Members of the Bruderhof bring their own spin on community to New Paltz

Pictured left to right are: Marguerite Barron, Patricia Seldomridge, Karena Rimes and Jordan Arnold. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Members of the Bruderhof, the Christian community with a Rifton location, will be bringing their own spin on community to the heart of New Paltz with Chestnut Street Connection. It’s the latest expression of a philosophy of engagement that reaches back to 1954, when members established Rifton as their first enclave in the United States.

Manager Red Zimmerman described the venture in a prepared statement, writing that “we hope this beautifully renovated space will become a destination; a place where village residents, students and tourists alike can connect with each other. Comfortable seating, friendly staff and complimentary coffee, tea and refreshments will make Chestnut Street Connection the perfect place to put down your phone and pick up a conversation about family, children, education, the environment, faith, work or anything else. Families and children are welcome — there will be games, toys and puzzles for toddlers on up.”


The space is the same that was occupied by Allied Locksmith for decades, making it a convenient walk from most village parking. While it’s not spacious inside, it’s bright and welcoming. Zimmerman and other community members offer cookies to visitors, as well as tea and coffee, the latter of which is roasted in their Rifton location.

Roasting coffee is one of the many skills one might find in members of this community, where goods are shared in common, but children are not considered lifelong members unless they make that commitment after the age of 21. It’s not difficult to find Bruderhof members excelling at everything from knitting and lace-making to carpentry and operating sophisticated robots in one of their factories.

According to Zimmerman, community members have been considering establishing a presence in the village for several years, but they’ve been involved in New Paltz activities for far longer. “We’ve had kids in the schools, we’ve helped out at the Regatta, we joined the Rotary,” he said. “We have friends and family here.”

Bruderhof members know how to create goodwill: they’re willing to lend many hands or give money to causes that benefit local communities, particularly when it’s about the children. “If the kids are happy, the parents are happy,” Zimmerman said. They donated to help get the new Rosendale pool constructed, for example, contributed to a pavilion at the Field of Dreams, cooked lunch for volunteers planting trees along the rail trail and often have face-painters on hand at local events.

Inside Chestnut Street Connection one can find a number of wooden toys to delight and distract, as well as a wide selection of books from Plough Publishing, a Bruderhof-owned company. The initial plan is to open the doors Saturday and Sunday from noon until 4 p.m., but Zimmerman said when it’s open — and how the space is used — is likely to evolve. Their decisions are frequently guided by spirit, and the question, Zimmerman said, is “where will this lead us?”

Bruderhof members live together and strive to be “in the world, but not of the world.” One visible expression of being apart is the head covering worn by women in the community. To be “of the world,” they seek opportunities to interact with their neighbors, such as Chestnut Street Connection might present.

“As Christians, we want to make the world a better place,” Zimmerman explained, but despite the available literature that doesn’t mean visitors should expect the price of free coffee will be a recruitment pitch. He acknowledged that it will be a non-threatening space to ask questions about their beliefs and how they live their lives. That’s not a requirement, however; the “undefined vision” of the space is more about providing a place to relax and chat, he said.

Suggestions about how to use the space are also welcome, Zimmerman said. The feedback he heard before Chestnut Street Connection opened Saturday has been uplifting, he said; business owners, passersby, the police chief and mayor have all “seemed very positive.”