- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

GILDFORD, Mont.
Lisa Marie Stahl became a newspaper columnist when she was just 15, writing about the traditions and day-to-day activities of her Hutterite colony in north-central Montana.
Her slice-of-life columns seemed to touch a chord with readers and caught the eye of a journalist on the Great Falls Tribune, where she's been writing a biweekly column for the past three years.
"She's really broken down a lot of stereotypes and put a personal face on Hutterite culture for the people who maybe only see Hutterites in the store or pass them on the road," says Karen Ivanova, who edits Miss Stahl's column.
"People write about her like she's their best friend," Miss Ivanova says. "I think one reason she is so popular is she reminds us all of our roots."
But this month, Miss Stahl, 20, will give up her column to be baptized and marry in the Gildford Colony, a transition to adulthood that requires her to give up the pursuits of her youth.
"I'm kind of sad about leaving my column but am really happy with myself," she says from the kitchen of the house she shares with her parents and five of her six siblings. "I'm taking two really important steps in my life. I'm kind of happy to be going on in life. But, at the same time, I'm sad about leaving something this big behind."
The Hutterites have roots in the 16th-century Anabaptist religious movement in Europe the same movement that gave rise to the Mennonites and Amish. They live in communal agricultural colonies where the men and women have traditional roles and wear traditional clothing.
The colony embraces technology, as long as it helps advance the common good. Men use tractors and combines. Miss Stahl's family has a microwave and coffee maker. She has an e-mail account through the colony school's computer, a luxury few enjoy. She faxes her column to her editor.
Miss Stahl never imagined how much interest her column would generate or how great a burden it sometimes would become when she agreed five years ago to write about life within the colony for the local newspaper, the Havre Daily News.
At the time, no one in her small farming colony of about 60 people had done anything like it. Her parents gave her their blessing, thinking it would only last through the school year.
"I figured it would be a good challenge for her," Susanna Stahl, 49, says of her eldest daughter, who had written short stories and for a school and colony newspaper. "All people don't have that gift."
After Miss Stahl began writing for the Great Falls Tribune, she found herself stopped by total strangers who recognized her from the column picture.
Once largely greeted by stares, Miss Stahl said she now finds non-Hutterites more willing to approach her, to talk or just offer a smile. She is even occasionally asked for an autograph.
She says her columns sometimes answer questions many Hutterites would consider silly.
No, she says, Hutterite marriages are not arranged. They are pacifists. And, yes, Hutterites do pay taxes "Show me what United States law says you can't pay taxes," she says.

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