Riga, Latvia, as the second child of Heinrich and Monika (formerly Otto) von Hollander. There were five girls and two boys in our family. I remember very little of my early childhood because I was only five years old when we left our homeland. The Russian presence was growing steadily in the city, and like many other German-Baltic families, we immigrated to Germany to escape this influence; our parents wanted us to be brought up as Germans. I never saw Riga again. We left to settle in Jena in the spring of 1890.     I don't know whether it was because I was born on December 25th, but Christmas -- the time when the Christ Child was born for the salvation of humankind -- was always something heavenly for me. As I grew older, the meaning of this special holiday touched me to the depths of my heart and influenced me strongly.     My best playmate and lifelong comrade was my sister Else, only eleven-and-a-half months younger than I, with whom I shared everything. Right until the end of her life we understood each other well. As children, we got into a lot of mischief together. I was always the leader, but Else joined in with enthusiasm.     They tell me that I was quite a wild little girl: there was no tree too high for me to climb, and no passing train that I wouldn't try to keep up with by running alongside it. I was too lively and wild for my mother's liking, and she often said, "You ought to have been a boy!" The more she said this, the more reserved I became toward her.     When I entered school in the spring of 1891, I had little interest in learning. My teacher was the strict Fräulein Ludewig, who was more interested in model pupils than in a tomboy like me. I could not sit still in school. I could hardly wait for recess or the end of class to get to my play and to thinking up new pranks. But in spite of all this wildness and naughtiness something different -- perhaps it was an urge to find God -- began to grow within me. When my little brother died suddenly at the age of nine months, I pondered where he and others who had died had gone, and when I looked up at the stars I wondered if he was on one of them. After moving to Germany, my father repeated his examinations in order to be certified as a doctor of law; he hoped to be accepted for a professorship at Jena University. Unfortunately this did not work out, so we moved to Weimar, where my father had received an offer from the Grand Duke of Sachsen-Weimar for the position of court lawyer.     Everything was elegant and stiff in the Sophienstift, the school I attended in Weimar. The aristocratic families kept to themselves, looking down on middle-class pupils and refusing to mix with them. They were really a caste to themselves. In general, my sisters and I associated with these girls -- we were expected to -- but we would have much rather run through the fields or played in the woods as we had in Jena.     We lived in Weimar for only one-and-a-half years, but during that time I experienced the deaths of several people I knew personally, and this made a lasting impression on me.     At the children's Sunday services I attended, the message of the gospel fell deeply into my heart. I promised myself even then not to live for myself, but for God and my neighbor. I was probably about eleven then. My mother in particular, but others as well, had little understanding for my "strangeness" -- on the one hand, my moments of searching for religious truth, and on the other, my tendency to be unruly and carefree.     My father was not happy with his position for long. After spending the summer of 1897 in Bad Berka, we moved to Halle on the Saale in October. At first I was among the troublemakers, but through my friendship with a girl my age, Lisa Franke, I experienced a renewed longing for God and Christ. I never spoke about this to any one but Lisa -- I was only thirteen -- but because she shared my childlike, living faith, we felt close to one another from the start. Two things drew me to Lisa: first, we both abhorred the flirting that went on among our classmates, and we would not even read love stories. Second, we were both intent on our search for a true Christian life. We agreed that we both wanted to remain celibate, become deaconesses, and serve the sick when we grew up: that was surely the best way to serve God and our neighbor.     Soon I began to go to church and to attend religious meetings on my own, and brought home books such as those by and about Zinzendorf, Otto Franke's Footprints of the Living God on My Way of Life , and Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ . For several years Lisa and I attended the children's services held by Pastor Meinhof and Pastor Freybe. The latter's determination to lead a Christian life made a deep impression on me.     In 1901 my school days came to an end, and I began to take a more active part in Halle's church life. I read more, too, and was especially interested in the Moravian Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760) and the founding of Herrnhut, his Christian community.     A good friend from this time was Pastor Hans Busch, with whom I often visited the elderly and the sick of our parish. These were poor homes, and they smelled terrible; the conditions were sometimes so bad I could hardly enter them. But again and again I pulled myself together; I felt that love must overcome my emotions.     In the meantime, life at home became more difficult. My father was not happy in Halle, probably because he was not advancing in his career as he had hoped. I did not understand all the tensions.     At Easter 1902, when I was seventeen, I began working part-time at the Deaconess House. Because of my age, I was not allowed to sleep there, but had to live at home with my parents. In the beginning I worked only a few days a week, relieving other nurses, but soon I was granted a full-time job in the children's ward, where I saw a lot of suffering.     In 1903, when my youngest sister Margarethe, then fourteen, died in this ward as a result of appendicitis, I decided, again, that I had to find a deeper purpose for my life. I couldn't stand the thought of remaining at home with my sisters, just another daughter in another middle-class family. But after Margarethe's death, my parents asked me to return home; they wanted to have their five remaining children around them. Around this time the new head nurse at the Deaconess House was causing me problems at work, so I agreed to take a break, at least for a while.     The next May I went to live with the family of Pastor Freybe, who had lost their seven-year-old son and asked me to come and live with them. I will never forget those months at the parsonage. Discussions about how best to dedicate one's life to Christ characterized the whole of my stay there. I visited the sick and aged in the parish, took turns at the night watch, and cared for many little children. Shortly before Christmas I returned home.     At the age of twenty (in June 1905), I began working as a probationer nurse at the Halle Deaconess House, as I had now reached the required age. At first I worked in the women's wards. The shifts were long and the work hard; there were no eight-hour days. Life in the Deaconess House was very much like life in a convent. We had many religious services, and learned about the essence of life. "What do I want? I want to serve. Whom do I want to serve? The Lord in his poor and needy people. And if I grow old doing this? Then my heart will thrive like a palm tree. And if I die doing it? Queen Esther said, `If I perish, I perish,' and she did not know Him for whose sake one can die."     All this gave me great joy. After several weeks, I was given the deaconess probationer's dress and cap, and there was a celebration for the newly uniformed assistant nurses. It was impressed upon us once more what a serious step it was to become a deaconess.     Unfortunately I became ill some time later. My father asked that I be given four weeks' leave, but this was refused: the pastor of the Deaconess House said that employees could be taken care of there, by fellow nurses. But my father was unyielding. What was I to do? I finally decided to go home.     In February 1906, after several weeks convalescing, I began work in the district hospital at Salzwedel, where I nursed men. Things were very different in Salzwedel from what they had been in the Deaconess House. There were religious rites, it is true, but little godliness. Instead, ambition and jealousy divided the nurses and made the work, which was already strenuous, even harder. Two of the young men I looked after died in a typhus epidemic; then Hertha, a close friend of mine in Halle who was just twenty years old, died of appendicitis. These deaths sobered me and challenged me to dedicate myself to something of significance -- to live for what is eternal and imperishable. In spring 1907 I went home for a vacation. What I was to experience there was completely unexpected, as well as new and exciting. I had actually planned to stay home for only a few weeks of rest, as I felt called to the work I had chosen, but now my life really began.     At that time Ludwig von Gerdtell, a well-known public speaker, had just completed a series of lectures in the largest hall of Halle. His topics were "The atonement of Christ," "Can modern man still believe in the resurrection of Jesus?" "Is there sufficient historical evidence that Christ rose from the dead?" and others. Although I had not heard von Gerdtell myself, I was drawn to him through the enthusiastic accounts of my brother and sisters, through friends and acquaintances, and even through people in shops or on the street.     As the saying went, "all of Halle is standing on its head." People would approach complete strangers and ask them what they thought of these lectures. It was as if the whole town was breathing a new spirit, and I longed to be gripped by it too. Once I was able to get hold of von Gerdtell's lectures in print and read them, it wasn't long before I was a part of this movement, its call to repentance, and its search for radical inward change. With sharp words the call rang out: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" I felt struck in my heart -- judged -- and began to set my personal life in order. More important, I began to seek contact with others who had been similarly moved.     People from all walks of life joined the revival, although in Halle it was mainly those who belonged to the "better" or "academic" circles. They would meet in private homes, for instance in the house of Frau Else Baehr, wife of the city's surgeon general, or of Frau Schulz, the wife of a leading ophthalmologist. These women opened their large drawing rooms for meetings, lectures, and discussions. People like Paul Zander (who later became a skilled surgeon) and his fiancée Lene Örtling, Karl Heim (later a famous professor at Tübingen), and Sigmund von Salwürk (a well-known artist and painter) had turned to Christ and were studying the life of the early Christians and their "primitive" faith together with others. No church, no sect, but an alliance of all believers!     On March 4, 1907, my sisters Else and Monika were invited to an evening meeting at Frau Baehr's house. A friend of Dr. von Gerdtell's, a theology student named Eberhard Arnold was to speak. Else and Moni (as we called Monika) had no special desire to go, whereas I was more interested. My parents were not in favor of my going into a strange private home. In those days this was not often done, unless one was at least somehow acquainted with the family. Strangely, though I was somewhat nervous about it, I felt drawn in every fiber of my being. So I went. Eberhard spoke on the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter ten: "Since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus ... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith."     After the meeting Eberhard was surrounded by people asking him about how these words could be put into practice. I held back, though I felt deeply challenged, and finally left for home. All the same I could not forget that evening: the love of Christ that spoke through Eberhard's words filled me so strongly, it was as if it were pursuing me. One day, still deeply moved by the experience, I went to Frau Baehr to try to tell her what had concerned me for so long. I was by nature very shy about revealing such personal things, but more than ever it seemed a matter of eternity, and of the call to lifelong discipleship.     On the Sunday before Easter (March 24, 1907) Eberhard and I met again in the house of the ophthalmologist Schulz, where Bernhard Kühn was giving a talk. Kühn was a small, deformed man, but full of life and fire, and he penetrated the hearts of his listeners with his prophetic vision of God's future. "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). All those present were deeply moved by this message. A few spoke and witnessed to what Christ meant to them for their future. Rather shyly, I also stood up for the first time and said that from now on my life would belong only to Christ.     I did not miss any of the next revival meetings, so deeply was I stirred by the truth and clarity of the gospel. After several of them Eberhard accompanied me home. From the start we understood each other in our common seeking, and we were both animated by the spirit that we felt was leading us. We talked about the meetings, about Jesus' guidance in our lives, and about our enthusiasm for a life given over to him alone. Some weeks later Eberhard told me that he had instinctively felt, from the first moment he saw me, that we belonged together. When taking leave of me on the last evening of the series, on March 27, Eberhard asked me whether I felt, like he did, that God had led us together. I answered yes, and from that moment on felt myself bound to him. I told my parents that I felt as if I were engaged. The formal engagement took place on Good Friday, March 29, when Eberhard called on my parents to ask for their permission to marry me. At first they refused, but then they allowed us to talk together alone. We talked and prayed, read the thirty-fourth Psalm together, and gave our lives into the hands of God. We now considered ourselves engaged. My parents were ready to accept this, on the condition that Eberhard's parents also agreed.     From the outset, the time of our engagement was one of joy and enthusiasm, even as we sought and struggled. We wanted to give our lives to Christ, to save the lost, to comfort the downtrodden, and call sinners to repentance. We sought help and encouragement from friends and associates in the new groups already formed or in the process of formation. We read together from the Acts of the Apostles and from the letters of Paul, John, and Peter. We also tried to study the Revelation of John, but understood only a little of it.     Eberhard was able to come to Halle only for visits, as he was studying in Breslau for the semester. I did not return to Salzwedel, partly because I was overworked, but also because I could not tear myself away from the revival movement spreading through Halle. Eberhard and I were eager to find unity with Christ and to establish a close relationship with those who were striving toward the same goal. We wanted to understand how the first Christians had lived, and what they believed. Through this the social question, and the question of what it truly means to be part of a church, became very acute for us. We realized to what an extent the life we knew was divided into classes and castes. Many people, including ourselves, enjoyed a position of privilege, not only in worldly possessions but also in an intellectual sense, and they had almost nothing in common with others less fortunate than themselves.     We tried to find clarity in all these things, and it was a special gift of our engagement time that we felt so united in our seeking. The nine volumes of letters we exchanged while we were engaged (which I still have today) contain many of our insights, strivings, and agonizings.     Of the last there were plenty, for our parents on both sides were unable to understand our revolutionary approach to the problem of social justice and to the questions of baptism and the church. Regarding baptism, for example, it seemed obvious to us that the institutional church stood on a completely wrong foundation by receiving infants with birthright membership. We felt mature individuals should take this step voluntarily, on the basis of their own faith. When this became clear, a bitter struggle ensued with our families, and they used every possible means to try to prevent us from being baptized. (There is more about this in the book Seeking for the Kingdom , which includes selections from the letters written during the almost three years of our engagement.) Added to this difficulty was my parents' fear that I would influence and "infect" my brother and my sisters on the issue of baptism, as nearly all of them were already deeply involved in the revival movement.     The matter came to a head when Eberhard was disqualified from sitting for his doctoral examinations in theology because he was not willing to become a pastor in the state church. When my father and mother found out about this they were more upset than ever. "How can a man bind a woman to himself without having first established a sound economic basis for their future family?" In my parents' eyes, Eberhard's attitude was one of utter irresponsibility.     Not long afterward, at Erlangen, Eberhard switched courses and began preparing for doctoral examinations in philosophy. He was successful in passing these about a year later, at the end of November 1909. In spite of the many responsibilities he had at the time as a lecturer and student counselor, he passed with highest honors, summa cum laude . This by no means guaranteed a secure financial basis for our future, but we reminded my father of his promise: he could place no further obstacles in the way of our marrying once Eberhard received his Ph.D. My father hesitated at first, but finally he handed over my documents. Later the same day we went to the registrar and announced our intention to marry, a formality which had to be completed three weeks before the wedding. We chose the first date possible for this: December 20. At last the prolonged period of suspense and uncertainty would be over!     Since our engagement in the spring of 1907, I had never been in the same place for long. Aside from the conflict with my parents, various circumstances had made it impossible for me to stay at home, and I had lived in various towns across Germany, staying with friends or with families whose children I cared for. Friends nicknamed me "the flying Dutchman" after my maiden name, "von Hollander."     Luckily everything finally came to a good end, and the wedding took place in my parents' house, in a manner in keeping with our own convictions. Eberhard's parents and most of his brothers and sisters took part in the ceremony. Like the rest of the relatives, they had had initial objections, advising us to wait until we had a sound economic basis. We, however, wanted to found our common life entirely on faith. This faith never let us down. Copyright © 1999 Plough Publishing House. All rights reserved.