History Of The Amish In The Area

The Amish in America are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships, closely related to but distinct from Mennonite churches, with which they share common Swiss Anabaptist origins dating back to the sixteenth-century. These Anabaptist Christians challenged the reforms of Martin Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation, rejecting infant baptism in favor of baptism (or re-baptism) as believing adults. They also taught separation of church and state, something unheard of in the 16th century. A large group of Anabaptists fled to Switzerland and other remote areas of Europe to escape religious persecution.

The Amish movement was founded by Jacob Amman (1644 – 1720), from whom their name is derived. In many ways, it started as a reform group within the Mennonite movement – an attempt to restore some of the early practices of the Mennonites. In 1693, a group of devout individuals led by Jakob Amman broke away from the Swiss Mennonites, primarily over the lack of strict enforcement of Meidung, or shunning – excommunication of disobedient or negligent members. They also differed over other matters such as foot washing and the lack of rigid regulation of costume. This group became known as the Amish and to this day still share most of the same beliefs as their Mennonite cousins. The distinction between the Amish and Mennonites is largely one of dress and manner of worship.


Amish Settlements in America

The first Amish immigrants for whom records are available – the Detweiler and Sieber families settled in Berks County, PA in 1736. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in America in the late 1730s, an outcome of William Penn’s ‘holy experiment’ in religious tolerance. The Pennsylvania Amish are not the largest group of U.S. Amish as is frequently thought. Ohio has the largest population (55,000), followed by Pennsylvania (51,000) and Indiana (38,000). The Amish have settled in as many as 24 states, Canada, and Central America, though about 80 percent are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. The greatest concentration of Amish is in Holmes County, Ohio with Geauga County second. Next in size is a group of Amish people in Elkhart and surrounding counties in northeastern Indiana. Then comes the Amish settlement in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish population in the U.S. numbers more than 150,000 and growing, due to large family size (seven children on average) and a church member retention rate of approximately 80 percent.

Amish Orders

By some estimates, there are as many as eight different orders within the Amish population, with the majority affiliated with one of five religious orders – Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Andy Weaver Amish, Beachy Amish and Swartzentruber Amish. These churches operate independently from each other with differences in how they practice their religion and conduct their daily lives. The Old Order Amish are the largest group and the Swartzentruber Amish, an offshoot of the Old Order, are the most conservative.

The Amish have an unwritten code of conduct called the Ordnung (German, eaning: order), which outlines the basics of the Amish faith and helps to define what it means to be Amish. The Ordnung stresses the virtues of humility, obedience, and simplicity. For an Amish person, the Ordnung may dictate almost every aspect of one’s lifestyle, from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques. The Ordnung varies from community to community and, within a community, from district to district, and order-to-order, which explains why you will see some Amish riding in automobiles, while others don’t even accept the use of battery-powered lights. When a member of the community violates the Ordnung, they risk being shunned by their family and community.

Amish Dress

The highly distinctive Amish way of dressing is intended to set the Amish people apart from the rest of the world. The simple, humble clothing displays obedience to the church and conformity to this separatist religious community. The Amish dress in a very simple style, avoiding all but the most basic ornamentation. Clothing is made at home of plain fabrics and is primarily dark in color.

Amish men in general wear straight-cut suits and coats without collars, lapels or pockets. Trousers never have creases or cuffs and are worn with suspenders. Belts are forbidden, as are neckties. The Amish fashion styles are simple and meant to be functional. Clothing is made at home of plain fabrics and is primarily dark in color, including shades of purple, blue, wine, brown, gray and black. Lighter colors are used for younger children and summer shirts and dresses for adults in some groups.

Women and girls wear longer-style dresses that are at least calf length, that are a variety of solid colors depending on the individual community, but are always covered with black or white aprons. Amish women never cut their hair. The hair of Amish women and girls must always be covered in public. Women wear white prayer caps, usually made of organza and stiffened with starch. In some communities, the caps are constructed of softer fabric, held on by strings tied under the chin. Married women wear dark bonnets over the prayer caps, but in some communities, the outer bonnet is worn only in cold weather.

The Ordnung of the specific Amish order may dictate matters of dress as explicit as the length of a skirt or the width of a seam. In most orders men’s shirts fasten with traditional buttons, while suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. Young men are clean-shaven prior to marriage, while married men are required to let their beards grow. Mustaches are forbidden. Amish women typically wear solid-color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, covered with a cape and an apron. They never cut their hair, and wear it in a braid or bun on the back of the head concealed with a small white cap or black bonnet. Clothing is fastened with straight pins or snaps, stockings are black cotton and shoes are also black. Amish women are not permitted to wear patterned clothing or jewelry.

Technology and the Amish

Technology is generally where you will see the greatest differences between Amish orders. The Swartzentruber and Andy Weaver Amish are ultraconservative in their use of technology. Old Order Amish have little use for modern technology, but are allowed to ride in motorized vehicles. The New Order Amish permit the use of electricity, ownership of automobiles, modern farming machines, and telephones in the home. Geauga County’s Community is Old Order Amish.

The Amish are averse to any technology, which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, and telephones are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted in most orders.

Most Amish cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery, live in houses without electricity, and get around in horse-drawn buggies. It is common for Amish communities to allow the use of telephones, but not in the home. Instead, several Amish families will share a telephone in a wooden shanty between farms. Electricity is sometimes used in certain situations, such as electric fences for cattle, flashing electric lights on buggies, and heating homes. Windmills are often used as a source of naturally generated electric power in such instances. It is also not unusual to see Amish using such 20th-century technologies as in-line skates, disposable diapers and gas barbecue grills, because the Ordnung does not specifically prohibit them.

Amish Schools and Education

One-room Amish schools are private institutions, operated by Amish parents. Schooling concentrates on the basic reading, writing, math and geography, along with vocational training and socialization in Amish history and values. The Amish believe strongly in education, but only provide formal education through the eighth grade. The Amish are exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond the eighth grade based on religious principles, the result of a1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Education is also a big part of home life, with farming and homemaking skills considered an important part of an Amish child’s upbringing.

Amish Family Life

The family is the most important social unit in the Amish culture. Large families with seven to 10 children are common. Chores are clearly divided by sexual role in the Amish home – the man usually works on the farm, while the wife does the washing, cleaning, cooking, and other household chores. There are exceptions, but typically the father is considered the head of the Amish household. German is spoken in the home, though English is also taught in school. Amish marry Amish – no intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare.

Because of their religious beliefs, Amish try to separate themselves from “outsiders,” in an effort to avoid temptations and sin. They choose, instead, to rely on themselves and the other members of their local Amish community. Because of this self-reliance, Amish don’t draw Social Security or accept other forms of government assistance. Their avoidance of violence in all forms means they also don’t serve in the military.

A bishop, two ministers, and a deacon serve each Amish congregation — all male. There is no central Amish church. Worship services are held in community members’ homes where walls are designed to be moved aside for large gatherings. The Amish feel that traditions bind generations together and provide an anchor to the past, a belief that dictates the way they hold church worship services, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Amish Baptism

The Amish practice adult baptism rather than infant baptism believing that only adults can make informed decisions about their own salvation and commitment to the church. “Rumspringa” has been widely publicized. A youth who is not yet baptized is not officially bound by church standards. Though many groups or families discourage “wild” behavior, there are Amish youth who go to extremes, just like their non-Amish counterparts. It is unfair to imply this is a common practice or approved of. There are many Amish youth who do not participate in “rumspringa” both because of parental or church standards and because of personal convictions.

Amish Weddings

Amish weddings are traditionally held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A couple’s engagement is usually kept secret until just a few weeks before the wedding when their intentions are “published” in church. The wedding usually take place at the home of the bride’s parents with a lengthy ceremony, followed by a huge feast for the invited guests. Amish weddings are simple, joyous events that involve the entire Amish community. The bride typically makes a new dress for the wedding, which will then serve as her “good” dress for formal occasions after the wedding.

Blue is the typical wedding dress color. Unlike most of today’s elaborate weddings, however, Amish weddings involve no makeup, rings, caterers or photography. Newlyweds typically spend the wedding night in the bride’s mother’s home so they can get up early the next day to help clean up the home.

Amish Shunning

An adult church member who chooses to leave the Amish church might be “shunned,” but this practice varies greatly from group to group. In most cases, the “shunned” person still remains in contact with friends and family and might still attend family functions and social occasions but might be served at a separate table or the family might choose to eat informally while seated in individual chairs. It is not known of a group that requires a shunned individual to sever all ties with family members and friends, though some individual families might react more strongly than others.

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