My husband, Dave, and I just returned from a vacation in Indiana. We stayed with friends in their cottage on the largest natural lake in Indiana called Lake Wawasee (no kidding!). It was a wonderful, restful time. We often drove around the local area which was Amish country. Pristine farms, white fences and black buggies quickly transported us back to the 19th century.
The Amish are a Christian group in North America, also known as the “Old Order of the Mennonite Church.” The church originated in the late 17th century in Europe under the leadership of Jakob Ammann (c. 1644-1730). The group emigrated to America early in the 18th century into the 19th and 20th centuries. One reason for their move to the US was because they did not want to attend the “state churches” in Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Russia, so they sought religious freedom in America.
Today, there are about 250,000 Amish folks living in more than 200 “Old Order Amish” settlements in the US and Canada, including Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Kansas.
The Amish churches meet in homes; there are no church buildings. The settlements usually have one bishop in the area, 2-4 preachers and an elder. They speak High German in their church services, various German dialects in their homes, and schools are taught in English to boys and girls through 8th grade. Because they are a “separatist community,” they do what they can to separate themselves from the world. This includes an avoidance of electricity, telephones and modern technology. They do have gas lighting, lanterns and appliances in their homes. They walk and ride bicycles. Their famous buggies are drawn by handsome, well-trained horses, and their fields are plowed by a team of magnificent horses.
Men are clad in black suits and white shirts, broad-brimmed hats and suspenders! Because they are pacifists, they do not participate in the military or in any politics. They do not cut their beards after they are married. Women and girls wear plain clothing, white bonnets and long dresses; they wear no jewelry or make-up. We saw a school-yard full of children, dressed in long dresses and boys’ overalls, playing softball together. Farms are immaculate, abounding in hay and fresh veggies; flower gardens are simple but absolutely beautiful. The Amish are known for their fine, hand-made furniture, and amazing quilts, as well as hand-made wooden crafts, food, sauces, jams and jellies. What a delight to be in their stores, filled with works of art!
Amish do not buy any kind of insurance, because they pool their resources if anyone in the community is in need. They take care of each other, but do use doctors, dentists and opticians. There is an unwritten code of behavior that praises obedience and “shuns” disobedience. Thus, there is no crime, no assault, no physical woundedness in their communities.
The Amish have a tremendous respect for traditions, for the Bible, and for not conforming to the “world” (see Rom 12:2). They have simple, placid ways and live in a quiet, reserved manner. There is so much that is appealing about the Amish community, whose backbones are humility, family and community. They are peaceful, prosperous people. I think “our world” would be better served by adopting some of their behaviors, beliefs and values. And yet, it is difficult to keep young people in their community because of the lure and appeals of the 21st century world.
One of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry, wrote a poem about the Amish in his book, “Timbered Choir.” This says it best:
We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
Keeping Creation’s neighborhood.
And my friend David Kline told me,
‘It falls strangely on Amish ears,
This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all, don’t try
To find ourselves’ – and thus are lost within
The found world of sunlight and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks…..
But now, in summer dusk, a man
Whose hair and beard curl like spring ferns
Sits under the yard trees, at rest,
His smallest daughter on his lap.
This is because he rose at dawn,
Cared for his own, helped his neighbors,
Worked much, spent little, kept his peace.
2 thoughts on ““Amish Economy””
I love this one Judy! Lots of good information & memories for me. I lived in PA where there are many Amish. You know they don’t use buttons but pin their dresses and shirts together…not all but the very strict. I worked in Pittsburgh as a trauma nurse and I remember one young Amish man was in a terrible accident. I think the buggy was hit. The family gathered around the bed and one day they sat with us and answered all our questions! They are struggling with their young people who want to leave and explore the outside world that they see in glimpses.
Thanks, Barb. It was really a fun experience to be around them. Their simplicity was calming. I appreciate your memories and your reply!