Who Are the Amish?

We all know the Amish. They’re the ones who still use horses, buggies, and dress plainly, with simple black and white for men, and bonneted women in long plain dresses with no buttons. They eschew automobiles, electricity, telephones, electrical appliances, and tractors. There are different variations of Amish just like there are several denominations of Lutherans. They all believe the same things but practice them in different ways, ranging from the most conservative Old Order Amish, to New Order Amish, to Beachy Amish, to Conservative Mennonite, and the most modern Mennonite.

Originally from the Swiss German and Alsatian areas, they split with the Anabaptists in 1693. (I am not going to bore you with the details.) Many migrated to the U.S. and settled in what is now Pennsylvania.

Simple living, plain dress, Christian pacifism, and general slowness to adopt many modern conveniences that could interrupt family or face-to-face conversations, they maintain self-sufficiency. Like the Shakers, they live in their own communities. The Amish value rural life, manual labor, humility and Gelassenheit (submission to God’s will). Unlike the Shakers they are reluctant to accept converts, as their belief in large families keeps their populations growing. They believe in the Holy Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. They believe in one God existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They believe that Jesus Christ is the only son of God and died on the cross for the sins of the world. The Amish celebrate Christmas with family gatherings but do not emphasize Advent. Easter begins on Good Friday, which includes prayer and fasting. On Easter Sunday, Amish families gather. They might color eggs, but there are no rabbits! Mennonites have recently begun to focus on spiritual renewal the weeks before Easter like we Lutherans do.

Church membership does not occur until a person is between the ages of 16 and 23 when they have an adult baptism. Worship services are held every other Sunday in a member’s home or barn. The rules of the church, the Ordnung, differ between different districts, but must be observed by every member. The Ordnung rules cover most aspects of day-to-day living.

They believe that God is pleased when people work in harmony with nature, the soil, the weather, and care for animals and plants. (However, after reports of poor standards of care and treatment of dogs as a cash crop by members of the Amish community, at least one breeder was issued a restraining order from the practice for numerous violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The breeder had at least one thousand dogs.

Amish are bi-lingual. They use Pennsylvania Dutch, high German, for personal interactions and for church services, but read and write English to communicate outside the community. Their formal education ends at the eighth grade, where they are taught English and their German dialect.

What is this thing called Rumspringa? It is an opportunity for young people to find out what life is like outside the community to make sure they are willing to be baptized. There have been several movies, a documentary and a “reality TV show” which according to some wasn’t real. It was very controversial.

Finally, where are the Amish? The largest community is in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania. However, you only need to drive south of Champaign-Urbana to the community of Arthur to encounter the Amish in Illinois. The areas around Peoria also have several Mennonite churches. If you are driving to Des Moines, go south to the community of Kalona, Iowa to see the amazing crafts and arts that are produced by the Amish.

While quite different in their practices of Christianity, the Amish are believers in the same God as us. Maybe God really enjoys all the ways people worship Him!

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