Text About the Amish Introduction
The Amish, also called “The Plain People” or Old Order Amish, are a group of about 100,000 people who find their heritage in the Protestant Reformation. They are Anabaptist (a term which means re-baptizer), a movement that also includes Mennonites, Brethren, and others. The Anabaptist are considered radicals during the Reformation and were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants.
Today, they are known as “the quite in the land” There lives emphasize simplicity, humility, community, family and separation from the world.
The Amish continue to believe in many of the conclusions of the 16th Century Anabaptist, including the concepts of individual freedom and the priesthood of all believers. They reject infant baptism and instead baptize adults upon a confession of faith. They also believe in a separation of church and state and practice pacifism. Their worship services are in homes rather than a church building.
The Amish originated in 1693 when a Swiss bishop named Jacob Amman and his followers broke from the Mennonite Church. Amman had been an elder or bishop among the Swiss Brethren (Mennonite). He was an able man with a strong sense of right and wrong, but he always seemed to take the stricter side where there was difference of opinion over doctrine. Amman advocated a strong view on shunning (or the ban, which is a disassociation, a form of discipline).
When a leader in the community, Hans Reist, stood up to Amman to challenge his views, a sharp division took place within the brotherhood. The Reist followers were later nicknamed Knopfier (those having buttons on their coats), while the followers of Amish, and later also Haftier (those using hooks and eyes instead of buttons).
The Amish, like the Mennonites, were persecuted for their faith throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Europe. Many were tortured and killed. Because of this, the Amish were a quite people and constantly on the move.
Amish settlers began to immigrate to William Penn’s “holy experiment “of religion tolerance in the New World to escape religious persecution as early as 1720. More came to Pennsylvania in the years that followed, but no congregation was organized until 1749, when an ordained bishop named Jacob Hertzler came from Switzerland to lead the new settlers.
Waves of Amish emigrating from Europe continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They settled in Lancaster County (PA), Holmes County (OH), and Northern Indiana and in smaller communities in Michigan, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Ontario. Today they live in over 20 States and Ontario, but the largest communities remain to be Lancaster County, Holmes County, and Northern Indiana.
The fascination that many people (including sociologists) have with the Amish culture and lifestyle sometimes dwarfs the simple fact that the Amish are Christian. It is this simple faith that compels them to the lifestyles they choose and provides them with hope in their salvation.
The Amish believe that at its core. Faith and life are not complex. As the world around them hurries by with cell phones and PDA’s in a rush to make to make the next sale or run the kids off to soccer games, the Amish find freedom for the mind and soul in their adherence to simplicity.
While the early Anabaptist were concerned with the individual freedom of each believer, they also believed that it was important that the believer was solidly rooted in the community of faith. The Amish believe that faith finds expression in the way one treats one’s neighbors, service and mutual accountability.
The Amish believe that Jesus set an example in putting others before himself to the extent that he denied his own selfish desires. The Amish model this attitude and lifestyle.
The Amish take very seriously (and literally) the words of Jesus. So as Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies and not resist an evil person, the Amish take him at his word. During the Reformation, many Anabaptists went willingly to their graves, praying for their persecutors right up until the end. Along with pacifism come other beliefs that follow the literal words of Jesus, such as an admonition not to swear oaths.
The Amish believe that the Church was founded to bear witness to the world, but that the followers of Jesus are called to be separate from the world. Their non-conformity is obvious in their attire, lifestyle, and more. It is more than a cultural dynamic; it is an expression of faith.
Acceptable occupation in the Amish community is ones that emphasize community, do not require higher education, and avoid the use of technology and modern conveniences. In the past, most Amish were farmers. While many continue to farm, large tracks of land have become more difficult to acquire, and many Amish are turning to other acceptable occupations, which include many trades and small businesses.
Amish women and girls wear modest one-color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt. They wear a cape or an apron over the dress and fasten everything with pins or snaps. They do not cut their hair, which they wear up in a bun. They do not wear jewelry or makeup.
Men and boys wear trousers with suspenders, solid-colored shirts, and suites or coats of one color. They fasten their coats with hooks. They wear black or straw hats. Amish men do not grow mustaches, but wear beards after they are married.
The Amish do not force formal education. Amish children traditionally attend school through the 8th grade, they attend one room schoolhouses with a single teacher, and some attend public schools. They learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Higher education is considered unnecessary and something that can lead one away from a life of simplicity and humility. However, the Amish know the importance of informal education, and many boys and girls learn the mechanics of farm life at a young age. Many sects vary from this “old school” philosophy and allow further education.
The Amish avoid modern conveniences as an expression of their ideals of simplicity and separation from the world. They do not use cars, telephones, radios, or computers. Most of the Old Order Amish do not use electricity. There are variations from community to community, but the majority of the Amish are technologically in the 18th century, and willingly so.
Most Amish speak three languages; Pennsylvania Dutch at home or when speaking with other Amish, High German in worship, and English at school and when they are speaking with anyone who is not Amish.
Worship Amish worship services are held every other Sunday morning. They are held in homes, often are held in barns or shops and conducted in High German language. Singing is slow. Normally hymns are sung from the Ausbund of 1564 tone of the oldest Protestant hymnals. Worship services often last four hours or more.