Amish churches are a reform group founded under the leadership of a Swiss Mennonite bishop, Jacob Amman, who withdrew from the Mennonite fellowship in 1693, accusing his fellow mennonites of laxity in doctrine and practice. In particular he advocated the strict enforcement of "shunning" excommunicated persons. Following this practice, the Amish avoid all social interaction with such persons, even if they are members of their own family.
Amish immigrants began arriving in America in 1720. They settled in Pennsylvania and later in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, and Canada. They were popularly known as the "hooks and eyes" Mennonites because they oppose the use of buttons. The Old Order Amish refuse to use such inventions as electricity, telephones, radio and television, and automobiles. They wear plain black clothing, drive horse-drawn buggies, insist on marriage within the sect, oppose participation in war, and try to educate their children in their own schools up to the eighth grade. The men cut their hair in a bob and let their beards grow; the women wear capes and bonnets. Amish farmers attempt to preserve their Swiss-German culture and continue to speak their own "Pennsylvania Dutch" dialect.
The Old Order Amish Mennonite Church was organized in 1865. Church government is of the congregational type, and there are three grades of clergy: Voll Diener (bishop), Diener zum Buch (preacher), and Armen Diener (deacon), all of whom are chosen by lot. Biweekly morning services of worship are held, including hymns, sermons, scriptural reading, testimonies, liturgical prayers, and benediction. During the benediction, everyone genuflects when the name of Jesus Christ is mentioned. Afternoon
meetings are scheduled only on the days when the Lord's Supper is celebrated; then the service is in two parts—before and after dinner. The Old Order Amish worship in private homes, subscribe to the Confession of Dortrecht (1632), prescribe strict shunning of backsliders, and try to remain free from the secular community.
Over a period of years some Amish separated from the Old Order Amish and formed the Conservative Mennonite Conference. They held their first conference at Pigeon, Mich., in 1910. These Amish introduced meetinghouses, Sunday schools, and the use of English in worship. They use modern conveniences and cooperate with the larger Mennonite Church.
A smaller group of Amish who also left the parent body formed the Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches. This schism originated in Somerset County, Pa., in 1927 and was led by Bp. Moses M. Beachy. The Beachy Amish have abandoned restrictions against modern inventions and offer a mitigated discipline.
Bibliography: j. a. hostetler, Amish Society (Baltimore, Md. 1963). c. g. bachman, The Old Order Amish of Lancaster County (Lancaster, Pa. 1961). The Mennonite Encyclopedia, ed. h. s. bender and c. h. smith, 4 v. (Scottdale, Pa. 1955–60). d. b. kraybill and m. a. olshan, eds., The Amish Struggle with Modernity (Hanover, N.H. 1994).
[w. j. whalen]