Since the Hutterites live together in colonies consisting of many closely-knit families, how are they coping with the coronavirus crisis? Are they avoiding their large, communal dining halls? The answers published last week in news reports by several different Canadian news services are, perhaps not surprisingly, that they are reacting sensibly—but a bit differently from one another.
According to a news report from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, the Bench Colony near Shaunavon, SK, convened a meeting of their entire membership to discuss how they would react to the guidelines about social distancing and protecting themselves from the virus. As a result, they have locked the entrance to the colony, they avoid socializing with other colonies, and they only go into town to shop for necessities.
They continue to eat their meals in their dining hall though they sit six feet apart. All homes in the colony have sanitizers and they have put gloves and masks in their vehicles. They are doing their best to follow the guidelines when they need to work in the barns.
Gillian Slade, a reporter writing last week for a news source in Medicine Hat, Alberta, discussed an interview she had with Mike Hofer, the farm manager at the Elkwater Colony. Mr. Hofer told her that at his colony they have stopped eating together in the colony dining hall. The Hutterite families now eat alone.
Attending their church services is an essential aspect of Hutterite life and they continue to do so but at the Elkwater Colony they limit themselves to15 people at any one service. They have prepared a rotation schedule so everyone has a turn at attending church. They avoid contacts with outsiders and they plan to start wearing facemasks.
Another Alberta news story last week from the Lethbridge Herald discussed the establishment of the Hutterite Safety Council. The HSC provides guidance to the hundreds of colonies on ways to protect themselves from the pandemic—social distancing, isolation, and so on. It suggests that the “risk of the coronavirus reaching our communities is very real.”
The Safety Council, which is involved with all three branches of the Hutterites—the Lehrerleut, Dariusleut and Schmiedeleut Hutterite communities—provided a range of very standard, but quite sage advice about the need for social distancing. While protecting themselves, the HSC is also urging colonies to reach out and help their broader community neighbors whenever needed, a standard Hutterite ideal.
The Council suggested specifically that, if the need arises locally, Hutterites could give food donations, blood donations, or make face masks. Reaching out to non-colony neighbors to help them, whenever needed, has been a recurrent theme of Hutterite colony life.