views updated Jun 27 2018


by Donald B. Kraybill


The year 1993 marked the existence of 300 years of Amish life. Extinct in their European homeland, today they live in more than 200 settlements in 22 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. The Amish are one of the more distinctive and colorful cultural groups across the spectrum of American pluralism. Their rejection of automobiles, use of horse-drawn farm machinery, and distinctive dress set them apart from the high-tech culture of modern life.


Amish roots stretch back to sixteenth-century Europe. Impatient with the pace of the Protestant Reformation, youthful reformers in Zurich, Switzerland, outraged religious authorities by baptizing each other in January 1525. The rebaptism of adults was then a crime punishable by death. Baptism, in the dissidents' view, was only meaningful for adults who had made a voluntary confession of faith. Because they were already baptized as infants in the Catholic Church, the radicals were dubbed Anabaptists, or rebaptizers, by their opponents. Anabaptism, also known as the Radical Reformation, spread through the Cantons of Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The rapid spread of Anabaptist groups threatened civil and religious authorities. Anabaptist hunters soon stalked the Reformers. The first martyr was drowned in 1527. Over the next few decades, thousands of Anabaptists burned at the stake, drowned in rivers, starved in prisons, or lost their heads to the executioner's sword. The 1,200-page Martyrs Mirror, first published in Dutch in 1660 and later in German and English, records the carnage. Many Amish have a German edition of the Martyrs Mirror in their homes today.

The Swiss Anabaptists sought to follow the ways of Jesus in daily life, loving their enemies, forgiving insults, and turning the other cheek. Some Anabaptist groups resorted to violence, but many repudiated force and resolved to live peaceably even with adversaries. The flames of execution tested their faith in the power of suffering love, and although some recanted, many died for their faith. Harsh persecution pushed many Anabaptists underground and into rural hideaways. Swiss Anabaptism took root in rural soil. The sting of persecution, however, divided the church and the larger society in Anabaptist minds. The Anabaptists believed that the kingdoms of this world anchored on the use of coercion clashed with the peaceable kingdom of God.

By 1660 some Swiss Anabaptists had migrated north to the Alsace region of present-day France, which borders southwestern Germany. The Amish came into the picture in 1693 when Swiss and South German Anabaptists split into two streams: Amish and Mennonite. Jakob Ammann, an elder of the Alsatian church, sought to revitalize the Anabaptist movement in 1693. He proposed holding communion twice a year rather than the typical Swiss practice of once a year. He argued that Anabaptist Christians in obedience to Christ should wash each others' feet in the communion service. To promote doctrinal purity and spiritual discipline Ammann forbade fashionable dress and the trimming of beards, and he administered a strict discipline in his congregations. Appealing to New Testament teachings, Ammann advocated the shunning of excommunicated members. Ammann's followers, eventually called Amish, soon became another sect in the Anabaptist family.


Searching for political stability and religious freedom, the Amish came to North America in two wavesin the mid-1700s and again in the first half of the 1800s. Their first settlements were in southeastern Pennsylvania. Eventually they followed the frontier to other counties in Pennsylvania, then to Ohio, Indiana, and to other Midwestern states. Today Amish settlements are primarily located in the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest regions of the United States. Very few Amish live west of the Mississippi or in the deep south. In Europe, the last Amish congregation dissolved about 1937.


Flowing with the rising tide of industrialization in the late nineteenth century, some clusters of Amish formed more progressive Amish-Mennonite churches. The more conservative guardians of the heritage became known as the Old Order Amish. In the twentieth century some Old Order Amish, hankering again after modern conveniences, formed congregations of New Order Amish in the 1960s. The small numbers of New Order Amish groups sometimes permit their members to install phones in their homes, use electricity from public utilities, and use tractors in their fields.

At the turn of the twentieth century the Old Order Amish numbered about 5,000 in North America. Now scattered across 22 states and Ontario they number about 150,000 children and adults. Nearly three quarters live in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. Other sizeable communities are in Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin. A loose federation of some 900 congregations, the Amish function without a national organization or an annual convention. Local church districtscongregations of 25 to 35 familiesshape the heart of Amish life.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The Amish have been able to maintain a distinctive ethnic subculture by successfully resisting acculturation and assimilation. The Amish try to maintain cultural customs that preserve their identity. They have resisted assimilation into American culture by emphasizing separation from the world, rejecting higher education, selectively using technology, and restricting interaction with outsiders.


The word Amish evokes images of buggies and lanterns. At first glance Amish groupings across North America appear pressed from the same cultural mold. A deeper look reveals many differences among Amish groups. Some affiliations forbid milking machines while others depend on them. Mechanical hay balers widely used in some areas are taboo in others. Prescribed buggy tops are gray or black in many affiliations but other groups have white or yellow tops. Buttons on clothing are banished in many groups, but acceptable in others. The dead are embalmed in one settlement but not in another. Some bishops permit telephones in small shops, but others do not. Artificial insemination of livestock is acceptable in one district but not in another. In some communities virtually all the men are farmers, but in others many adults work in small shops and cottage industries. In still other settlements Amish persons work in rural factories operated by non-Amish persons. Practices vary between church districts even within the same settlement. Diversity thrives behind the front stage of Amish life.

Several distinctive badges of ethnic identity unite the Old Order Amish across North America: horse-and-buggy transportation; the use of horses and mules for field work; plain dress in many variations; a beard and shaven upper lip for men; a prayer cap for women; the Pennsylvania German dialect; worship in homes; eighth-grade, parochial schooling; the rejection of electricity from public utility lines; and taboos on the ownership of televisions and computers. These symbols of solidarity circumscribe the Amish world and bridle the forces of assimilation.

Amish life pivots on Gelassenheit (pronounced Ge-las-en-hite), the cornerstone of Amish values. Roughly translated, this German word means submission, yielding to a higher authority. In practice it entails self-surrender, resignation to God's will, yielding to others, self-denial, contentment, and a quiet spirit. The religious meaning of Gelassenheit expresses itself in a quiet and reserved personality and places the needs of others above self. It nurtures a subdued self, gentle handshakes, lower voices, slower strides, a life etched with modesty and reserve. Children learn the essence of Gelassenheit in a favorite verse: "I must be a Christian child, / Gentle, patient, meek, and mild, / Must be honest, simple, true, / I must cheerfully obey, / Giving up my will and way."

Another favorite saying explains that JOY means Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between. As the cornerstone of Amish culture, Gelassenheit collides with the bold, assertive individualism of modern life that seeks and rewards personal achievement, self-fulfillment, and individual recognition at every turn.

The spirit of Gelassenheit expresses itself in obedience, humility, and simplicity. To Amish thinking, obedience to the will of God is the cardinal religious value. Disobedience is dangerous. Unconfessed it leads to eternal separation. Submission to authority at all levels creates an orderly community. Children learn to obey at an early age. Disobedience is nipped in the bud. Students obey teachers without question. Adults yield to the regulations of the church. Among elders, ministers concede to bishops, who obey the Lord.

Humility is coupled with obedience in Amish life. Pride, a religious term for unbridled individualism, threatens the welfare of an orderly community. Amish teachers also remind students that the middle letter of pride is I. Proud individuals display the spirit of arrogance, not Gelassenheit. They are pushy, bold, and forward. What non-Amish consider proper credit for one's accomplishments the Amish view as the hankerings of a vain spirit. The Amish contend that pride disturbs the equality and tranquility of an orderly community. The humble person freely gives of self in the service of community without seeking recognition.

Simplicity is also esteemed in Amish life. Simplicity in clothing, household decor, architecture, and worship nurtures equality and orderliness. Fancy and gaudy decorations lead to pride. Luxury and convenience cultivate vanity. The tools of self-adornmentmake-up, jewelry, wrist watches, and wedding ringsare taboo and viewed as signs of pride.


The Amish do not actively evangelize. They do welcome outsiders, but few make the cultural leap. Membership in some settlements doubles about every 20 years. Their growth is fueled by a robust birth rate that averages seven children per family. The defection rate varies by settlement, but is usually less than 20 percent. Thus, six out of seven children, on the average, remain Amish.

Beyond biological reproduction, a dual strategy of resistance and compromise has enabled the Amish to flourish in the modern world. They have resisted acculturation by constructing social fences around their community. Core values are translated into visible symbols of identity. Badges of ethnicityhorse, buggy, lantern, dialect, and dressdraw sharp contours between Amish and modern life.

The Amish resist the forces of modernization in other ways. Cultural ties to the outside world are curbed by speaking the dialect, marrying within the group, spurning television, prohibiting higher education, and limiting social interaction with outsiders. Parochial schools insulate Amish youth from the contaminating influence of worldly peers. Moreover, ethnic schools limit exposure to threatening ideas. From birth to death, members are embedded in a web of ethnicity. These cultural defenses fortify Amish identity and help abate the lure of modernity.

The temptations of the outside world, however, have always been a factor in Amish life. Instead of forbidding contact outright, the Amish tolerate the custom of rumschpringen, or running around. This custom allows Amish teenagers and young adults to flirt for a few years with such temptations as drinking, dating, and driving cars before they accept baptism and assume their adult responsibilities within the Amish community. Though such behavior is, for the most part, relatively mild, in recent years it has included more extreme activities. In 1998, for example, two Amish men in Lancaster County were charged with selling cocaine to other young people in their community. And in 1999, as many as 40 Amish teenagers turned violent after a drinking spree and seriously vandalized a Amish farmstead. While community elders express increasing concern about such events, they stress that most youthful behavior does not exceed reasonable bounds.

The survival strategy of the Amish has also involved cultural compromises. The Amish are not a calcified relic of bygone days, for they change continually. Their willingness to compromise often results in odd mixtures of tradition and progress. Tractors may be used at Amish barns but not in fields. Horses and mules pull modern farm machinery in some settlements. Twelve-volt electricity from batteries is acceptable but not when it comes from public utility lines. Hydraulic and air pressure are used instead of electricity to operate modern machines in many Amish carpentry and mechanical shops. Members frequently ride in cars or vans, but are not permitted to drive them. Telephones, found by farm lanes and shops, are missing from Amish homes. Modern gas appliances fill Amish kitchens in some states and lanterns illuminate modern bathrooms in some Amish homes.

These riddles of Amish life often baffle and, indeed, appear downright silly to outsiders. In reality, however, they reflect delicate bargains that the Amish have struck between their desire to maintain tradition while enjoying the fruits of progress. The Amish are willing to change but not at the expense of communal values and ethnic identity. They use modern technology but not when it disrupts family and community stability.

Viewed within the context of Amish history, the compromises are reasonable ways of achieving community goals. Hardly foolish contradictions, they preserve core values while permitting selective modernization. They bolster Amish identity while reaping many benefits of modern life. Such flexibility boosts the economic vitality of the community and also retains the allegiance of Amish youth.


Food preferences among the Amish vary somewhat from state to state. Breakfast fare for many families includes eggs, fried potatoes, toast, and in some communities, commercial cereals such as Corn-flakes and Cheerios. Typical breakfast foods in Pennsylvania also include shoofly pie, which is sometimes dipped in or covered with coffee or milk, stewed crackers in warm milk, mush made from corn meal, and sausage. Puddings and scrapple are also breakfast favorites. The puddings consist of ground liver, heart, and kidneys from pork and beef. These basic ingredients are also combined with flour and corn meal to produce scrapple.

For farm families the mid-day dinner is usually the largest meal of the day. Noontime dinners and evening suppers often include beef or chicken dishes, and vegetables in season from the family garden, such as peas, corn, green beans, lima beans, and carrots. Mashed potatoes covered with beef gravy, noodles with brown butter, chicken potpie, and sauerkraut are regional favorites. For side dishes and deserts there are applesauce, corn starch pudding, tapioca, and fruit pies in season, such as apple, rhubarb, pumpkin, and snitz pies made with dried apples. Potato soup and chicken-corn-noodle soup are commonplace. In summer months cold fruit soups consisting of strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries added to milk and bread cubes appear on Amish tables. Meadow tea, homemade root beer, and instant drink mixes are used in the summer.

Food preservation and preparation for large families and sizeable gatherings is an enormous undertaking. Although food lies beyond the reach of religious regulations, each community has a traditional menu that is typically served at large meals following church services, weddings, and funerals. Host families often bake three dozen pies for the noontime meal following the biweekly church service. Quantities of canned food vary by family size and preference but it is not uncommon for a family to can 150 quarts of apple sauce, 100 quarts of peaches, 60 quarts of pears, 50 quarts of grape juice, and 50 quarts of pizza sauce.

More and more food is purchased from stores, sometimes operated by the Amish themselves. In a more progressive settlement one Amishwoman estimates that only half of the families bake their own bread. The growing use of instant pudding, instant drinks, snack foods, and canned soups reflects growing time constraints. The use of commercial food rises as families leave the farm and especially as women enter entrepreneurial roles.


The Amish church prescribes dress regulations for its members but the unwritten standards vary considerably by settlement. Men are expected to wear a wide brim hat and a vest when they appear in public. In winter months and at church services they wear a black suit coat which is typically fastened with hooks and eyes rather than with buttons. Men use suspenders instead of belts.

Amish women are expected to wear a prayer covering and a bonnet when they appear in public settings. Most women wear a cape over their dresses as well as an apron. The three parts of the dress are often fastened together with straight pins. Various colors, including green, brown, blue, and lavender, are permitted for men's shirts and women's dresses, but designs and figures in the material are taboo. Although young girls do not wear a prayer covering, Amish children are typically dressed similar to their parents.


Sharing some national holidays with non-Amish neighbors and adding others of their own, the Amish calendar underscores both their participation in and separation from the larger world. As conscientious objectors, they have little enthusiasm for patriotic days with a military flair. Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July are barely noticed. Labor Day stirs little interest. The witches and goblins of Halloween run contrary to Amish spirits: pumpkins may be displayed in some settlements, but without cut faces. And Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday slips by unnoticed in many rural enclaves.

Amish holidays earmark the rhythm of the seasons and religious celebrations. A day for prayer and fasting precedes the October communion service in some communities. Fall weddings provide ample holidays of another sort. Amish without wedding invitations celebrate Thanksgiving Day with turkey dinners and family gatherings. New Year's Day is a quiet time for family gatherings. In many communities a second day is added to the celebrations of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The regular holiday, a sacred time, flows with quiet family activities. The following day, or second Christmas, Easter Monday, and Pentecost Monday, provides time for recreation, visiting, and sometimes shopping. Ascension day, the day prior to Pentecost, is a holiday for visiting, fishing, and other forms of recreation.

Christmas and Easter festivities are spared from commercial trappings. Families exchange Christmas cards and gifts. Some presents are homemade crafts and practical gifts, but are increasingly store bought. Homes are decorated with greens but Christmas trees, stockings, special lights, Santa Claus, and mistletoe are missing. Although eggs are sometimes painted and children may be given a basket of candy, Easter bunnies do not visit Amish homes. These sacred holidays revolve around religious customs, family gatherings, and quiet festivities rather than commercial trinkets and the sounds of worldly hubbub. Birthdays are celebrated at home and school in quiet, pleasant ways, with cakes and gifts. Parents often share a special snack of cookies or popsicles with school friends to honor a child's birthday.


Contrary to popular misconceptions the Amish use modern medical services to some extent. Lacking professionals within their ranks, they rely on the services of dentists, optometrists, nurses, and physicians in local health centers, clinics, and hospitals. They cite no biblical injunctions against modern health care nor the latest medicine, but they do believe that God is the ultimate healer. Despite the absence of religious taboos on health care, Amish practices differ from prevailing patterns.

The Amish generally do not subscribe to commercial health insurance. Some communities have organized church aid plans for families with special medical costs. In other settlements special offerings are collected for members who are hit with catastrophic medical bills. The Amish are unlikely to seek medical attention for minor aches or illnesses and are more apt to follow folk remedies and drink herbal teas. Although they do not object to surgery or other forms of high-tech treatment they rarely employ heroic life-saving interventions.

In addition to home remedies, church members often seek healing outside orthodox medical circles. The search for natural healing leads them to vitamins, homeopathic remedies, health foods, reflexologists, chiropractors, and the services of specialized clinics in faraway places. These cultural habits are shaped by many factors: conservative rural values, a preference for natural antidotes, a lack of information, a sense of awkwardness in high-tech settings, difficulties accessing health care, and a willingness to suffer and lean on the providence of God.

Birthing practices vary in different settlements. In some communities most babies are born at home under the supervision of trained non-Amish midwives. In other settlements most children are born in hospitals or at local birthing clinics. Children can attend Amish schools without immunizations. Some parents follow the advice of family doctors or trained midwives and immunize their children, but many do not. Lax immunization is often due to cost, distance, misinformation, or lack of interest. Occasional outbreaks of German measles, whooping cough, polio, and other contagious diseases prompt public health campaigns to immunize Amish children. Amish elders usually encourage their people to cooperate with such efforts. In recent years various health providers have made special efforts to immunize Amish children.

Marriages within stable geographical communities and the influx of few converts restricts the genetic pool of Amish society. Marriages sometimes occur between second cousins. Such intermarriage does not always produce medical problems. When unique recessive traits are common in a closed community certain diseases simply are more likely to occur. On the other hand, a restricted gene pool may offer protection from other hereditary diseases.

A special type of dwarfism accompanied by other congenital problems occurs at an exceptionally high rate in some settlements. Higher rates of deafness have also been found. In the late 1980s, Dr. Holmes Morton identified glutaric aciduria in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish community. Unrecognized and untreatable before, the disease is a biochemical disorder with symptoms similar to cerebral palsy. Approximately one in every 200 Amish infants inherits the disease. By 1991, Dr. Morton had organized a special clinic that tested some 70 percent of Amish infants and treated those diagnosed with the disease in the Lancaster settlement.

Another condition, Crigler-Najjar syndrome, occurs more frequently among the Amish and the Mennonites than in the general population. The condition is difficult to treat, and can result in brain damage and early death. The Amish have worked eagerly with researchers who are studying a new type of gene therapy for the treatment of this disease. In 1989, the Amish community united, barnraising style, to build the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, a facility that treats Crigler-Najjar patients.


The Amish speak English, German, and a dialect known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch. The dialect is the Amish native tongue and should not be confused with the Dutch language of the Netherlands. Originally a German dialect, Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken by Germanic settlers in southeastern Pennsylvania. The folk pronunciation of the word German, Deutsche, gradually became Dutch in English, and eventually the dialect became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Even the Amish who live outside of Pennsylvania speak the Pennsylvania German dialect. In Amish culture, the dialect is used mainly as a form of oral communication: it is the language of work, family, friendship, play, and intimacy.

Young children live in the world of the dialect until they learn English in the Amish school. Students learn to read, write, and speak English from their Amish teachers, who learned it from their Amish teachers. But the dialect prevails in friendly banter on the playground. By the end of the eighth grade, young Amish have developed basic competence in English although it may be spoken with an accent. Adults are able to communicate in fluent English with their non-Amish neighbors. When talking among themselves, the Amish sometimes mix English words with the dialect, especially when discussing technical issues. Letters are often written in English, with salutations and occasional phrases in the dialect. Competence in English varies directly with occupational roles and frequency of interaction with English speakers. Ministers are often the ones who are best able to read German. Idioms of the dialect are frequently mixed with German in Amish sacred writings. Although children study formal German in school they do not speak it on a regular basis.


Common Pennsylvania Dutch greetings and other expressions include: Gude Mariye Good morning; Gut-n-Owed Good evening; Wie geht's? How are you?; En frehlicher Grischtdsaag a Merry Christmas; Frehlich Neiyaahr Happy New Year; kumm ball widder come soon again. When inviting others to gather around a table to eat, a host might say Kumm esse.

Family and Community Dynamics

The immediate family, the extended family, and the church district form the building blocks of Amish society. Amish parents typically raise about seven children, but ten or more children is not uncommon. About 50 percent of the population is under 18 years of age. A person will often have more than 75 first cousins and a typical grandmother will count more than 35 grandchildren. Members of the extended family often live nearby, across the field, down the lane, or beyond the hill. Youth grow up in this thick network of family relations where one is rarely alone, always embedded in a caring community in time of need and disaster. The elderly retire at home, usually in a small apartment built onto the main house of a homestead. Because the Amish reject government aid, there are virtually no families that receive public assistance. The community provides a supportive social hammock from cradle to grave.


A church district comprises 25 to 35 families and is the basic social and religious unit beyond the family. Roads and streams mark the boundaries of districts. Members are required to participate in the geographic district in which they live. A district's geographic size varies with the density of the Amish population. As districts expand, they divide.

A bishop, two preachers, and a deacon share leadership responsibilities in each district without formal pay or education. The bishop, as spiritual elder, officiates at baptisms, weddings, communions, funerals, ordinations, and membership meetings. The church district is church, club, family, and precinct all wrapped up in a neighborhood parish. Periodic meetings of ordained leaders link the districts of a settlement into a loose federation.

The social architecture of Amish society exhibits distinctive features. Leisure, work, education, play, worship, and friendship revolve around the immediate neighborhood. In some settlements, Amish babies are born in hospitals, but they are also born at home or in local birthing centers. Weddings and funerals occur at home. There are frequent trips to other settlements or even out of state to visit relatives and friends. But for the most part the Amish world pivots on local turf. From home-canned food to homemade haircuts, things are likely to be done near home. Social relationships are multi-bonded. The same people frequently work, play, and worship together.

Amish society is remarkably informal and the tentacles of bureaucracy are sparse. There is no centralized national office, symbolic national figurehead, or institutional headquarters. Apart from schools, a publishing operation, and regional historical libraries, formal institutions simply do not exist. A loosely organized national committee handles relations with the federal government for all the settlements. Regional committees funnel the flow of Amish life for schools, mutual aid, and historical libraries, but bureaucracy as we know it in the modern world is simply absent.

The conventional marks of modern status (education, income, occupation, and consumer goods) are missing and make Amish society relatively homogeneous. The agrarian heritage places everyone on common footing. The recent rise of cottage industries in some settlements and factory work in others threatens to disturb the social equality of bygone years, but the range of occupations and social differences remains relatively small. Common costume, horse and buggy travel, an eighth-grade education, and equal-size tombstones embody the virtues of social equality.

The practice of mutual aid also distinguishes Amish society. Although the Amish own private property, like other Anabaptists they have long emphasized mutual aid as a Christian duty in the face of disaster and special need. Mutual aid goes beyond barn raisings. Harvesting, quilting, birthing, marriages, and funerals require the help of many hands. The habits of care encompass all sorts of needs triggered by drought, disease, death, injury, bankruptcy, and medical emergency.


Amish society is patriarchal. Although school teachers are generally women, men assume the helm of most leadership roles. Women can nominate men to serve in ministerial roles but they themselves are excluded from formal church roles; however, they can vote in church business meetings. Some women feel that since the men make the rules, modern equipment is permitted more readily in barns and shops than in homes. In recent years some women have become entrepreneurs who operate small quilt, craft, and food stores.

Although husband and wife preside over distinct spheres of domestic life, many tasks are shared. A wife may ask her husband to assist in the garden and he may ask her to help in the barn or fields. The isolated housewife is rarely found in Amish society. The husband holds spiritual authority in the home but spouses have considerable freedom within their distinctive spheres.


Various social gatherings bring members together for times of fellowship and fun beyond biweekly worship. Young people gather in homes for Sunday evening singing. Married couples sometimes gather with old friends to sing for shut-ins and the elderly in their homes. Work frolics blend work and play together in Amish life. Parents gather for preschool frolics to ready schools for September classes. Endof-school picnics bring parents and students together for an afternoon of food and games.

Quilting bees and barn raisings mix goodwill, levity, and hard work for young and old alike. Other moments of collective work (cleaning up after a fire, plowing for an ill neighbor, canning for a sick mother, threshing wheat, and filling a silo) involve neighbors and extended families in episodes of charity, sweat, and fun. Adult sisters, sometimes numbering as many as five or six, often gather for a sisters day, which blends laughter with cleaning, quilting, canning, or gardening.

Public auctions of farm equipment are often held in February and March and attract crowds in preparation for springtime farming. Besides opportunities to bid on equipment, the day-long auctions offer ample time for farm talk and friendly fun. Games of cornerball in a nearby field or barnyard often compete with the drama of the auction. Household auctions and horse sales provide other times to socialize. Family gatherings at religious holidays and summer family reunions link members into familial networks. Single women sometimes gather at a cabin or a home for a weekend of fun. Special meetings of persons with unique interests, often called reunions, are on the rise and attract Amish from many states: harnessmakers, cabinetmakers, woodworkers, blacksmiths, businesswomen, teachers, the disabled, and the like. The disabled have gathered annually for a number of years.

Among youth, seasonal athletics are common: softball, sledding, skating, hockey, and swimming. Volleyball is a widespread favorite. Fishing and hunting for small game are preferred sports on farms and woodlands. In recent years some Amishmen have purchased hunting cabins in the mountains where they hunt white-tailed deer. Deep-sea fishing trips are common summertime jaunts for men in Pennsylvania. Others prefer camping and canoeing. Pitching quoits is common at family reunions and picnics.

Leisure and pleasure have long been suspect in Amish life. Idleness is viewed as the devil's workshop. But the rise of cottage industries and the availability of ready cash has brought more recreational activities. Amish recreation is group oriented and tilted more toward nature than toward taboo commercial entertainment. The Amish rarely take vacations but they do take trips to other settlements and may stop at scenic sites. Some couples travel to Florida for several weeks in the winter and live in an Amish village in Sarasota populated by winter travelers from settlements in several states. Trips to distant sites in search of special medical care sometimes include scenic tours. Although some Amish travel by train or bus, chartered vans are by far the most popular mode. Traveling together with family, friends, and extended kin these mobile groups bond and build community life.


Amish culture and religion stresses separation from the world. Galvanized by European persecution and sanctioned by scripture, the Amish divide the social world into two pathways: the straight, narrow way to life, and the broad, easy road to destruction. Amish life embodies the narrow way of self-denial. The larger social world symbolizes the broad road of vanity and vice. The term world, in Amish thinking, refers to the outside society and its values, vices, practices, and institutions. Media reports of greed, fraud, scandal, drugs, violence, divorce, and abuse confirm that the world teems with abomination.

The gulf between church and world, imprinted in Amish minds by European persecution, guides practical decisions. Products and practices that might undermine community life, such as high school, cars, cameras, television, and self-propelled farm machinery, are tagged worldly. Not all new products receive this label, only those that threaten community values. Definitions of worldliness vary within and between Amish settlements, yielding a complicated maze of practices. Baffling to outsiders, these lines of faithfulness maintain inter-group boundaries and also preserve the cultural purity of the church.


The wedding season is a festive time in Amish life. Coming on the heels of the harvest, weddings are typically held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from late October through early December. The larger communities may have as many as 150 weddings in one season. Fifteen weddings may be scattered across the settlement on the same day. Typically staged in the home of the bride, these joyous events may involve upwards of 350 guests, two meals, singing, snacks, festivities, and a three-hour service. The specific practices vary from settlement to settlement.

Young persons typically marry in their early twenties. A couple may date for one to two years before announcing their engagement. Bishops will only marry members of the church. The church does not arrange marriages but it does place its blessing on the pair through an old ritual. Prior to the wedding, the groom takes a letter signed by church elders to the bride's deacon testifying to the groom's good standing in his home district. The bride's deacon then meets with her to verify the marriage plans.

The wedding day is an enormous undertaking for the bride's family and for the relatives and friends who assist with preparations. Efforts to clean up the property, paint rooms, fix furniture, pull weeds, and pave driveways, among other things, begin weeks in advance. The logistics of preparing meals and snacks for several hundred guests are taxing. According to custom, the day before the wedding the groom decapitates several dozen chickens. The noontime wedding menu includes chicken roastchicken mixed with bread filling, mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed celery, pepper cabbage, and other items. Desserts include pears, peaches, puddings, dozens of pies, and hundreds of cookies and doughnuts.

The three-hour servicewithout flowers, rings, solos, or instrumental musicis similar to an Amish worship service. The wedding includes congregational singing, prayers, wedding vows, and two sermons. Four single friends serve the bride and groom as attendants: no one is designated maid of honor or best man. Amish brides typically make their own wedding dresses from blue or purple material crafted in traditional styles. In addition to the groom's new but customary black coat and vest, he and his attendants often wear small black bow ties.

Several seatings and games, snacks, and singing follow the noon meal. Young people are paired off somewhat randomly for the singing. Following the evening meal another more lively singing takes place in which couples who are dating pair off arousing considerable interest because this may be their first public appearance. Festivities may continue until nearly midnight as guests gradually leave. Some guests, invited to several weddings on the same day, may rotate between them.

Newly married couples usually set up housekeeping in the spring after their wedding. Until then the groom may live at the bride's home or continue to live with his parents. Couples do not take a traditional honeymoon, but visit relatives on weekends during the winter months. Several newlywed couples may visit together, sometimes staying overnight at the home of close relatives. During these visits, family and friends present gifts to the newlyweds to add to the bride's dowry, which often consists of furniture. Young men begin growing a beard, the functional equivalent of a wedding ring, soon after their marriage. They are expected to have a "full stand" by the springtime communion.


With the elderly living at home, the gradual loss of health prepares family members for the final passage. Accompanied by quiet grief, death comes gracefully, the final benediction to a good life and entry into the bliss of eternity. Although funeral practices vary from community to community, the preparations reflect core Amish values, as family and friends yield to eternal verities.

The community springs into action at the word of a death. Family and friends in the local church district assume barn and household chores, freeing the immediate family. Well-established funeral rituals unburden the family from worrisome choices. Three couples are appointed to extend invitations and supervise funeral arrangements: food preparation, seating arrangements, and the coordination of a large number of horses and carriages.

In the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, settlement a non-Amish undertaker moves the body to a funeral home for embalming. The body, without cosmetic improvements, returns to the home in a simple, hardwood coffin within a day. Family members of the same sex dress the body in white. White garments symbolize the final passage into a new and better eternal life. Tailoring the white clothes prior to death helps to prepare the family for the season of grief. Women often wear the white cape and apron worn at their wedding.

Friends and relatives visit the family and view the body in a room on the first floor of the home for two days prior to the funeral. Meanwhile community members dig the grave by hand in a nearby family cemetery as others oversee the daily chores of the bereaved. Several hundred guests attend the funeral in a barn or home typically on the morning of the third day after death. During the simple hour-anda-half-long service, ministers read hymns and scriptures, offer prayers, and preach a sermon. There are no flowers, burial gowns, burial tents, limousines, or sculpted monuments.

The hearse, a large, black carriage pulled by horses, leads a long procession of other carriages to the burial ground on the edge of a farm. After a brief viewing and graveside service, pallbearers lower the coffin and shovel soil into the grave as the bishop reads a hymn. Small, equal-sized tombstones mark the place of the deceased in the community of equality. Close friends and family members then return to the home for a meal prepared by members of the local congregation. Bereaved women, especially close relatives, may signal their mourning by wearing a black dress in public settings for as long as a year. A painful separation laced with grief, death is nevertheless received gracefully as the ultimate surrender to God's higher ways.


The Amish supported public education when it revolved around one-room schools in the first half of the twentieth century. Under local control, the one-room rural schools posed little threat to Amish values. The massive consolidation of public schools and growing pressure to attend high school sparked clashes between the Amish and officials in several states in the middle of the twentieth century. Confrontations in several other states led to arrests and brief stints in jail. After legal skirmishes in several states, the U.S. Supreme Court gave its blessing to the eighth-grade Amish school system in 1972, stating that "there can be no assumption that today's majority is 'right' and the Amish and others are 'wrong. "' The court concluded that "a way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no rights or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different."

Today the Amish operate more than 850 parochial schools for some 24,000 Amish children. Many of the schools have one room with 25 to 35 pupils and one teacher who is responsible for teaching all eight grades. A few Amish children attend rural public schools in some states but the vast majority go to parochial schools operated by the Amish.

A scripture reading and prayer opens each school day, but religion is not formally taught in the school. The curriculum includes reading, arithmetic, spelling, grammar, penmanship, history, and geography. Both English and German are taught. Parents want children to learn German to enhance their ability to read religious writings, many of which are written in formal German. Science and sex education are missing in the curriculum as are the other typical trappings of public schools: sports, dances, cafeterias, clubs, bands, choruses, computers, television, guidance counselors, principals, strikes, and college recruiters.

A local board of three to five fathers organizes the school, hires a teacher, approves curriculum, oversees the budget, and supervises maintenance. Teachers receive about $25 to $35 per day. The cost per child is roughly $250 per year, nearly 16 times lower than many public schools where per pupil costs often top $4,000. Amish parents pay public school taxes and taxes for their own school.

Schools play a critical role in the preservation of Amish culture. They not only reinforce Amish values, but also shield youth from contaminating ideas. Moreover, schools restrict friendships with non-Amish peers and impede the flow of Amish youth into higher education and professional life. Amish schools promote practical skills to prepare their graduates for success in Amish society. Some selective testing indicates that Amish pupils compare favorably with rural peers in public schools on standardized tests of basic skills.

Amish teachers, trained in Amish schools, are not required to be certified in most states. Often the brightest and best of Amish scholars, they return to the classroom in their late teens and early twenties to teach. Amish school directors select them for their ability to teach and their commitment to Amish values. Frequently single women, they typically drop their occupation if wed. Periodic meetings with other teachers, a monthly teachers' magazine, and ample common sense prepare them for the task of teaching 30 students in eight grades. With three or four pupils per grade, teachers often teach two grades at a time. Pupils in other classes ponder assignments or listen to previews of next year's lessons or hear reviews of past work. Classrooms exhibit a distinct sense of order amidst a beehive of activity. Hands raise to ask permission or clarify instructions as the teacher moves from cluster to cluster teaching new material every ten or 15 minutes. Some textbooks are recycled from public schools while others are produced by Amish publishers. Students receive a remarkable amount of personal attention despite the teacher's responsibility for eight grades. The ethos of the classroom accents cooperative activity, obedience, respect, diligence, kindness, and the natural world. Despite the emphasis on order, playful pranks and giggles are commonplace. Schoolyard play in daily recesses often involves softball or other homespun games.

Amish schools exhibit a social continuity rarely found in public education. With many families sending several children to a school, teachers may relate to as few as a dozen households. Teachers know parents personally and special circumstances surrounding each child. In some cases, children have the same teacher for all eight grades. Indeed, all the children from a family may have the same teacher. Amish schools are unquestionably provincial by modern standards. Yet in a humane fashion they ably prepare Amish youth for meaningful lives in Amish society.


At first glance the Amish appear quite religious. Yet a deeper inspection reveals no church buildings, sacred symbols, or formal religious education even in Amish schools. Unlike most modern religions, religious meanings pervade all aspects of Amish lives. Religion is practiced, not debated. Silent prayers before and after meals embroider each day with reverence. The Amish way of living and being requires neither heady talk nor formal theology.

The Ordnung, a religious blueprint for expected behavior, regulates private, public, and ceremonial behavior. Unwritten in most settlements, the Ordnung is passed on by oral tradition. A body of understandings that defines Amish ways, the Ordnung marks expected Amish behavior: wearing a beard without a mustache; using a buggy; and speaking the dialect. It also specifies taboos: divorce; filing a lawsuit; wearing jewelry; owning a car; and attending college. The understandings evolve over the years and are updated as the church faces new issues: embryo transplants in cattle; using computers and facsimile machines; and working in factories. Core understandings, such as wearing a beard and not owning a car, span all Old Order Amish settlements but the finer points of the Ordnung vary considerably from settlement to settlement.

Although ordained leaders update the Ordnung in periodic meetings, each bishop interprets it for his local congregation. Thus, dress styles and the use of telephones and battery-powered appliances may vary by church district. Once embedded in the Ordnung and established as tradition, the understandings rarely change. As new issues face the church, leaders identify those which may be detrimental to community life. Non-threatening changes such as weed-whackers and instant coffee may be overlooked and gradually slip into Amish life. Battery-powered video cameras, which might lead to other video entanglements with the outside world, would surely be forbidden.

Children learn the ways of the Ordnung by observing adults. The Ordnung defines the way things are in a child's mind. Teenagers, free from the supervision of the church, sometimes flirt with worldly ways and flaunt the Ordnung. At baptism, however, young adults between the ages of 16 and 22 declare their Christian faith and vow to uphold the Ordnung for the rest of their life. Those who break their promise face excommunication and shunning. Those choosing not to be baptized may gradually drift away from the community but are welcome to return to their families without the stigma of shunning.


Worship services held in Amish homes reaffirm the moral order of Amish life. Church districts hold services every other Sunday. A group of 200 or more, including neighbors and relatives who have an "off Sunday," gather for worship. They meet in a farmhouse, the basement of a newer home, or in a shed or barn. A fellowship meal at noon and informal visiting follow the three-hour morning service.

The plain and simple but unwritten liturgy revolves around congregational singing and two sermons. Without the aid of organs, offerings, candles, crosses, robes, or flowers, members yield themselves to God in the spirit of humility. The congregation sings from the Ausbund, a hymnal of German songs without musical notations that date back to the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. The tunes passed across the generations by memory are sung in unison without any musical accompaniment. The slow, chant-like cadence means a single song may stretch over 20 minutes. Extemporaneous sermons, preached in the Pennsylvania German dialect, recount biblical stories as well as lessons from farm life. Preachers exhort members to be obedient to Amish ways.

Communion services, held each autumn and spring, frame the religious year. These ritual high points emphasize self-examination and spiritual rejuvenation. Sins are confessed and members reaffirm their vow to uphold the Ordnung. Communion is held when the congregation is at peace, when all members are in harmony with the Ordnung. The six- to eight-hour communion service includes preaching, a light meal during the service, and the commemoration of Christ's death with bread and wine. Pairs of members wash each others feet as the congregation sings. At the end of the communion service members give an alms offering to the deacon, the only time that offerings are collected in Amish services.


Baptism, worship, and communion are sacred rites that revitalize and preserve the Ordnung. But the Amish, like other human beings, forget, rebel, experiment, and stray into deviance. Major transgressions are confessed publicly in a members meeting following the worship service. Violations of the Ordnungusing a tractor in the field, posing for a television camera, flying on a commercial airline, filing a lawsuit, joining a political organization, or opening a questionable businessare confessed publicly. Public confession of sins diminishes self-will, reminds members of the supreme value of submission, restores the wayward into the community of faith, and underscores the lines of faithfulness which encircle the community.

The headstrong who spurn the advice of elders and refuse to confess their sin face a six-week probation. The next step is the Meidung, or shunninga cultural equivalent of solitary confinement. Members terminate social interaction and financial transactions with the excommunicated. For the unrepentant, social avoidance becomes a lifetime quarantine. If their stubbornness does not mellow into repentance, they face excommunication.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Amish life is rooted in the soil. Ever since European persecution pushed them into rural areas, the Amish have been farmers. The land has nurtured their common life and robust families. Since the middle of the twentieth century, some of the older and larger Amish settlements in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have shifted to nonfarm occupations because of the pressure of urbanization. As urbanization devoured prime farmland, prices soared. Land, for example, in the heart of Pennsylvania's Lancaster Amish settlement sold for $300 an acre in 1940. In the 1990s, the same land sold for $8,000 to $10,000 an acre. If sold for development, prices can double or even triple.

The shrinking and expensive farmland in some of the older settlements has forced a crisis in the Amish soul. The Amish have also contributed to the demographic squeeze with their growing population. The community has coped with the crisis in several ways. First, farms have been subdivided into smaller units with intensive cropping and larger concentrations of livestock. Second, some families have migrated to the rural backwaters of other states where farms could be purchased at much lower prices. Third, in some settlements a majority of families no longer farms, but works in small shops, rural factories, or in various trades. But even ex-farmers insist that the farm remains the best place to raise a family.

The rise of cottage industries and small shops marks an historic turn in Amish life. Mushrooming since the 1970s, these new enterprises have reshaped Amish society. By the late 1990s, such small industries employed more than half the Amish adults in Lancaster County. Amish retail shops sell dry goods, furniture, shoes, hardware, and wholesale foods. Church members now work as carpenters, plumbers, painters, and self-trained accountants. Professionals, like lawyers, physicians, and veterinarians, are missing from Amish ranks because of the taboo on high school and college education. The new industries come in three forms. Home-based operations lodged on farms or by newly built homes employ a few family members and neighbors. Bakeshops, craft shops, hardware stores, health food stores, quilt shops, flower shops, and repair shops of all sorts are but a few of the hundreds of home-based operations. Work in these settings revolves around the family. A growing number of these small cottage industries cater to tourists but many serve the needs of Amish and non-Amish neighbors alike.

Larger shops and manufacturing concerns are housed in newly constructed buildings on the edge of farms or on commercial plots. These formal shops with five to ten employees manufacture farm machinery, hydraulic equipment, storage barns, furniture, and cabinetry. Some metal fabrication shops arrange subcontracts with other manufacturers. The larger shops are efficient and profitable. Low overhead, minimal advertising, austere management, modest wages, quality workmanship, and sheer hard work grant many shops a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Mobile work crews constitute a third type of industry. Amish construction groups travel to building sites for commercial and residential construction. The construction crews travel in hired vehicles and in some settlements they are permitted to use electric tools powered by portable generators and on-site electricity.

The rise of cottage industries may, in the long run, disturb the equality of Amish life by encouraging a three-tier society of farmers, entrepreneurs, and day laborers. Parents worry that youth working a 40-hour week with loose cash in their pockets will snub traditional Amish values of simplicity and frugality. The new industries also increase contact with the outside world which will surely prompt even more changes in Amish life. Despite the occupational changes, virtually no Amish are unemployed or receive government unemployment benefits.

Politics and Government

The Amish view government with an ambiguous eye. Although they support and respect civil government, they also keep a healthy distance from it. On the one hand, they follow biblical admonitions to obey and pray for rulers and encourage members to be law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, government epitomizes worldly culture and the use of force. European persecutors of the Anabaptists were often government officials. Modern governments engage in warfare, use capital punishment, and impose their will with raw coercion. Believing that such coercion and violence mock the gentle spirit of Jesus, the Amish reject the use of force, including litigation. Since they regulate many of their own affairs they have less need for outside supervision.

When civil law and religious conscience collide, the Amish are not afraid to take a stand and will obey God rather than man, even if it brings imprisonment. They have clashed with government officials over the use of hard hats, zoning regulations, Workers' Compensation, and building codes for schools. However, as conscientious objectors many have received farm deferments or served in alternative service programs during times of military draft.

The church forbids membership in political organizations and holding public office for several reasons. First, running for office is viewed as arrogant and out of character with esteemed Amish values of humility and modesty. Second, office-holding violates the religious principle of separation from the world. Finally, public officials must be prepared to use legal force if necessary to settle civic disputes. The exercise of legal force mocks the stance of nonresistance. Voting, however, is viewed as a personal matter. Although the church does not prohibit it, few persons vote. Those who do vote are likely to be younger businessmen concerned about local issues. Although voting is considered a personal matter, jury duty is not allowed.

The Amish pay federal and state income taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes. Indeed, they pay school taxes twice, for both public and Amish schools. Following biblical injunctions, the Amish are exempt from Social Security tax. They view Social Security as a national insurance program, not a tax. Congressional legislation, passed in 1965, exempts self-employed Amish persons from Social Security. Amish persons employed in Amish businesses were also exempted by congressional legislation in 1988. Those who do not qualify for the exemption, Amish employees in non-Amish businesses, must pay Social Security without reaping its benefits. Bypassing Social Security not only severs the Amish from old age payments, it also closes the spigot to Medicare and Medicaid.

The Amish object to government aid for several reasons. They contend that the church should assume responsibility for the social welfare of its own members. The aged, infirm, senile, and disabled are cared for, whenever possible, within extended family networks. To turn the care of these people over to the state would abdicate a fundamental tenet of faith: the care of one's brothers and sisters in the church. Furthermore, federal aid in the form of Social Security or Medicare would erode dependency on the church and undercut its programs of mutual aid, which the Amish have organized to assist their members with fire and storm damages and with medical expenses.

Government subsidies, or what the Amish call handouts, have been stridently opposed. Championing self-sufficiency and the separation of church and state, the Amish worry that the hand which feeds them will also control them. Over the years they have stubbornly refused direct subsidies even for agricultural programs designed for farmers in distress. Amish farmers do, however, receive indirect subsidies through agricultural price-support programs.

In 1967 the Amish formed the National Amish Steering Committee in order to speak with a common voice on legal issues related to state, and especially, federal government. The Steering Committee has worked with government officials to resolve disputes related to conscientious objection, zoning, slow-moving vehicle emblems, Social Security, Workers' Compensation, and the wearing of hard hats at construction sites. Informally organized, the Steering Committee is the only Amish organization which is national in scope.


The future shape of Amish life escapes prediction. Particular outcomes will be shaped not only by unforeseen external forces, such as market prices, government regulations, and rates of urbanization, but also by internal politics and the sentiments of particular Amish leaders. Without a centralized decision-making process, let alone a strategic planning council, new directions are unpredictable. Migrations will likely continue to new states and to the rural areas of states where the Amish presently live.

The willingness of many Amish to leave their plows for shops and cottage industries in the 1970s and 1980s signalled a dramatic shift in Amish life. Microenterprises will likely blossom and bring change to Amish life as they increase interaction with the outside world. These business endeavors will probably alter the class structure and cultural face of Amish society over the years. But the love of farming runs deep in the Amish heart. Faced with a growing population, many families will likely migrate to more rural areas in search of fertile soil.

The cultural flavor of twenty-first century Amish life may elude forecast, but one pattern is clear. Settlements which are pressed by urbanization are the most progressive in outlook and the most updated in technology. Rural homesteads beyond the tentacles of urban sprawl remain the best place to preserve traditional Amish ways. If the Amish can educate and retain their children, make a living, and restrain interaction with the larger world, they will likely flourish into the twenty-first century. But one thing is certain: diversity between their settlements will surely grow, mocking the staid stereotypes of Amish life.



Arthur Graphic Clarion.

Newspaper of the Illinois Amish country.

Contact: Allen Mann, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 19, Arthur, Illinois 61911.

Telephone: (217) 543-2151.

Fax: (217) 543-2152.

Die Botschaft.

Weekly English newspaper with correspondents from many states that serves Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities.

Contact: Brookshire Publications, Inc.

Address: 200 Hazel Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17608-0807.

The Budget.

Weekly Amish/Mennonite community newspaper.

Contact: George R. Smith, National Editor.

Address: Sugarcreek Budget Publishers, Inc., 134 North Factory Street, P.O. Box 249, Sugarcreek, Ohio 44681-0249.

Telephone: (216) 852-4634.

Fax: (216) 852-4421.

The Diary.

Monthly publication that lists migrations, marriages, births, and deaths. It also carries news and feature articles.

Contact: Pequea Publishers.

Address: P.O. Box 98, Gordonville, Pennsylvania 17529.

The Mennonite: A Magazine to Inform and Challenge the Christian Fellowship in the Mennonite Context.

Contact: J. Lorne Peachey, Editor.

Address: 616 Walnut Avenue, Scottdale, Pennsylvania 15683.

Telephone: (800) 790-2493.

Fax: (724) 887-3111.

E-mail: [email protected]


Mennonite Quarterly Review.

Scholarly journal covering Mennonite, Amish, Hutterian Brethren, Anabaptist, Radical Reformation, and related history and religious thought.

Contact: John D. Roth, Editor.

Address: Mennonite Historical Society, 1700 South Main Street, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana 46526.

Telephone: (219) 535-7111.

Fax: (219) 535-7438.

E-mail: [email protected]

Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage.

Founded in January of 1978. Quarterly historical journal covering Mennonite culture and religion.

Contact: David J. Rempel Smucker, Editor.

Address: Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602-1499.

Telephone: (717) 393-9745.

Fax: (717) 393-8751.

Organizations and Associations

Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society (LMHS).

Individuals interested in the historical background, theology, culture, and genealogy of Mennonite and Amish related groups originating in Pennsylvania. Collects and preserves archival materials. Publishes the Mirror bimonthly.

Contact: Carolyn C. Wenger, Director.

Address: 2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602-1499.

Telephone: (717) 393-9745.

Fax: (717) 393-8751.

National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom (NCARF).

Committee of professors, clergymen, attorneys, and others that provides legal defense for Amish people, since the committee feels the Amish have religious scruples against defending themselves or seeking court action.

Contact: Rev. William C. Lindholm, Chair.

Address: 30650 Six Mile Road, Livonia, Michigan 48152.

Telephone: (734) 427-1414.

Fax: (734) 427-1419.

E-mail: [email protected]


Museums and Research Centers

Mennonite Historical Library.

Address: Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana 46526.

Telephone: (219) 535-7000.

Ohio Amish Library.

Address: 4292 SR39, Millersburg, Ohio 44654.

Pequea Bruderschaft Library.

Address: P.O. Box 25, Gordonville, Pennsylvania 17529.

The Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups.

Address: Elizabethtown College, One Alpha Drive, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania 17022.

Telephone: (717) 361-1470.

Sources for Additional Study

The Amish and the State. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Amish Society, fourth edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

The Amish Wedding and Other Special Occasions of the Old Order Communities. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books, 1988.

Hostetler, John A. Amish Life. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1983.

Kline, David. Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990.

Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Marc A. Olshan. The Amish Struggle with Modernity. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1994.

Nolt, Steven M. A History of the Amish. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books, 1992.

The Puzzles of Amish Life. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books, 1990.

Scott, Stephen. Why Do They Dress That Way? Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books, 1986.


views updated May 29 2018


ETHNONYMS: Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch, Pennsylvania Germans


Identification. Old Order Amish Mennonites in North America are a Germanic people with origins in the radical Swiss Anabaptist movement that developed between 1525 and 1536 during the Reformation. Among the Anabaptist groups who have persisted in their beliefs for over three centuries are the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites. These groups believe in adult baptism and pacifism, maintain a strict religious community and reject participation in the world to varying degrees. Their adherence to simple, or "plain," living is widely known.

Location. The Amish migrated to America from Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine, the Palatinate (in what is now western Germany), France, and Holland. During the first period of their migration, between 1727 and 1790, approximately five hundred Amish, along with other Germanic groups, settled in Pennsylvania. Between 1815 and 1865, a second influx of three thousand Amish immigrated to Ohio, New York, Indiana, and Illinois.

Demography. In 1990 there were approximately 130,000 Amish living in twenty states and one province of Canada (Ontario). Seventy percent of all Amish live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. At a 3 percent rate of population increase annually, the Amish are doubling their numbers every twenty-three years. This growth rate results from large Families in which seven or eight children are typical.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Amish speak a dialect of German among themselves, use biblical High German in Religious services, and speak standard English with outsiders.

History and Cultural Relations

The Amish were established as a separate sect between 1693 and 1697 on the basis of religious principles that continue to guide their communities. These rules, laid down by Jacob Ammann, a leader of a dissenting faction of the Swiss Anabaptists, include shunning (the social avoidance of excommunicated members), ceremonial foot washing as part of the communion service, and simplicity in dress and grooming. Today the rules are interpreted locally by the members of each congregation. The Amish, like other Anabaptist groups in Europe, suffered severe persecution and imprisonment. If they remained in their own countries, they were not allowed to own land and were denied citizenship. These restrictions prevented them from forming permanent settlements. As a result, those who stayed in their European homelands have largely been assimilated into the dominant religious groups there.

The bases for Amish existence as a distinct American subculture are their nonconformity in dress, homes, speech, attitudes toward education, and resistance to modernization and change. The Amish adhere to traditions that include living in rural areas, using horses for farming, marrying within the group, and dressing in a manner reminiscent of seventeenth-century Europeans. The Amish lead lives that are Socially distinct as well. Since the Amish are secure in their tradition of separation from the outside world, their relations with their non-Amish neighbors appear to be free of the judgmental attitudes of other separatist sects. Rules for Amish living prohibit more than an elementary school education, the ownership (but not always the use) of automobiles and telephones, and the use of electricity and modern conveniences. The Amish are aware of their position with respect to the larger cultural environment. Farmers especially consider that using technological farm implements would have a devastating impact on their ability to maintain a separate society.

Conformity to the consensual rules (Ordnung ) for behavior serves to unify Amish communities. Their religious perspective emphasizes commitment to a self-sufficient Community of believers who reject worldly values. As part of a Religious ethic based on their interpretations of Biblical scripture, the Amish ideal is to provide totally for members of their congregations throughout the life cycle. The Amish therefore remain committed to the home as the locus of their church services and for the care of the sick, the orphaned, the indigent, the elderly, and the mentally retarded. Important values that are the result of socialization in the home rather than in school are the ability to cooperate with others and to work as a contributing member to the society.

Outside industries have moved to Amish districts in Indiana and Pennsylvania in order to take advantage of their reputation for hard and reliable work. The Amish, though, tend to maximize their interactions with members of their group through the spatial arrangements in their Communities, for example, while reducing interactions with outsiders. Like other rural communities, the encroachment of industrialization has diminished the possibility of isolation desired by the Amish.


The Amish are located in regions that are compatible with their ideal of continuing a farming life-style. Within a settlement, the church district encloses a certain area. The size of the district is determined by the number of persons who can be accommodated in a single farm dwelling for church Services. About twenty-five to thirty-five married couples plus their children compose a district. The steady growth rate of the Amish population and the need for more farmland accessible to the younger generation for purchase have required movement to new settlements. Amish homes tend to be large, functional dwellings dedicated to simplicity. Interiors are neatly kept and, in compliance with church rules, there is minimal decoration or ornamentation other than quilts and decorative china. The emphasis is on functional space that will allow homes to become churches for the bimonthly Sunday worship.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Farming is the occupation desired by most Amish. All family members are integrated into an agricultural way of life. Beginning at an early age, the young assist in farm and household chores. The Amish keep their farms small enough to be handled by the family unit. Family-size farms have consistently been productive, serving to meet the needs of the community rather than to earn large profits. Farms average between fifty and ninetysix acres; the larger acreage occurs in midwestern areas rather than in eastern regions such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The lack of concern with high-income productivity is evident in Amish farmers' choosing to concentrate on raising livestock in small numbers and on growing a variety of crops. Farm size is limited not only by the amount of land that can be managed by one family but also by the prohibition on the use of electricity.

On New York farms, if tractors are used at all, they provide the power source for other types of farm machinery. Often these vehicles are outdated and have steel wheels Instead of rubber tires. In some parts of Ohio, for example, the prohibition on technological dairy farming has meant the abandonment of farming, resulting in a change in the nature of the Amish community. Some nonfarming Amish work within their communities, serving traditional needs such as the repair of farm and household equipment and operating horse-and-buggy trades. Work outside of farming in some Regions has become increasingly necessary because of the declining availability of affordable land. Ironically, however, nonagricultural employment has also created the financial security that allows many young families to remain within the Amish fellowship. Newer occupational opportunities include service industries and shops where Amish work for non-Amish ("English") employers, often saving their earnings to buy a farm. More women are now being trained as teachers for Amish schools.

The Amish depend on outsiders for medical and legal services. When making loans to Amish clients, bank managers rely on the system of mutual aid for church members to back up buyers who become financially overburdened.

Division of Labor. Mainly, women are employed in the home. Besides attending to children, house, garden, and chickens, the Amish woman also sews clothes for her family, cooks and cans food, and engages in quilt and rug making and embroidery. Both sexes handle household finances; Children have both parents as role models for learning behavior appropriate to Amish society. Members of the congregation, both male and female, work cooperatively to build and rebuild houses and barns.

Land Tenure. The Amish are often forced to migrate to areas where cheaper farmland is available. They save to buy additional farms for their children, giving young married couples financial and other forms of assistance in establishing their own farms. It is not uncommon for members of the Community to provide low-interest loans to young people starting out.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Amish tend to maintain social relations mainly but not exclusively with members of their group. In-group marriages and kinship solidarity reinforce the family-based social structure. Amish marriages occur in what is essentially a large kin group. The extent of Intermarriage that has resulted in the intermingling of Genealogies for more than two centuries is evident in various Amish localities by the relatively few surnames. In naming their Children, Amish parents may recognize both maternal and paternal sides of the family. Children have their fathers' surnames and middle names that are often their mothers' maiden names.

Several hereditary diseases have been studied among Amish populations. Although they are not a single, genetically closed population, the Amish have separate inbreeding communities within the larger group. The inbred character is indicated by the history of their migration patterns, by the unique family names in each community, and by the distribution of blood types. Of at least twelve "new" recessive diseases ascertained, several are especially pronounced: dwarfism, a rare blood cell disease, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and diseases associated with metabolism. The low rate of some hereditary diseases that are common in the general population has also been noted.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Amish couples are expected to remain married to the mates they select as young adults. The Amish church depends on the biological reproduction of its members rather than on acquiring new members through proselytization. There is thus a strong commitment to marrying within the church, although females tend to move outside the district since males usually inherit the family farm. Despite the fact that mate choice is limited to other church members, the young people do not necessarily choose to marry close relatives. The high inbreeding of the Amish population results not from marriages between first cousins but from the Intermarriages that have occurred over generations within a genetically isolated group.

Baptism into the church is preliminary to marriage. Courtship tends to be a private matter prior to the wedding announcement by the minister. A wedding, on the other hand, is a public affair celebrated in anticipation of certain benefits that will accrue to the entire community. Members of the congregation see the marriage as an end to a sometimes spirited adolescence and expect to have the couple's home as a new place for the Sunday service; they also look forward to more children who will be raised in the Amish way. Guests give household gifts; parents may provide livestock, furniture, and equipment to help the young people get started.

Where a newlywed couple resides depends on the Opportunity to continue farming in the traditional manner. This may mean working in a factory until enough savings have been accumulated to invest in a farm of their own. If the couple remains on the family farm, their parents may, at retirement, move to a separate house on the property and Eventually leave the management of the farm to the younger couple. No provision is made for divorce, nor is separation a part of Amish expectations for conformity to church-based rules of behavior.

Domestic Unit. As previously mentioned, each family member contributes to the working of the family farm. Although married couples share in the responsibilities of child rearing and of running the household and farm, the prevailing authority rests with the husband.

Inheritance. Land tends to be kept within families and is usually passed on to sons rather than to daughters and to younger rather than to older sons.

Socialization. Individuals are prepared for all stages of life, including aging, under Amish patterns of socialization. The primary goals of child rearing are the acquisition of practical skills, the instilling of responsibility to the Amish Community, and an emphasis on respect for hard work. Young people may be hired out to relatives or other church members after they are trained on the family farm and in the household. Parents often allow adolescents to explore the outside world and test the boundaries of Amish identity. Family and community may therefore overlook the ownership of radios, cameras, even automobiles, by young people as well as their going to the movies and wearing non-Amish clothes. Such deviations are ignored in order that the young may freely decide on Marriage and membership within the church community. About one-quarter leave the church, but most join more progressive Amish or Mennonite churches.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Amish communities are not entirely self-sufficient. Support for state and local government may be given through voting and paying taxes, but church rules prohibit them from participating in politics as officeholders. They also comply with church rules forbidding military Service and government assistance in the form of insurance or subsidies.

Resistance to compulsory school attendance beyond the eighth grade is perhaps the most controversial issue that has brought the Amish into direct confrontation with state and local authorities recently. Amish in certain communities were subjected to fines and imprisonment because they rejected secondary school education for their children. Finally, the dilemma was resolved in the 1972 Supreme Court decision Wisconsin v. Yoder et al., which found that laws that required Amish children to attend school beyond the elementary level were a violation of their religious convictions. Conflicts Between Amish and mainstream American goals in education were not an issue when one-room schoolhouses were the norm in a primarily rural United States. Today, the change to consolidated schools and to a deemphasis on basic skills has prompted the Amish to establish their own schools. According to Hostetler there are more than seven hundred one- and two-room schools that uphold Amish traditions and lifestyles.

Political Organization. Old Order Amish churches are not organized around a central authority. Rather, the church districts serve as the governing units for each congregation. Men who hold the offices of deacon (Armen Diener), preacher (Diener zum Buch), and bishop (Volle Diener ) are chosen by lot from among the members of the congregation themselves. The three ministers have charge of various aspects of church activities. The bishop performs baptisms and marriages; the preacher assists in the communion service and delivers the bimonthly sermon when asked; the deacon is responsible for distributing funds to the needy. Bishops meet informally to discuss matters pertaining to their congregations, and visiting by congregants also helps maintain bonds between church districts.

Social Control. When a member breaks a moral or church code, the minister presents the question of discipline to the congregation. It is the church community that has the final decision. Shunning (Meidung), an extreme censure placed on violators, requires that no church member engage in social dealings with the individual until the ban is lifted.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Amish conceive of their church-community (Gemeinde ) as being composed of those who are truly repentant and duly baptized. Members are joined communally in an effort to become righteous Christians and reject worldly values. Amish moral imperatives also account for their desire to be close to the soil and to nature.

Ceremonies. The communion service to celebrate the Lord's Supper is held twice a year in the fall and spring. Preparations for communion include prayer, meditation, and fasting. As part of the service, the ceremonial foot washing, introduced by Ammann in the seventeenth century, takes place as a sign of fellowship.

Arts. Women combine quilt making and visiting as an acceptable means of artistic expression. Other forms of artistic endeavor, like photography, are forbidden. Whitewashed houses with decorative paint trim and brightly colored flowers are also evidence of artistry among the Amish.

Medicine . The Amish have access to a variety of practitioners, including folk healers as well as modern physicians and surgeons. They also consider the reputation of practitioners and, taking for granted the competency of providers, they select ones whom they feel they can trust.

Death and Afterlife. Death is a solemn occasion, but is accepted as a matter of course. The dead are usually buried on the third day after death. Respect for someone who has died is often shown in a large funeral attendance. Funeral establishments may be asked to prepare the body, but afterward, church members dress the body at home in special garments. Preparation of the grave, notification of the ministers, and selection of pallbearers are duties that are divided between more or less distant relatives, friends, and neighbors of the deceased. Amish bereaved are comforted by their belief in heaven and life after death. Although the Amish want to be ready for Judgment Day, they are not especially preoccupied with the nature of an afterlife.


Gallagher, Thomas E., Jr. (1982). Clinging to the Past or Preparing for the Future? The Structure of Selective Modernization among Old Order Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International.

Hostetler, John A. (1980). Amish Society. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hostetler, John A. (1980) "Amish." In Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, edited by Stephen Thernstrom, 122-125. Boston: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.

Keim, Albert N., ed. (1975). Compulsory Education and the Amish: The Right Not to Be Modern. Boston: Beacon Press.

Kraybill, Donald B. (1989). The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

McKusick, Victor A. (1978). Medical Genetic Studies of the Amish. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.



views updated May 14 2018


AMISH. Known widely for their distinctive dress and principled rejection of modernity, the Amish provide unending fascination to outsiders. In 1900 social scientists confidently predicted the early demise of the Amish, then numbering about 5,000 members. Instead, a century later they were among the fastest-growing churches in North America, with more than 1,400 congregations in thirty-three states (and Ontario), with adult membership approaching 90,000 and a total population of nearly 200,000.

The Amish are a continuation of the Anabaptist ("rebaptizer") movement of the sixteenth century. Although basically Protestant in doctrine, Anabaptists rejected in principle the church-state linkage hallowed by Catholic tradition and accepted by Protestant reformers. Instead, Anabaptists contended for a "gathered church" of committed believers, who sealed their conviction by adult baptism.

Anabaptists were among the first to urge religious liberty, condemning the use of force in religious matters; exclusion from church fellowship was the severest penalty they exacted in their congregations, which they sought to maintain in purity and unity. They based their specific beliefs and practices on the early church and on the New Testament, which they studied assiduously. They were mission-minded, extending their gospel over much of Europe despite ferocious persecution. Except for marginal groups who were militant, Anabaptists forbade any use of violence, instead practicing nonresistance to oppression.

Much of early Anabaptist activity took place in the Swiss cantons; to escape repeated pogroms, many Anabaptists sought refuge in more tolerant areas along the Rhine River, in the German Palatinate and the Alsace. By 1600 most Anabaptists were called Mennonites, after the former Dutch priest Menno Simons (c. 1496–1561).

The Amish movement took its name from an Alsatian convert named Jakob Ammann (1656?–1730?). Concerned that Mennonites were becoming lax in church discipline, Ammann sought church renewal by tightening discipline. He banned miscreants not only from church ordinances but also from all social encounters. Several Swiss elders thought this too harsh and rejected Ammann's actions, upon which Ammann placed them in the ban. Those Rhenish Mennonites who followed Ammann's lead were henceforth called the Amish. This took place in 1693, marking the emergence of the Amish as a separate Anabaptist body.

Amish began to emigrate to North America in major ways after 1736, first settling in Berks and Lancaster counties, Pennsylvania. Another large wave of Amish emigration (about 3,000 persons) took place between 1817 and 1860, with primary settlement in the Midwest, leaving perhaps 2,000 members in Europe. Migration continued in the twentieth century until 1937, when the last European Amish joined with Mennonites.

In the freer confines of the United States, many Amish families converted to more liberal Mennonite groups. This trend continued until the mid-nineteenth century, when two factions developed among American Amish. The more conservative were known as the Old Order Amish, wishing to preserve the old ways. The more progressive were known as the Amish Mennonites and merged over time with Mennonite conferences.

Old Order Amish

In the popular mind the Amish seem to be a fossilized body, blindly perpetuating the mind-set and lifestyle of early ages. In fact, they practice a highly rational selectivity in accepting or rejecting modern developments, always to perpetuate their faith and further family welfare. Nevertheless, their avoidance of high-school education, telephones in homes, radios and television, electricity from power lines, self-propelled farm implements, and motor vehicles evidence willful rejection of modern ways. Their plain style of dressing, with chin beards, broad-fall trousers, "soup-bowl" hair cuts, and broad-brimmed hats for men and nonpatterned, form-concealing caped dresses (but using some bright colors) and bonnets for women, also set them apart. (Children among the Amish are dressed much like adults.) Their insistence on the use of Pennsylvania-German in their families and German in their church services and their reference to non-Amish as "English" underscore their difference from general society. It is paradoxically these differences that have made the Amish so fascinating to outsiders.

Beliefs. The distinctive Amish lifestyle is based on their belief system, which has altered little since their formative years. Its formal foundation is the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, agreed upon by Dutch Mennonites and later accepted by German Mennonites. It is congruent with traditional Protestant creeds, except for its understanding of the Lord's Supper as commemoration rather than as sacrament and its emphasis on adult baptism, nonresistance, nonconformity, and shunning in church discipline.

Church membership through baptism (ordinarily of young adults) follows a class of instruction based upon the Dordrecht Confession. Applicants, when called before the congregation, respond affirmatively to questions of faith, promise obedience to church order (men agree to serve as ministers if chosen), and receive baptism by the pouring of water upon their heads.

The controlling concept of Amish belief is the Ordnung. This is the traditional order, an unwritten code upon which all of Amish life and practice is based. It is the code of conduct that governs all Amish actions, transmitted by tradition rather than by explicit rules. The bishop of each district is responsible for interpreting and perpetuating the Ordnung.

Another basic concept is Gelassenheit. Difficult to translate concisely, it has the meaning of yielding, self-surrender, and acceptance. It mandates giving up self-will and pride; instead, the believer accepts authority, bows to the common good, and defers to the traditions of the church and the decisions of its leaders. The welfare of the many is prior to the benefit of the individual. Restrictions on clothing, jewelry, and photographs make sure that vanity will be suppressed. The ultimate expression of Gelassenheit is martyrdom, yielding up one's life for one's faith, a tragic reality for thousands of Anabaptists. The Mennonite book of martyrs, The Martyrs Mirror (originally published in 1660), is, next to the Bible, the book found most often in Amish homes.

Worship. Amish meet every other Sunday on a rotating schedule at members' homes, usually in the residence but also in workshops or barns. Benches are taken from home to home in a specially built wagon. Members sit separately according to age and gender. The three-hour services are interspersed with hymns taken from the Ausbund, a sixteenth-century text-only hymnal. The singing is in unison, very slow, and without accompaniment. The preacher adopts a chanting style of speaking, the sermon consisting largely of biblical stories and strung-together scriptures. Following the service, the host family provides food for those in attendance. Meeting in homes encourages warm fellowship and also ensures that member families follow the Ordnung in every respect.

Church government. Amish are organized into districts of twenty to forty families. When a district grows too large to meet in homes, a new district is organized by redrawing boundary lines. All Amish living within the limits of a district must attend its worship services.

Each district ordinarily has a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon, known as Diener (servants). When an official is needed, members are called together to nominate the new leader from their ranks. Those nominated then draw lots to determine the one chosen. It is understood that this procedure ensures divine guidance. Ministry is for life and without payment. Those chosen accept the lot with deep emotion and a profound sense of unworthiness.

Bishops meet periodically to discuss controversial issues, with the intent of preserving church unity. Nevertheless, many differences do emerge, especially in regard to the toleration of technology. There is no fixed organization above the districts, but an Amish National Steering Committee meets as needed to represent Amish concerns before government agencies.

Economics. Traditionally all Amish were farmers, and rural life is still the ideal. However, as the price of land burgeoned in areas of Amish concentration, it became difficult to provide new farms for the typically large families. Two major strategies emerged. The first is to seek affordable land elsewhere; this has led to new Amish colonies in the South, Midwest, and New York State. The second is to turn to nonfarm vocations. Many in Lancaster County have developed small businesses, such as cabinet and furniture making; other entrepreneurs cater to tourists, for example with bakeries or quilt making. In Elkhart County, Indiana, many Amish work in factories building recreational vehicles. In Holmes County, Ohio (the largest concentration of Amish anywhere), Amish have developed more than 700 microenterprises. Some Amish companies gross more than a million dollars per year.

Amish Bodies

In 2001 there were four distinct branches among the Amish: the Old Order Amish, the New Order Amish, the Beachy Amish, and the Amish Mennonites, in order of increasing liberalness. In addition, there are smaller groupings, in particular among the Old Order Amish, especially in Holmes County, Ohio (including the Swartzentruber, Troyer, and Andy Weaver subgroups), and in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania (the Byler, Renno, and "Nebraska" subgroups).

The Old Order Amish are by far the largest Amish branch, making up nearly 90 percent of the total, having 1,237 of the 1,439 congregations in the United States. Like the Old Order Amish, the New Order Amish use horse-drawn transportation and meet for worship in homes, whereas the Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites use motor vehicles and have meeting houses for worship.


Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Carl F. Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Kraybill, Donald B., and C. Nelson Hostetter. Anabaptist World USA. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 2001. Contains statistics.

Nolt, Steven M. A History of the Amish. Intercourse, Pa: Good Books, 1992.

Donald F.Durnbaugh

See alsoMennonites ; Pennsylvania Germans .

What Does It Mean to Be Amish?

Some time ago a group of fifty-two people chartered a bus and came to Holmes County to see the Amish. They had arranged to have an Amishman meet them and answer some of their questions.

The first question was: "We all go to church," and they named some of these churches, "so we know about Jesus, but what does it mean to be Amish?"

The Amishman thought a bit and then he asked a question of his own. "How many of you have TV in your homes?" Fifty-two hands went up. "Now, how many of you feel that perhaps you would be better off without TV in your homes?" Again fifty-two hands went up. "All right. Now, how many of you are going to go home and get rid of your TV?" Not one hand went up!

Now that is what it means to be Amish. As a church, if we see or experience something that is not good for us spiritually, we will discipline ourselves to do without. The world in general does not know what it is to do without!

Monroe L. Beachy

SOURCE: John A. Hostetler, ed. Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pp. 272–273.


views updated May 18 2018



Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches

9650 Iams Rd.
Plain City, OH 43064

A split in the Pennsylvania Amish was occasioned by the refusal of Bishop Moses Beachy to pronounce the ban and avoidance on some former Old Order Amish who left to join a Conservative Mennonite congregation in Maryland. The conservative element withdrew fellowship with the bishop, who then, with his supporters, separated and formed a new association. The Beachy Amish have become more accommodating to modern culture. Churches have been built, and in recent years, the automobile has been allowed, as are tractors and electricity. Missionary-aid work for needy people has become a project in contrast to the strictly separatist Old Order group.

Membership: In 1996 the Beachy Amish reported 8,399 members, 138 congregations, and 425 ministers.

Periodicals: Calvary Messenger.


Yoder, Elmer S. The Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship Churches. Hartville, OH: Diakonia Ministries, 1987.


Conservative Mennonite Conference

℅ Ivan J. Miller
9910 Rosedale Milford Center Rd.
Irwin, OH 43029

With the development of the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church in the last half of the nineteenth century as a branch of the Amish Mennonite Church in North America, and the development of annual Amish Mennonite Conferences, with propensity toward Mennonite Conferences, some congregations did not fully follow either of the two approaches. Some of these congregations became associated and in 1910 met in an initial conference held in Pigeon, Michigan. They adopted the name Conservative Amish Mennonite Conference. Amish was dropped from the name in 1954. Changes that were accepted in 1910 or in the ensuing decades included the use of meeting houses, Sunday schools, protracted meetings, English language services, and missionary endeavors.

The Conference's Statement of Mission reads, "The Conservative Mennonite Conference exists to glorify God by equipping leaders and congregations for worship, teaching, fellowship, service, and making disciples by providing resources and conference structures with an evangelical, Anabaptist, and conservative theological orientation." The Conference's Internet address is

Membership: In 2002 the Conference reported 10,429 members in 106 congregations. Congregations in the United States are located as far east as Delaware, as far west as California, south to Texas and Florida, and north to upstate New York and northwestern Ohio. The larger congregations are in Indiana and Ohio.

Educational Facilities: Rosedale Bible College, Irwin, Ohio.

Rosedale Mennonite Missions, Irwin, Ohio.


Miller, J. Ivan. History of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, 1910-1985. Grantsville, MD: Ivan J. and Della Miller, 1985.


Evangelical Mennonite Church

1420 Kerrway Ct.
Fort Wayne, IN 46805

The Evangelical Mennonite Church was formed in 1866 out of a spiritual awakening among the Amish in Indiana, and was first known as the Egly Amish, after its founder Bishop Henry Egly (1824-1890). A preacher in an Amish congregation in Berne, Indiana, Egly underwent a spiritual experience in 1864 and began to emphasize regeneration, separation, and nonconformity to the world. His willingness to rebaptize anyone who had been baptized without repentance created a split in his church, prompting him to gather a new congregation in 1866. The conference, which has met annually since 1895, united a number of other congregations of like mind. This group adopted the name The Defenseless Mennonite Church in 1898, and became known as the Evangelical Mennonite Church in 1948.

Membership: In 2001, the church reported 5,278 members, 35 churches, and 7 ministers, 81 in the local churches. Total of 137 which includes ministers in the local church ministry in other types of work, missionaries and retired ministers. Average Sunday morning attendance 10,347.

Periodicals: EMC Today.


Nussbaum, Stan. A History of the Evangelical Mennonite Church. The Author, 1980.


Old Order Amish Mennonite Church

Pathway Publishers
Rte. 4
Aylmer, ON, Canada N5H 2R3

The Old Order Amish are in practice the continuation of the original Amish who settled in America. They are strictly conservative and may be identified by their horse-and-buggy culture. The men must grow beards but moustaches are forbidden. The plain dark blue, gray, brown, or black suit for men and bonnet and apron for women are uniforms. Buttons are used on men's shirts and pants, but none are allowed on suit coats, vests, or coats. Marriage with non-Amish is forbidden.

The society is a rural community in which church life and everyday life are not separated. Symbolic of their life are the Amish barn raisings in which the congregation gathers to build a member's barn, usually in several days. Worship is held in the homes of the members every other Sunday on a rotating basis. During the three-hour service, the congregation is divided according to sex and marital status.

Schooling beyond the "3R's" is frowned upon within the church, and prior to a Supreme Court ruling in 1972 trouble with various state governments (such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio) became a major cause of immigration to more lenient states (such as Missouri). Ministers are chosen by lot from a nominated few. Since this is not a missionary church, new members generally come into the community from the children of members. In the last generation there have been converts, some highly educated, and recent studies have shown that approximately eight percent of the present membership is made up of descendents of such converts.

Membership: Not reported. In 2002 there were approximately 60,000 members in the United States and 900 in Canada. No statistics are kept. The total Amish population is estimated at 200,000, but only adults are baptized and full church members.

Periodicals: The Diary. Send orders to PO Box 98, Gordonville, PA 17529. • Die Botschaft. Send orders to 200 Hazel St., Lancaster, PA 17601. • The Budget. Send orders to 134 N. Factory St., Sugarcreek, OH 44681. • Herald der Wahrheit. Send orders to 2010 110th St., Kalona, IA 52247. • Blackboard Bulletin. • Family Life. • Young Companion. All available from Rte. 4, Aylmer, ON Canada N5H 2R3.


Amish Life in a Changing World. York, PA: York Graphic Services, 1978.

Browning, Clyde. Amish in Illinois. The Author, 1971.

Hoestetler, John A. Amish Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Carl F. Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Rice, Charles S., and Rollin C. Steinmetz. The Amish Year. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1956.

Schreiber, William I. Our Amish Neighbors. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.


views updated Jun 27 2018


Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches

Conservative Mennonite Conference

Evangelical Mennonite Church

Old Order Amish Mennonite Church

Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches

9650 Iams Rd., Plain City, OH 43064

A split in the Pennsylvania Amish was occasioned by Bp. Moses Beachy’s refusal to pronounce a ban on, and avoidance of, some former Old Order Amish who left to join a Conservative Mennonite congregation in Maryland. The conservative element withdrew fellowship with the bishop, who then, with his supporters, separated and formed a new association. The Beachy Amish have become more accommodating to modern culture. Churches have been built, and in recent years, the automobile has been allowed within the group, as are tractors and electricity. Further, missionary-aid work for needy people has become a project, in contrast to the strictly separatist Old Order group.


In 1996, the Beachy Amish reported 8,399 members, 138 congregations, and 425 ministers.


Calvary Messenger.


Beach Amish Mennonite Churches. (unofficial)

Yoder, Elmer S. The Beachy Amish Mennonite Fellowship Churches. Hartville, OH: Diakonia Ministries, 1987.

Conservative Mennonite Conference

c/o Steve Swartz, General Secretary, 9910 Rosedale-Milford Center Rd., Irwin, OH 43029

With the development of the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church in the last half of the nineteenth century as a branch of the Amish Mennonite Church in North America, and the development of annual Amish Mennonite Conferences, with propensity toward Mennonite Conferences, some congregations did not fully follow either of the two approaches. Some of these congregations became associated and in 1910 met in an initial conference held in Pigeon, Michigan. They adopted the name Conservative Amish Mennonite Conference (“Amish” was dropped from the name in 1954). Changes that were accepted in 1910 or in the ensuing decades included the use of meeting houses, Sunday schools, protracted meetings, English-language services, and missionary endeavors.

The Conference’s statement of mission reads, “The Conservative Mennonite Conference exists to glorify God by equipping leaders and congregations for worship, teaching, fellowship, service, and making disciples by providing resources and conference structures with an evangelical, Anabaptist, and conservative theological orientation.”


In 2008 the Conference reported 11,073 members in 113 congregations. Congregations in the United States are located as far east as Delaware, as far west as California, south to Texas and Florida, and north to upstate New York and northwestern Ohio. The larger congregations are in Indiana and Ohio.

Educational Facilities

Rosedale Bible College, Irwin, Ohio.

Rosedale Mennonite Missions, Irwin, Ohio.


Conservative Mennonite Conference.

Miller, J. Ivan. History of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, 1910–1985. Grantsville, MD: Author, 1985.

Evangelical Mennonite Church

1633 N 29th St., Fort Dodge, IA 50501-7937

The Evangelical Mennonite Church was formed in 1866 out of a spiritual awakening among the Amish in Indiana, and was first known as the Egly Amish, after its founder, Bp. Henry Egly (1824–1890). A preacher in an Amish congregation in Berne, Indiana, Egly underwent a spiritual experience in 1864 and began to emphasize regeneration, separation, and nonconformity to the world. His willingness to rebaptize anyone who had been baptized without repentance created a split in his church, prompting him to gather together a new congregation in 1866. This congregation’s conference, which has met annually since 1895, united a number of other congregations of like mind. This group adopted the name Defenseless Mennonite Church in 1898, and became known as the Evangelical Mennonite Church in 1948.


In 2001 the church reported 5,278 members, 35 churches, and 81 active ministers in the local churches (out of a total of 137 ministers, including those in other types of work, missionaries, and the retired).


EMC Today.


Evangelical Mennonite Church.

Nussbaum, Stan. A History of the Evangelical Mennonite Church. Author, 1980.

Old Order Amish Mennonite Church

Pathway Publishers, Rte. 4, Aylmer, ON, Canada N5H 2R3

The Old Order Amish Mennonite Church is, in practice, the continuation of the original Amish who settled in America. They are strictly conservative and may be identified by their horse-and-buggy culture. The men must grow beards, but moustaches are forbidden. The plain dark blue, gray, brown, or black suit for men and bonnet and apron for women are uniforms. Buttons are used on men’s shirts and pants, but none are allowed on suit coats, vests, or coats. Marriage with nonAmish persons is forbidden.

The society is a rural community in which church life and everyday life are not separated. Symbolic of their life are the Amish barn raisings in which the congregation gathers to build a member’s barn, usually in several days. Worship is held in the homes of the members every other Sunday on a rotating basis. During the three-hour service, the congregation is divided according to gender and marital status.

Schooling beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic is frowned upon within the church, and, prior to a Supreme Court ruling in 1972, trouble with various state governments (such as Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio) became a major cause of immigration to more lenient states (such as Missouri). Ministers are chosen by lot from a nominated few. Because this is not a missionary church, new members generally come into the community from the children of members. In the last generation there have been converts, some highly educated, and recent studies have shown that approximately 8 percent of the present membership is made up of descendents of such converts.


Not reported. In 2002 there were approximately 60,000 members in the United States and 900 in Canada. No statistics are kept. The total Amish population is estimated at 200,000, but only adults are baptized and considered full church members.


The Diary • Die Botschaft • The Budget • Herald der Wahrheit • Blackboard Bulletin • Family Life • Young Companion


Amish Life in a Changing World. York, PA: York Graphic Services, 1978.

Browning, Clyde. Amish in Illinois: Over 100 Years of the “Old Order” Sect of Central Illinois. Decatur, IL: Author, 1971.

Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968.

Kraybill, Donald B., and Carl F. Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Rice, Charles S., and Rollin C. Steinmetz. The Amish Year. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1956.

Schreiber, William I. Our Amish Neighbors. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962.


views updated Jun 08 2018


The Amish branched off from the Mennonites in Europe in the 1690s under the leadership of Jacob Ammann, who emphasized the shunning (ostracizing) of persons who had been expelled from the church. They came to America primarily in two waves, from 1727 to 1770 and from 1815 to 1860, as part of a larger mass immigration of Germans, settling on farms west and northwest of Philadelphia. As the Amish population has grown, shortages of local farmland have propelled migrations to Indiana, Ohio, and other states. Differences over theological and lifestyle issues have also caused some groups to split away from their cobelievers and move to new areas.

Specific beliefs and practices vary in different localities, but generally the Amish adhere to the Anabaptist tradition forged in Europe in the early 1500s. They are best known to the larger public for their "plain" dress, largely unchanged for three centuries, and their rejection of modern technology (including, usually, motor vehicles and household electricity). Intent on preserving their culture, they speak an unusual German dialect, operate private schools for their children, and avoid excessive contact with the non-Amish, whom they call "the English." Occasionally they come into conflict with secular authority, especially over issues of compulsory education and military service (like other Anabaptists, the Amish are pacifists). In recent decades they have become, in their quaintness, a tourist attraction, and Amish settlements are often thronged with sightseers whose presence is not sought but cannot be prevented.

Differences over lifestyle issues, particularly, have spurred the fragmentation of the Amish into many subgroups, a process further propelled by the fact that local Amish congregations are self-governing and independent. The most traditional are the Old Order Amish, who travel by horse and buggy, farm with horse-drawn equipment, and do not use electricity. A continuum of more liberal groups also exists, including the Beachy Amish and the New Order Amish, both of whom allow for the use of motor vehicles, among other things.

Amish "districts," as local congregations are called, tend to be small—about twenty-five to thirty-five families. Most do not build church buildings, preferring to meet in homes, and none has professional clergy or Sunday schools. Modernization and social change do creep in, but at an exceedingly slow pace. The strong cohesion of the Amish is maintained by family ties, cultural heritage, and the Ordnung, the detailed system of regulations governing daily life. One who seriously violates the Ordnung is shunned, cut off from the social and religious life of the community (the process is called Meidung), until he or she publicly repents.

Conversion to Amish life is rare, and Amish population growth is due almost exclusively to the prevalence of large families (the average Amish family has seven children) and an ability to retain a strong majority of grown children in the movement, despite the attractions of modern secular life. By the 1990s their numbers had reached more than 125,000, including children.

Young Amish adults who have not yet joined the church often participate in "worldly" activities, in some cases owning cars and engaging in various youthful excesses, including, sometimes, heavy drinking and drug use. However, by their early twenties most submit to church authority, marry, and carry Amish traditions forward into a new generation.

See alsoBruderhof; Mennonites; Pacifism; Shunning.


Hostetler, John A. AmishSociety. 1980.

Kraybill, Donald B., ed. TheAmish Strugglewith Modernity. 1994.

Timothy Miller


views updated May 14 2018

Amish Highly conservative Protestant sect of North America, whose members form an offshoot of the Anabaptist and Mennonite Church. The strict Old Order Amish Mennonite Church, to which most sect members belong, was founded (1693) in Switzerland by Jakob Ammann (c.1645– c.1730). In 1720 the Amish began migrating to North America, and they eventually died out in Europe. In the USA and Canada, they established small closed agricultural communities. After 1850, tensions between traditionalist ‘old order’ Amish and more liberal ‘new order’ communities split the sect. Today, a few groups of traditionalist Amish still work the land, practice non-cooperation with the state, wear plain, homemade clothes and shun modern conveniences such as telephones and cars.


views updated May 11 2018

Amish. A group of strict Mennonites now settled mainly in the eastern USA, particularly in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The sect originated at the end of the 17th cent. with Jacob Ammann (c.1644–c.1725), a Swiss minister who insisted on strict discipline, including avoidance of those under the ban of excommunication, even within the family. Members of the sect began to emigrate to N. America soon after 1700. They now number about 130,000.

The ‘Old Order’ Amish separate themselves from the society around them by retaining the dress and customs of that early period. There is no missionary activity, and marriage is always within the Amish community; the growth or maintenance of their numbers is due to the large size of families. Some other Amish groups, in various ways more liberal, have separated from the Old Order Amish.


views updated Jun 27 2018

A·mish / ˈämish/ • pl. n. the members of a strict Mennonite sect that established major settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere in North America from 1720 onward.• adj. of or relating to this sect.


views updated May 23 2018

Amish the members of a strict Mennonite sect noted for maintaining their traditional culture. The sect was founded by a Swiss preacher, Jakob Amman (or Amen) (c.1645–c.1730), in the 1690s, and beginning in c.1720, the Amish migrated to North America and established major settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere.