Somehow, I seem to have forgotten to mention that my husband, Brian, was born into an Amish family and was raised as such until he was six years old. His family’s story of leaving the Amish and adapting to the English way of life is quite amazing, and is really, nothing short of miraculous (Marrying into an Amish familie). But let me first, give you some background on the Amish way of life. Living near Homes County, Ohio with ex-Amish in-laws and many good friends who have come out of the Amish way of life, I talked with them in-depth, have heard many stories and opinions from them, and have conducted my own research. I have noticed that there are lots of misconceptions surrounding the Amish faith, and so many questions, so let me try to clarify some facts here:
The Amish take Paul very literally when he says “Be ‘in’ the world, but not ‘of’ the world.” They believe that the world (mainly society) is evil and corrupted, which is why Paul said to keep ourselves separate from it. Today’s English Christians simply take this to mean that we should not be involved in the things of the world: it’s wrong for us to become drunkards, to cheat, steal, and swindle; it’s wrong for us to have casual sex or sex outside of the covenant of marriage, and generally speaking, it is wrong for us to do anything against the Ten Commandments or the Bible. The Amish also believe these principles, but take it a bit further to interpret it as: cars and similar vehicles are of the world, so they drive horse-and-buggy instead; electricity is of the world and the wires are connected to the outside world, so they operate on kerosene and gasoline; clothes such as jeans are of the world, so they hand-make their own dresses and trousers (in unpatterned, pastel colors only.) The Amish believe that since they are set apart from the world, their way is the only real way to heaven, which is why it is so detrimental to them when members of their family or community leave because the person “turned their back on God,” wandered off the straight and narrow path, and are headed straight to hell.
The Amish also take 1 Corinthians 11:5 very literally when Paul says that a woman should always have her head covered when she prays – which is why Amish women always wear a white kapp. While in Corinth, this was probably the case 1,960-some years ago in that culture, but today’s English Christians understand this passage to mean that a woman should always have a “‘spiritual’ covering over her” which, as a girl, is her father and as a married woman, her husband, who are the head/spiritual leaders of their home. If the woman never marries, however, then her spiritual covering or leader, should be her pastor. Again, the Amish are very literal and take the covering to mean a starched cloth/mesh kapp covering their physical head.
Genesis 1:28 is taken very seriously too when it comes to “being fruitful and multiplying, filling the earth and governing it.” My mother-in-law is one of ten Amish children, with the average per household being six to nine children. Birth control is not typically permitted because only God can decide how many children you should have, however, in some drastic and unusual cases (the mother is on the brink of a mental breakdown, she has several sick and needy children, she is not healthy, etc.) it is allowed.
Each community is different, and not all communities get along. In Ohio alone, there are dozens and dozens of different “types” of Amish – meaning that their beliefs and dress-codes vary slightly in each community. The style of dating varies in each community; some teenagers date frivolously for fun, while others date strictly with only the intention of marriage. Often, each community has a different style of buggy too – slight variations that are noticable only to a very trained eye. Some communities only allow orange triangles on the back to warn approaching cars – other do not permit triangles. Some allow battery-operated lanterns or flashing lights, others do not permit any such things. Some allow sliding doors on the buggy, while others only allow a tarp-like “door” to be rolled down over the opening. Some communities require that their buggies be completely black, while others want them gray, and still others desire a mix of both. A few even ask that their members add yellow tape to the bumpers of their buggies. Some communities are so strict they must use open carts and wagons – others are far less strict, as Brian’s cousin just bought a buggy with heating, air conditioning, and windshield wipers in it! Overall, there are about ninety different types of vehicles used by the Amish today. (amishbuggy.tripod.com)
I had the opportunity to attend an Amish wedding of one of Brian’s cousins and it was not what I had expected. Just like in an Amish church service, everyone assembles in the morning (about nine o’clock am) and the men and boys sit on one side of the room facing inward, while the women and girls side on the other, facing the men. The bishop stands at the front of the room, between the two sides. The children are expected to sit quietly for the duration of the three-or-so hour-long service. At the wedding, they begin with singing. The German hymns last for nearly ninety minutes. The bishop then delivers a sermon on marriage from the Bible. The bride and groom enter, along with her three female witnesses and his three male witnesses. They say their vows (about three sentences in German) before sitting down and singing for another hour. The ceremony lasts roughly three and a half hours. The best part of a wedding is the feast served afterwards – prepared by the aunts and served by the cousins, second and third servings are offered as guests try not to explode. If you have never tasted Amish food, you are sorely missing out! When the meal is finished, dessert is served, then the younger kids play volleyball, the aunts clean up and prepare the next meal (supper), the newly-weds mingle, and the guests linger and chat. The happy couple open their gifts before another feast is served by the cousins at five o’clock.
Every Amish teenager, between the ages of sixteen and eighteen is allowed a period of “freedom” called the “rumspringa” which literally translates to mean “free-time.” During the rumspringa, the kids are allowed to do as they please and experiment in the “outside world.” The girls may wear jeans, let their hair down, buy a cell phone, etc. The boys can buy a car, play a musical instrument, etc. While this is meant to help the children find their identity, it also proves to be very dangerous. Often, they become too wild in their freedom and begin doing drugs or having casual sex. This leads to wounded, scared kids who have become drug addicts and teenage mothers.
To become a member of the Amish community, a person must first be baptized into the Amish church. This typically occurs when the children are eighteen to twenty. If the child decides during his/her rumspringa to become English, they are allowed to without much consequences – they just have to find their way in the English world – alone. If they decide that being English is not for them and they want to return to the Amish church and be baptized, they are accepted back with open arms. However, once they are baptized, they are not allowed to leave. They promised themselves, their family, and God that they would stay in the church, so leaving then is not acceptable. If they do leave after being baptized however, they will (in most communities) be shunned. This is when the family refuses to accept them as one of their own and they are by themselves to find their own way in the world. This is very difficult and scary for both the one leaving and the ones staying, because if you remember me saying that they believe that once you have been baptized and leave, you have turned your back on God and are walking straight for hell.
Humility is a central value for the Amish. And in order to be humble, you must blend in so as not to draw attention to yourself. In theory, this sounds great, but what many of my ex-Amish friends say is that you are forced to fit the mold. You are not allowed to be yourself or express yourself. You are taught to go through life being humble, quiet, and sharing your opinions (unless you were a man in a place of authority) was frowned upon. Many of my friends say that they wished they could have played an instrument so as to express themselves, or they think they would have liked to have been something like a mechanic, etc. but they had very few choices: become a farmer, train horses, be a wood-carver, or make furniture. There is no room to be yourself or to be unique and creative. My mother-in-law remembers making a dress for herself as a teenager and wanting to add a tulle or (small crease in the fabric) to the back of her dress, but was scolded by her mother because it was too “flashy” and “stylish.” I was very surprised to hear that. Another friend recalls being so excited the day she was finally able to convince her mother to let her get “bikini-style underwear” instead of the traditional granny-panties.
But one has to admire the integrity, compassion, and work-ethic of the Amish. They are such a tight-knit community and when someone has a problem, they all share the burden. If a barn burns down, they are all there to rebuild it. And generally speaking, making money is about the last thing on their mind – they would rather help someone than profit themselves. Even when selling crafts such as hand-made furniture, they are not in it to make a sizable profit – which means they are often taken advantage of by people who purchase their goods for cheap, knowing they can resell it in a jiffy for a fortune.
Facts about the Amish culture that you may not know:
– Sixty-five percent of the world’s Amish population lives in Pennsylvania.
– The average cost of a buggy is between four-thousand and seven-thousand dollars, and the average cost of a driving horse is between six-hundred and three-thousand.
– Buggy horses can trot up to sixteen miles per hours, although some can be a little faster.
– Most buggy horses are Standardbreds as they are gaited and athletic.
– Dark colored horses such as blacks and bays are definitely preferable.
– Amish girls never cut their hair.
– Amish girls’ kapps are heart-shaped while Mennonites’ are more cone-shaped.
– Amish girls’ dresses are plain while Mennonites’ usually have some sort of patterns.