At Willowbank Colony, folks don't pay much attention to the approaching millennium. There's too much work to do.
A crop must be tended. An order of wooden trusses has to be hauled out. Livestock must be fed.
A distraction like the arrival of the year 2000 is of little concern to Dan Wipf, a spiritual leader of the Hutterite colony for 29 years.
"It'll just be another day, another hour, another minute," said Wipf as he rushed from his home late one morning to the on-site truss company where he works.
Wipf, a short, bearded man, also dismissed forecasts that the so-called Y2K computer glitch could have catastrophic consequences, a phenomenon that some in other religious groups have seen as signaling the end of the world.
"God does not want us to know when that will happen, so why speculate?" Wipf said.
The 90 or so Hutterites who live southeast of Edgeley, population 680, are self-sufficient. They drink the milk from dairy cows among the 100 head of cattle, raise 100,000 turkeys each year, use eggs from their chickens, and farm about 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, plus garden crops.
They built the colony: the long barns and garages, a church and school, a dining hall and laundry, a lumber business and identical three-apartment homes.
Hutterites are Anabaptists who trace their roots to the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and take their name from Jacob Hutter, an Austrian religious reformer who was burned at the stake in 1536. They arrived in North America from Germany in the 1870s and number about 25,000, mainly in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
The Hutterite religion is based on communal life. A colony provides its members with food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and all eat at a common dining hall. The colony owns all property. Community life, including farming, is inseparable from religious belief, say Hutterites, who speak a German dialect, reserving English for dealings with others.
"They're good for their word," said Clint Hoggarth, a salesman at the local farm implement dealership. "They're good people to deal with."
The commune resembles a small-town neighborhood. Trees grow in generous clusters, children ride bikes on paved sidewalks, and an underground sprinkler system waters the grass.
Women and girls wear ankle-skimming dresses they have sewn and head coverings that Wipf says are "the mark of a true Christian." Women spend most of the day preparing large meals they serve to the men in the dining hall. Women and men eat separately.
The interior of each home is the same: basic furnishings and cabinets made by the Hutterites, and perhaps a toaster and refrigerator.
But the Hutterites do not live only off the land. Their communal income is primarily from their on-site hardware store and truss company, Golden Rule Lumber and Willowbank Truss. The trusses are sold through contractors to customers across the country.
Wipf has a fax machine and desktop computer in his office and a laptop and two-way radio at home. Internet access for a select few is in the works. A pool of vehicles is available. There are delivery trucks for the trusses, plus tractors and a new combine.
At Wipf's home, which he shares with his wife, Mary Ann, and their son and his family, a stack of Bibles sits in the living room, and Wipf leads nightly church services and reads Scripture daily.
Spirituality is central to colony life. A chaste lifestyle means no card games, photographs, jewelry or makeup. Smoking or swearing could lead to expulsion. Rarely do Hutterites leave the colony. They pool their money. They get allowances for trips, but no pay for their work--which begins at age 10.
Children are assigned to the dairy barns, fields, truss company, gardens or turkeys and chickens. They adopt the trade that a five-member governing board believes they do best. Their formal schooling ends after eighth grade. In addition to learning English, the colony's 17 students receive two hours a day of German studies taught by a Hutterite.
The group has evolved this century. Women, for example, no longer milk the cows by hand. They now have milking machines.
"Let people say what they want. This is our way of life," Wipf said. "As long as the people here are sincere about it, that way of life won't fade."