Not Mine, But Ours

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Not Mine, But Ours

Magazine article

By: Elmo Stoll

Date: November 1977

Source: Stoll, Elmo. "Not Mine, But Ours." Family Life Magazine (November 1977).

About the Author: Elmo Stoll was the pastor and founder of the Christian Community in Tennessee. An Old Order Amish by birth from Ontario, Canada, Stoll created an intentional Christian community that brought together people from different Christian denominations to work together as a diverse community in the 1970s, opening Anabaptist communities to outsiders.


The Old Order Amish originated in Switzerland during the 1520s. Believing in the separation of church and state, and rejecting infant baptism, the Amish—also known as Anabaptists—were considered heretics in the sixtenth century. Called the "Plain People" or "Amish" in the United States, they trace their origins in the U.S. to William Penn, who provided the Amish with a safe haven in Penn's Woods, or what came to be known as Pennsylvania. More than eighty percent of all Amish are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, though they have established communities in nineteen states and in Canada and parts of Central America.

The word "Amish" comes from Jacob Amman, a Bishop within the Anabaptist church who promoted the basic tenets of Old Order Amish life: plain clothing, non-violence, rejection of technology and higher education, and a focus on the Bible as a guide for daily life.

Numbering more than 80,000 worldwide, the Amish have steadily come into conflict with modern society. As compulsory education laws were passed in the U.S. between the 1850s and 1920s and high school attendance became mandatory for all children through the age of sixteen in most states, the Amish tradition of stopping education at eighth grade to focus on the community and to build a nuclear family of one's own clashed with public policy. Amish people do not vaccinate their children and reject some aspects of modern medicine, leading to clashes with public health officials and mandatory vaccination laws for school entry. In addition, the Amish reject all electricity, telephones, cars, and airplane travel; communities rarely number more than two hundred; and members who choose to break rules are banished or shunned.

In 1990, Elmo Stoll, then in his mid-40s, broke away from the Old Order Amish community in Ontario and developed a new vision for diverse Christians to live together. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Stoll was a frequent contributor to Family Life, one of the rare magazines for "plain people." In this essay, written thirteen years before Stoll broke with his church, he articulates a concern for the changes in modern American family life.


Somehow the family should be such a close-knit unit that sharing is the most natural thing in the world. Sharing cannot be difficult where there is a strong feeling of love and appreciation for each other. Learning to share our toys and childhood belongings should be the foundation for easy sharing on a wider scale in the adult world.

However, families are not only for sharing material possessions. More important yet is the sharing of feelings, of problems, and of joys. In the shelter of the home, we should be able to discuss with frankness our hopes and disappointments, knowing that we are speaking to those we can trust.

Another thing that should be shared within the family is work. No home is without work, and it is fortunate that this is so. Any child who doesn't grow up helping with dishes, or doing chores, or running errands—has been cheated out of a good start in life. The family should be the place to learn to work cheerfully and well, even eagerly. Work should be shared by everyone willingly chipping in, and not by a legalistic insistence that each does an earmarked portion.

A happy family life requires giving of ourselves. We must learn to sacrifice, learn to give up our will for the other.

Some families are just so many individuals with the same last name, living in the same house. They seem to lead separate lives, go their own ways, each independent of the other. If you ask where another member of the family is, they rarely know. Apparently, they don't know where the rest of the family is, or what they are doing. Each is busy living their own life. They lack the essential elements of a joyful family life—love, togetherness, loyalty, sharing.

These sad little groups of lonely individuals are not families at all. They are failures. They are missing out on one of the greatest challenges on this earth—building a meaningful family relationship where work, possessions, and even feelings can be shared in love and trust.


Stoll's critique of the modern family in the late 1970s became even more relevant as technologies such as email, the Internet, cell phones, and other personal devices helped to separate people from community and from social dependence in real life, rather than virtual life online. Social forces affecting the family in 1977 included the dramatic increase in mothers entering the workforce, divorce rates that were on the rise, increased crime rates, and juvenile delinquency and teenage pregnancy rates that painted a picture of families in crisis.

While stereotypes of Amish life include the belief that the plain people reinforce a repressive culture that forces children into the flock, in fact all adolescent Amish boys and girls experience rumspringa, a term that translates roughly as "running around." During rumspringa the Amish teenager has an opportunity to experience worldly life; many choose to smoke, drink alcohol, or use street drugs, and use modern technology such as cars, telephones, and computers. In Amish life the children are granted a time to experiment, and then to decide whether to be baptized as full adults and to remain a part of their community by choice, not coercion. Eighty-five to ninety percent of all Amish teens return to their communities after rumspringa; the foundations of community and cooperation are most often cited as reasons for this choice. Stoll, in his article, champions this connection and points to the lack of such meaning and cooperation in worldly families.

Stoll sought to create a community that would welcome non-Anabaptists into a slower, community-rich life that could bridge the Amish tradition and the more worldly life, to blend both into a diverse community of Christians living together with similar goals. The Christian Communities started with the Cookville, Tennessee project, which incorporated Old Order Amish, German Anabaptists, and Mennonites, as well as "seekers," those who were not from plain people background but sought that life. In time, four more communities developed, all between 1990 and 1998; Stoll died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of fifty-four. By 2004, the five communities had disbanded to be absorbed by nearby plain people communities.

As technology increased at a rapid pace, online chat rooms, message boards, and networking websites gave people the tools to connect virtually. While families are pulled in more directions physically between school, work, sports, and other responsibilities, Stoll's commentary and vision speaks to a different option, one that 80,000 people have been living for nearly five centuries.



Hostetler, John A. Amish Society. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Schactman, Tom. Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish. New York: North Point Press, 2006.

Stoll, Elmo. The Midnight Test. Aylmer, Ontario: Pathway Publishers, 1990.

Stoll, James, David Luthy, and Elmo Stoll. Seeking True Values. Aylmer, Ontario: Pathway Publishers, 1968.