What’s the difference between Amish, Brethren, and Mennonites?

These are several religious sects known as the Anabaptist and all have a common root. These folks from Holland were nicknamed Mennonite, from Switzerland were called Amish, and still others were simply Brethren. During and after the major Roman persecutions of Christians and Jews prior to 325 AD, many early Christians fled north over the Alps to escape the Roman rule. They settled in the mountain valleys of central Europe unmolested for centuries. After the printing press was invented and communications improved, during the renaissance reformation era persecution began again. Anabaptist people were persecuted not only by the Roman church but other reformers as well. In 16th century Holland, a catholic priest joined himself to the Dutch Anabaptist brethren. His name was Menno Simons. In the 17 th. century a preacher among the Swiss Brethren, Jacob Ammon, began to preach that the Swiss groups had become too liberal in their discipline. Hence folks from Holland were nicknamed Mennonites; people from Switzerland were called Amish, and still others were simply called Brethren.

Are Amish Christians?

Amish or Old Order Mennonite groups have a New Testament background tempered by an Old Testament format. Amish folks and some Mennonites have held to this teaching more closely than other groups. Folks who ask this question usually have two things in mind … first, that plain people closely resemble the more orthodox or Hasidic Jewish groups or second, just have no idea at all what the plain background might be. Amish or Old Order Mennonite groups have a New Testament background tempered by an Old Testament format. Plain dress is not unique to them. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and other groups have set forth principles of plain dress in the past. Amish folks and some Mennonites have held to this teaching more closely than other groups. Nonresistance is another teaching shared by Quakers, Methodists, and other groups today. Amish groups today stress baptism, church membership, and keeping the rules so that a member at death may hope to find salvation. “They consider it “presumptuous” to say one is “saved”. Baptism is by sprinkling.

Where can I go to see a barn raising?

Barn raisings aren’t regular events that happen for occasional viewing. Normally a “barn raising” is done when a fire or some other natural disaster has destroyed a building. Actually it could be for a house also. These “raisings” are famous for happening in one day, however much more goes into the project than that. If there has been a fire, then the debris must be cleared away. Perhaps a new foundation is needed, and then the materials are gathered. A day is chosen in which neighbors, friends, relatives will come to do the work. The ladies usually prepare meals. Several foremen are appointed. Some of the lumber may be precut by crew several days before, then finally the day arrives when the barn, house or building is assembled.

Who runs the church? Is there a hierarchy?

Old order churches in general have a bishop, two ministers and a deacon. All these men are chosen by “lot”. These positions are usually held for life. Each church is an independent district. There are over 100 Amish districts in Lancaster County. The Amish population here is just over 22,000 people. “Lot” chooses all these men. In this process a number of men considered qualified are chosen from the congregation. Straws may be drawn or books chosen by each man in order to find what is considered to be God’s chosen man. Who ever would pull the short straw or pick up the book for instance with a piece of paper in it is chosen. These positions are usually held for life. The bishop is the general overseer and presides at meetings, baptisms, funerals, and so on. The ministers usually carry the most of the preaching. Deacons take care of alms and discipline. Either the bishop or deacon achieves balance of power by being able to call a disciplinary meeting.

What about going to the doctor? Are there Amish doctors?

Amish folks don’t usually pursue higher education. There are however Mennonite and Brethren doctors. Many Amish people favor Chiropractic care or herbal medicines. They will only go to a medical doctor when absolutely necessary. Many still do not inoculate their children against childhood diseases. There are genetic problems in many communities because of a low gene pool. There were 12 Amish families that originally settled in Lancaster County. Two of these families had some very “bad” genes. Dwarfism, protein disorders, and other genetic problems occur more frequently here because of this and the marriage of closely related spouses than in the general population.

What does “Pennsylvania Dutch” mean? Is that Amish?

Today anyone whose ancestry hails from these central European roots can be correctly called “Pennsylvania Dutch”. You can easily understand then that all Amish, Brethren, or Mennonites fall into the classification of Pennsylvania Dutch. Not all Pa. Dutch folks come from that extraction or are of that persuasion. In 1626 colonists settled at the mouth of the Delaware River founding the town of New Castle. A better-known settlement, New Amsterdam, was founded at that time on what was to be known as Manhattan Island. During the 1650’s although the aggressive English took control of these Dutch colonies, close ties remained with central Europe. It was at New Castle that William Penn landed to assume control of his new colony, Penn-Sylvania (Penn’s Woods). The English continued to encourage immigration from Switzerland, Austria, Alsace, Moravia, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. The original Dutch origins combined with the central European dialects, “Deitsch” (pronounced “Dye-Tch”). Today anyone whose ancestry hails from these central European roots can be correctly called “Pennsylvania Dutch”. You can easily understand then that all Amish, Brethren, or Mennonites fall into the classification of Pennsylvania Dutch. Not all Pennsylvania Dutch folks come from that extraction or are of that persuasion.

Why are there no telephones or electric?

Actually there are telephones and electric in use by some Amish groups but in varying ways. The principle generally set forth is that no wire should come into the home connecting it with the outside world. Amish in Lancaster County now have cell phones, pagers, and phones in the shed or at the neighbors to use. Changes come here, just more slowly than on the “outside”. Amish businesses may have a phone in the same building. Amish men may be volunteer fire department members or ladies on an ambulance crew. The principle generally set forth is that no wire should come into the home connecting it with the outside world. A phone in the shed, barn, cell phone or pager with no wires of course makes all that possible.

Isn’t everyone a farmer?

No. Presently in Lancaster only about 50% of people using horses for transportation make their living from farming. There are horse and buggy folks who are in building trades, grocery, dry goods, harness shops, blacksmiths, equipment dealers, health foods, book keepers and more as well as farmers. Generally they don’t fill jobs that require higher education such as physicians, actuary or engineers.

How many Amish farms are there in Lancaster?

There are approximately 4800 small farms in Lancaster County. That’s more small farms than any county in the United States. Approximately 2000 of these farms are dairy farms with the remaining 2800 being producers of poultry and pork products. Amish farms in Lancaster number about 1500. Lancaster County produces more milk, eggs, and poultry meat than any county in the US. It is fourth ranked in hog production. In spite of being the most intensely farmed, highly productive agricultural region in the world, Lancaster County still has to bring in feed. This is due to the large amount of animals (chickens and hogs) in confinement. In an average year the county imports about 600,000 tons of shell corn, most of which comes from Ohio and Indiana. Millions of pounds of hay comes in from as far away as Canada.

What’s the hats and costume all about?

Plain dress is meant to remind one of his humble station in life. It is considered more modest, meant to keep the believer away from wasteful, sensual dress in order that he or she may concentrate on the more productive or worthwhile things of life. The principle of plain dress is understood to be an expression of Bible virtues: modesty, humility, separation, and temperance. It is better to use the expression “plain dress” instead of “costume” although we realize many folks often don’t know what to call the particular manner of dress found in these groups.

Amish people don’t have insurance, do they? If you go to the hospital or have an accident, who pays the bill?

Actually Amish and Mennonite people do have a type of insurance, some participate in “church insurance”, Amish aid, or Brotherly aid. Some Lancaster County Amish have commercial insurance. If they have a business, insurance is carried just like any other company. Those who don’t carry commercial insurance participate in “church insurance”, Amish aid, or Brotherly aid. These are church sponsored programs, which function as insurance. Usually within the group a deacon and / or a board handle these funds.

Why don’t Amish like pictures?

One of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou shalt not make any graven image unto thyself….” It is for this reason today that most Amish folks don’t POSE for pictures. Most people are not too sensitive about pictures from behind or at a distance. You’ll want to remember that but, also that they are not supposed to pose as close range. If you have doubts the “neighborly” thing to do is ask. Many Amish folks have calendars on the wall at home. Amish business will also give away calendars with pictures as a business promotion usually with out people in the pictures.

Are These the Pioneers?

No, the days of the pioneers are past, however there are some very practical, energy efficient, and old fashioned practices that remain. Most Amish homes in Lancaster would not include electricity. Most Amish homes in Lancaster today have beautiful kitchens with gas stoves, refrigerators (LP gas), hot water heaters, showers, indoor toilets, and sometimes-public sewer. Most would not include electricity. Fans, sewing machines and other items that may require a motor are usually run with compressed air motors. A diesel engine is normally used to run a compressor, which pushes air into a large storage tank for use as necessary. Pumps in wells are also run by air motors. Windmills are less and less common. Electric fences are used on the farm run by a small solar panel and battery.

Who makes the rules?

Rules are a good word and you’ve asked a good question. Theoretically each Amish district sets its own rules. There are ministers councils twice a year in Lancaster in which these and other matters may be discussed. A good rule of thumb to remember is: “Is it necessary?” Not all Amish groups have the same rules, but the rules basic thrust deals with what is thought to be acceptable for every day living and believing. The size and type of the ladies white cap varies widely. There are one, two and no suspender Amish groups. There are horse and buggy groups in Lancaster, which allow power lawn mowers. Others allow only a reel type hand push mower. In short, most of the church rules can’t be found in the Bible. Members would believe however that the rules are like road signs that are put there to guide one away from danger. On that foundation they would seek to follow those rules and discipline those members who don’t. Many groups have a thick book of rules which govern dress, the number of cows you may own, how big your dry sink may be, how ladies hair is to be done, men’s hats, and furniture just to mention a few. Some groups have rubber tires on buggies, chain saws, skid loaders, lift trucks, tractors with iron wheels and some do not. Most groups encourage strict keeping of the rules whatever they may be. Amish churches emphasize church membership, baptism, and keeping the rules so that one day at death a member might hope to find salvation.

What’s school like?

You can get a very good idea of what Amish school is like if you read the series of “Little House ” books by Laura Ingles Wilder. One room, one teacher, reading, writing, arithmetic and other basics are still the mainstay. These schools very much follow the pattern of what early 20th century schools were like in America. Schools keep the same hours as public schools but, have shorter vacations. Most schools have the required 180 days and are out for the summer around the middle of May.

Why does everyone always wear black?

Actually not everyone who is Amish wears black. Regionally this varies. Some groups wear gray, blue, or russet browns. Locally, Lancaster County Amish usually wear black pants, coats or aprons. Many visitors get the impression that Amish wear black because of the traditional periods of mourning. Amish women will wear a black dress for as long as a year to mourn the loss of a close relative. Quite frankly when you have 10 brothers and sisters, 60 or 80 nieces and nephews on the husband’s side of the family and 60 to 80 more on the wife’s side, chances for the loss of a loved one increase especially with age. Dress or shirt colors locally include greens, blues, grays, purples, and other pastel colors. Reds, oranges, and other bright colors are usually avoided. Clothes are supposed to be modest (cover), clean, and not stylish (old fashioned and loose fitting). Our old bishop used to say, ” If you can’t drop a coke bottle down through your pants, they’re too tight!” He’s right, especially when you consider that tight fitting clothes are usually not very comfortable.