Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Amish Way of Life in Modern American Society


What do people think about when they hear the word Amish? Images of simple rural living free from the complexities of urban living probably most often come to mind. The Amish are thought to be traditional farmers preserving ancient practices of harvesting their crops and tilling the soil with horse-drawn implements in the way their ancestors have done for the last several centuries.
Perhaps the best known symbols of Amish life are the horse and buggy. The slow pace of horse-drawn transportation is in stark contrast to the fast life of the 21st century. But the Amish are not isolated from the modern world. Cars race past them even on back country roads, and they drive past the utility poles that carry electric and telephone lines to their neighbors. If they venture onto a major highway that cuts through their community, they face the danger of a constant flow of fast moving motor vehicles hurrying around them.
But the Amish do not try to completely separate themselves from the modern world. They are not able to be self-sustaining, so they must rely on income derived from other people. Signs invite outsiders to their farms where they are offered the products of their agricultural labors. They have also found that their craftwork is in demand, which brings in much needed cash when farming has been less profitable. While they do mingle with the people of the world, a distance is maintained by their traditional plain clothing.

2.1 Language

The everyday language of most Amish is a German dialect called Pennsylvania German, or misleadingly Pennsylvania Dutch (it is not the Dutch of Holland). It is referred to as Deitsch when speaking the dialect. A minority of Amish speak a Swiss dialect2). All Amish also speak English, but many have a strong German accent. The language of the literature of the church is High German. This includes the Bible, which is the regular Christian Bible, the song book, and the prayer book.
2.2 Faith
The basic beliefs of the Amish are very much the same in all communities and groups. All adhere to a statement of beliefs that was written in 1632 by Mennonites in the Netherlands. The Amish began as a separate religious group in 1693 in what are now Switzerland, Germany and Alsace in France. They were the followers of a Mennonite leader named Jakob Ammann, who felt that the Mennonites needed to make some reforms. The Mennonites began in 1525 in Switzerland and a few years later in the Netherlands. They got their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch leader. The Mennonites were at first called Anabaptists, which means re-baptizers. They believed that only adults should be baptized not babies, as was the practice of both the Catholics and Protestants.
The Mennonites and Amish take the Bible literally in many cases when other Christians do not. The main example of this is the teaching that Christians should not go to war and not seek to retaliate when wronged. They take the teachings of Jesus seriously when He said that we should love our enemies, and pray for those that persecute us that if someone strikes us we are not to strike back.
Dirk Willems was a man living in Holland in the 1500s. He became an Anabaptist, which was against the law, so he was arrested and put in jail. He was able to escape from jail and ran across a frozen lake. The jail keeper chased after Dirk, but because he was a heavier man, he fell through the ice. When Dirk heard his cries for help he ran back and helped the jailer get out of the water, but other people came and captured Dirk again and put him back in jail. Later, Dirk was burned at the stake. Rather than cause another person to die, Dirk gave up his own life. Many other Anabaptsts also died for their faith and were severely persecuted in other ways. This is why the Amish and Mennonites and related groups came to where they were given freedom of religion.
The Amish also strongly believe the Bible teaching that we are to forgive those who wrong us. This was made very evident recently when a non-Amish man in Lancaster went crazy and shot ten Amish school girls, killing five of them. The Amish immediately expressed love and forgiveness to the killer’s family and were some of the few whoshowed up at his funeral. This was perhaps more shocking to the world than the awful murders.
The Amish do not think of themselves as better than other people. They are very aware and admit that there are many faults and shortcomings among them. One time I traveled with a group of Amish, and when the others were in a store a woman approached me to express how much she appreciated the Amish and that they never do anything wrong. I told this to the men when they came back. One of the men, who was a minister said, “I hope you told them that’s not true.”

2.3 Church Services

The church is the most important part of an Amish person’s life. The Church is not a building to the Amish, but the congregation of Christian believers. The members of the church take turns having the services in their homes. The service lasts about three hours. Most of the people sit on backless benches. There is singing at the beginning and end from an ancient German book. The tunes are very slow and chant-like. There are no musical instruments. Bishops, ministers and deacons are chosen from the congregation and do not receive pay or training. There is a fellowship meal after every church service. In addition to regular church services, weddings and funerals are also held in the homes. The form of worship has changed the least of all aspects of Amish life, and the practices among the various communities and groups of Amish are fairly uniform.
These are usually one-room schools with an average of 15 to 40 students. There is usually only one teacher who is most often a young woman; she may have helpers, however. The language of instruction is English, but there are German language classes.

2.5 Dress

There are many differences among the Amish, but they also agree on many issues. All Amish feel that it is very important to wear plain, modest clothing. They believe it is taught in the Bible that Christians should look different than other people since they are not part of any earthly kingdom but belong to God’s heavenly kingdom. Amish clothing is like a uniform that identifies who they are to each other and tells other people who they are. They take the Bible literally when it says that women should cover their heads and not cut their hair. Adult Amish men wear beards. Women do not wear trousers.

2.6 The Barn Raising: Helping Each Other, Helping Others

The Amish believe strongly that they should help each other. When a person or family suffers loss, the other church members come to their aid. The best example of this is the barn raising. If an Amish barn burns down, very soon after the fire many Amish people come and build a new barn in just a few days. They do not charge for their work. Even

The Amish also help other people when there is a great need. The Amish, as well as other related groups, help in the work of several organizations which aid the victims of natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes3).

In Memory of Steve Scott
Stephen E. Scott, Research and Administrative Associate at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, died unexpectedly on December 28, 2011. His funeral was held on January 2, 2012.
Steve was born on April 12, 1948, in Portsmouth, Ohio, and
grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio. He attended Cedarville College
and Wright State University in Ohio. His religious convictions
led him to become a pacifist and he did alternative service at Lancaster Mennonite School starting in 1969. While living in Lancaster County, Steve joined the Old Order River Brethren and eventually met and married his wife of 38 years, Harriet (Sauder) Scott. They have three adult children, Andrew, married to Emily (Wenger) Scott, Hannah Scott, and Catharine Scott, and four grandchildren, Heidi, Wanita, Liliana, and Isaac Scott, all of Lancaster County.
Early in life, Steve developed a curiosity about various cultures, especially Native American peoples. He also had a strong interest in history. These early interests led to his lifelong study and interpretation of plain churches. Steve conducted wide-ranging, detailed research on the distinctive traits of plain groups, including their dress, modes of transportation, family life, schooling, music, and rituals. His interests led him to develop close personal friendships with members of many of these groups across North America.
After working for Good Enterprises in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, for twelve years, Steve was hired at the Young Center in early 1997, where he worked until his death. Steve was instrumental in broadening and deepening the Young Center’s research on Anabaptist and Pietist churches, especially plain groups. His publications include Plain Buggies (1981), Why Do They Dress That Way? (1986), The Amish Wedding and Other Special Occasions of the Old Order Communities (1988), Living Without Electricity (1990), Amish Houses and Barns (1992), and An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups (1996), as well as entries in reference books and articles in periodicals.
Steve contributed significantly to recent books by Donald B. Kraybill, including Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites (2010) and a current project on the Amish in America. Steve’s ability to track and retain minute details built a renowned reputation for the Young Center’s annual update on Amish migration and population growth in North America. He was an invaluable guide to researchers from around the world, from high school students to senior professors, who visited the Young Center to study Anabaptist or Pietist groups. Steve was also a popular speaker in many venues and was invited to Japan in 2009 to give presentations about the Amish.
Steve’s deep faith and care for people revealed his gift for humor and his humble attitude in relating to others. His depth and breadth of knowledge were sometimes underestimated because of his personal humility. He will be remembered both for his contributions to scholarship and for his friendships.