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Amish: Out of Order Facts

What You Probably Don't Know About the Amish

Photo: Amish horse and buggy

Photo: Amish horse and buggy (View larger version)

Photograph by National Geographic Channel

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Ways of the Amish

  • The Amish have an unwritten code of conduct called the Ordnung.

  • The Ordnung stresses the virtues of humility, obedience, and simplicity.

  • The Amish are strict pacifists and are strongly opposed to any form of violence.

  • Their chief tenet is, “Be ye not conformed to this world.”

  • The Amish, like all Anabaptists, believe in adult baptism, as opposed to baptizing babies who cannot choose for themselves.

  • When a member of the community violates the Ordnung, they risk being shunned by their family and community.

A Brief History

  • The name "Amish" comes from Jakob Ammann, an early Swiss Anabaptist whose controversial teachings caused a schism in the Mennonite church in Europe.

  • Ammann taught his followers to live non-resistant lives, care for the community, work the land, and follow the Bible literally. He believed strongly in the practice of excommunication.

  • The Amish began immigrating to North America in the early 1700s, first settling in Pennsylvania. There are now over 250,000 Amish people living in over 28 states.

  • After 1850, a schism developed between those who accepted elements of modernization, or the "new order," and the "old order," now referred to as the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church.

The Amish on Religion

  • The Amish are Christians. Adult baptism and a lack of evangelism set the Amish apart from present-day Christianity.

  • The Amish believe that each person must decide to be baptized on his or her own. Individuals generally decide to become baptized between 18 and 22 years old, after an 18-week instruction period, and are only then allowed to marry.

  • Their baptismal vows make them accountable to the Church for their lives. If they stray from the Church, they face shunning. However, if they leave the community before baptism, they will generally not be shunned because the Amish respect the voluntary decision to join the church.

  • Amish church services occur every other Sunday in members’ homes, not in an actual church building. Areas with large Amish populations are divided into church districts and each family typically hosts church about once every year.

  • It’s thought that Amish religious services have been held in private residences since the 1500s, when the Anabaptists were being severely persecuted. Holding services in public settings was too risky for the Amish so they moved their services to more discrete settings.

Unique Customs

  • The Amish have retained the custom of having faceless dolls, which appeal to their critical perspectives on pride and vanity.

  • Land, which is traditionally kept within families, is usually passed on to younger sons rather than to older sons, or daughters.

Rumspringa

  • When Amish children turn 16, they are encouraged to experiment and explore. For this limited time period, called Rumspringa, they are allowed to break the tenets of the Amish community.

  • For many Amish teens, Rumspringa is just a token venture: going to the local movie theater, or driving lessons.

The Amish on War

  • The Amish are pacifists and tradition dictates that they abstain from any acts of violence. They are also conscientious objectors, avoiding any involvement with the military.

The Amish on Photographs

  • The Amish do not have their picture taken because they believe that photographs are "graven images." Some don’t mind being photographed if their faces aren’t shown.

  • Although most Amish refuse to allow themselves to be photographed, some make a distinction between a photograph taken in a natural setting versus posing for one. These members of the Amish community don’t have a problem with being filmed or photographed as long as it is apparent they aren’t posing.

The Amish on Electricity

  • Electricity is considered "worldly," and connects the Amish to the outside world, so most communities forbid it. However, recently, some communities allow a phone to be shared amongst a few households. The phone is forbidden to be inside the home and is instead kept in a shack or barn outside of the home.

The Amish on Education

  • The Amish operate one-room parochial schools that are taught by teachers with an eighth-grade education.

  • Although Amish families stop sending their children to school after eighth grade, the society itself acts as a vocational school. Children learn how to be farmers, homemakers, carpenters, and tradesmen. By the time they are teens, Amish girls know how to cook a full meal and boys understand farm operations.

The Amish and the Law

  • The Amish believe in the separation of church and state.

  • The Amish prioritize the Word of God over the rule of the government.

  • One serious criticism of Amish groups has been for using internal church discipline to handle infractions that are in fact serious violations of the law. In 2009, Amish in Missouri drew criticism and faced charges for failing to report child abuse in their community. At the same time, not all Amish would take this approach, and many do report actual crimes when they occur.

The Amish on Music

  • Amish do not play musical instruments because it is viewed as a means of self-expression, which would garner feelings of pride and superiority.

  • Amish church songs derive from the Ausbund, the High German songbook, which has no musical notes. Tunes are passed on from generation to generation.

  • The Ausbund, first published in German in 1564, is among the most seminal books to the Amish. It is regarded to be the oldest Protestant hymnal in continuous use.

  • Ausbund songs invoke the martyrdom of their Anabaptist past, as many hymnals are said to have been written by men awaiting the death sentence during a time of intense persecution. Author Paul M. Yoder notes: "the dominant tone found in most of them is one of great sorrow, deep loneliness, or protest against the world of wickedness which was putting forth every effort to crush the righteous.”

The Amish on Marriage

  • The Amish are only allowed to marry once they are baptized.

  • There is no exchange of rings in an Amish marriage.

  • After a wedding, the groom begins to grow his beard.

  • An Amish engagement is generally kept secret within the family until it is announced in a Sunday church service by the community bishop, usually four to six weeks prior to the wedding. The announcement is called "publishing the engagement."

  • Once the engagement is made public, the engaged couple must personally hand-deliver wedding invitations to each potential guest.

  • For most rural Amish communities, weddings are seasonal and take place in the spring or fall when harvest is over.

  • It is Amish custom that the bride sews her own wedding dress.

  • Strict Amish communities require the wedding dress to be blue, but some allow the bride to choose her own color. Shades of blue and purple are the most common colors for Amish wedding dresses.

  • The bride's wedding outfit will become her Sunday church attire after she is married.

  • It is general practice that an Amish woman will be dressed in her wedding dress, cape, and apron once she dies.

  • Sometimes an Amish wedding celebration is used as an opportunity for matchmaking between teenagers who are over the age of 16 and are assigned specific seats before the evening meal in order to bring them closer together.

  • A newlywed couple's honeymoon is generally spent visiting all their relatives on the weekends. This is when they collect the majority of their wedding gifts.

The Amish on Medicine

  • Most Amish and Mennonite groups welcome the use of modern medicine, as nothing from the Bible explicitly restricts them from taking advantage of any modern medical services. The willingness to accept medical attention can vary greatly from family to family, however.

  • Since the Amish don’t have hospitalization insurance, they combine efforts and funding to cover medical expenses for any member of their community in need of financial assistance. Each community appoints a leader for their mutual aid fund.

The Amish on Transportation

  • Although the Amish are allowed to use automobiles for select social and business functions, the church rules prohibit members from owning or driving a car.

  • A motorized vehicle is considered "worldly" and a threat to the Amish community. Accessibility to cities and "English" lifestyles might tempt individuals to leave the community and abandon their faith.

  • A large part of the closeness and survival of Amish communities lies in the fact that members are mutually dependent upon each other. Neighbors helping neighbors has been a long-standing bedrock of the Amish lifestyle. Many worry that the practical benefits of speed, efficiency, and power of the automobile would eliminate the need for one neighbor seeking the assistance of another neighbor.

  • While they can’t own cars, the Amish readily accept rides and even hire drivers to chauffer them.

Amish Demographics

  • There are over 250,000 Amish people living in over 28 states.

  • About two-thirds of the Amish live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but they continue to spread west, particularly into the midwestern corn belt.

  • Every 20 years, the Amish population roughly doubles in size, largely due to an 80 to 90 percent retention rate of Amish children.

Amish Women

  • Amish women cannot serve as bishops, preachers, or deacons.

  • The standard for Amish women is to make family, church, and community needs a priority, even before their own needs. Accordingly, Amish women are responsible for managing the home, cooking, tending to clothing, and helping neighbors in need.

  • Amish women take on a fairly subservient role with respect to their husbands. In public, women traditionally heed their husband’s decisions.

Amish Fashion

  • Amish clothing is plain and humble, harmonious with their simple and separated lifestyle. Amish clothing is homemade from simple fabrics and most commonly in dark colors.

  • For men, straight-cut suits are void of collars, pockets, and ornamentation. Pants are void of pleats, cuffs and belt loops, as belts are not permitted.

  • Unmarried men remain clean-shaven. Married men are required to grow their beards out, but mustaches are not allowed.

  • Traditionally, Amish women wear long sleeves, full, solid-colored skirts, and aprons. Women wear their hair in a braid or bun covered by a small bonnet. They are not permitted to wear jewelry or patterned clothes.

  • Specific Amish communities might dictate the exact length of a skirt or width of a seam.

The Amish on Outsiders

  • The Amish, in general, are uncomfortable around non-Amish, or “English” people, although, as the Bible commands them, they are to be peaceful, meek, and different. They aim to co-exist peacefully with the outside world.

Joining the Amish Community

  • Although the Amish do not seek to convert outsiders, several dozen people have joined the Amish. Some of those converted have become well-respected members of the community.

  • A would-be convert is placed with an Amish family for a set amount of time to participate in daily activities and adapt to the household.

  • To join the Amish, one must learn the Pennsylvania German dialect. One must also learn to leave behind modern luxuries like televisions, appliances, cars, and contemporary clothing. Many of the rules particular to certain churches are extremely difficult for someone from the outside to adopt.

  • Even after moving in, attending church services, taking a job in the community, learning the language, and adhering to church practices, an outsider must still be voted in by the church.

Excommunication

  • Members who are excommunicated and shunned are avoided by active members in all social and business activities. However, the offenders are always welcomed back to the community if they repent.

  • Reasons for excommunication vary from owning an automobile to owning a computer; from drinking alcohol to the refusal to kneel during religious ceremonies.

  • Members who refuse to shun the offending individuals risk excommunication themselves. Life-long friends and family members are also required to shun the wayward individual. Even parents must shun their own grown children. It is felt that by avoiding the transgressing individual, the faithful won't become defiled by their sin. Usually, the excommunicated member drifts away from the church and the Amish community.

  • Amish practice shunning out of "tough love" in order to get a deviant person to see the error in his ways, change behavior, and re-affirm his commitment to the church.

  • In Old Order Amish communities, there are cases where young people who have left the Amish faith are shunned, despite the fact that they did not join the Amish church.

Leaving the Amish Community

  • Beginning in 2000, Mission to Amish People (MAP) has offered counsel to Amish individuals making an effort to integrate into "English" communities. Over the years they have developed services for the Amish and ex-Amish alike.

The Amish on Shopping

  • Although the Amish grow a large amount of the food they consume, they also purchase food and other products in places such as salvage stores, Amish-run dry good stores, and even large supermarkets like Wal-mart.

  • Most Amish communities have one dry goods store, that sells items like writing supplies, books, canning supplies, flashlights and candles. These stores are run by Amish or Mennonites and are usually in a small building on home property.

Barn Raising

  • Barn raisings are a cherished tradition in the Amish culture. They symbolize acts of selflessness and assisting one’s family, neighbors, and community.

  • Barn-raising has had a significant impact on the Lancaster Amish community—each barn increasing the prosperity of the surrounding area. It is also a social event that strengthens the community bond, and brings the community together in times of crisis—rebuilding after fires and various other disasters.
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