My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Amish Buggies in Popular Mechanics Magazine!

My husband found an interesting article!  I've spent time in an Amish buggy shop and it's amazing the options that are available these days.  This article from Popular Mechanics magazine addresses that topic:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bench Wagons

So… the Amish don’t have church buildings, but rather, they take turns hosting church, which is held once every two weeks.  A family typically will host church twice a year.  One of the things that makes this easier is the bench wagon. 

Last summer I was hanging out with some Amish friends in Goshen, Indiana, and they had a brand-new, state-of-the-art bench wagon sitting in their yard.  They offered to show me how it was arranged, and they said it was fine if I took photos.  They didn’t have to tell  me twice!  I’ve been intrigued by bench wagons for years, and I’ve always wanted to see one up close.

Here’s how it works:  Each church district has their own horse-drawn bench wagon.  The wagon is taken to wherever church (or some other event, like a wedding or funeral) is going to be held.  Everything is organized for easy storage and to make sure nothing goes missing between events.

The essence of the bench wagon is the benches!  They are stored in the back of the wagon.  The number on the end of the bench tells how many feet long it is.  There are two fold-down uprights, one on each end of the bench, so setup is easy.  On this new bench wagon, the shelves are carpeted, and there is a chart on the left back door which shows how to store them properly and how many there should be.

The side and front doors of the wagon hold more goodies—everything needed to host and conduct a church service. 

The Ausbund, or hymnal, is the same one that the Amish have used for hundreds of years.  It is written in old German, much like Shakespearean English—very different from the “Dutch” that the Amish speak as their first and main language.  The hymnals are stored in these tough plastic boxes with handy lifting slots cut into them.  Each box holds 24 books.  

This bench wagon belongs to church district 71-2, so everything in the wagon carries that number.  These hymnbooks look very fresh and new—because this was a recently-formed church district, so the wagon and everything in it was recently purchased and assembled.

After a three-hour church service, there is always a meal!  The menu is fairly well set, including Amish church peanut butter, which I’ve written about before.  The bench wagon contains all the dishes, flatware, etc. needed to serve a congregation of 10-15 families, all organized and labeled.

All in all, the bench wagon is an idea that works well, and I was glad to see this one up close!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

25 Facts? Part Five

This is the final installment of my comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

7.  The Population In Amish Communities Is Steadily Growing. 
Because Amish get married so young and have so many children, their communities actually see a yearly growth rate of 3.6%!

The Amish don’t get married that young, but they do have a lot of children—and in Northern Indiana, 90% of them remain in the Amish faith.  Experts agree that the Amish population is doubling about every twenty years.   

6.  Their Modesty Extends To Their Opinions Of Others. 
The Amish are not arrogant people, as they see that as a sin. This being so, they do not judge or condemn people of the modern world for their lifestyle choices.

I would think that Amish opinions about those of us in the modern world would vary widely from person to person.  I know that my own Amish friends seem to accept my faith and lifestyle as being okay for me, at least.  They sometimes close their letters to me with “Love” or “God Bless You.”  It seems that they feel that if a person is born Amish, then God probably wants him or her to be Amish; but if a person is born something else, then they wouldn’t really expect us to convert.

The photo?  These girls in their printed dresses, one with long braids, are not Amish, but perhaps they are German Baptists or another conservative group.

5.  They Wait Until A Person Is Old Enough To Make The Decision To Be Baptized. 
Unlike some Christian branches, the Amish believe in waiting until a person is old enough, typically around age 16-24, before accepting the religion.

This is true.  “Joining church” is a serious and lifelong commitment, so they want their young people to count the cost, so to speak, and be sure of their decision.  In Amish Indiana, I believe the typical age is more like 18-19 to 24.

Interesting photo, but certainly not Amish.  The Amish are baptized by “sprinkling,” not immersion.

4.  There Are More Amish People Than You Would Guess To Be Living In America. 
There are reportedly over 300,000 Amish people living in America! It would be hard for anyone not familiar with Amish communities to know just how many people actually reside in these communities.

The Young Center’s Amish Studies project and other reliable sources agree with the 300,000 number.  Since so many live in rural areas, it does make them less visible to the outside world.

3.  The Amish Are Pacifists Who Will Never Serve In The Military. 
Not only are the Amish soft-spoken, but they are also against violence in any form. Because of this, no men are allowed to join the military. If they do join, they are banned from the community.

The Amish are conscientious objectors who will not serve in the military, although, historically, they have accepted forms of peaceful “alternative service” in times of war.  They are against violence in any form, including self-defense; they call this belief “non-resistance.”

2.  Building Barns Is A Form Of Fun And Socialization In Communities. 
Building barns is one way the men in Amish communities pass the time and socialize in large groups.

Barn-raisings are still an important part of the Amish community.  During one recent visit with some Amish friends, the husband told me he had spent most of the previous week at a barn-raising.  Ten or twenty years ago, which was few years after I first met him and his wife, the ancient barn on their own farm was torn down and replaced with a newer, better one by a barn-raising group of local Amishmen.

The photo accompanying the article looks extremely fake, however; no one would build a barn like that!

1.  Contrary To Popular Belief, The Amish Don’t Mind Having Their Photos Taken By Others.
While the Amish aren’t opposed to allowing people to take their pictures, they do not take photographs themselves or keep them in their homes.

This is totally untrue.  Most Amish very much object to having their pictures taken by others.  As an example:  In 2007, six of my Amish friends came to my Presbyterian wedding.  One of them walked over to the wedding photographer before the service started, and he asked him not to take any photos of them.  When I visit Amish friends, I have, on occasion, asked if I could take a picture of the farm, or the woods, or a garden, or some such thing, and they were fine with that.  One time recently I was looking at a brand-new bench wagon, and they even asked me if I wanted to take any photos, which I did!  (I am saving the pictures for a future blog post on bench wagons.)


I would guess that the author of this article meant no harm…  But it is harmful to spread this kind of disinformation.  The Amish are misunderstood enough as it is!  I don’t know everything there is to know about the Amish, and customs do differ somewhat from one Amish community to another—but I hope this helps.

For further information on the Amish, try these reliable sources: 

The Young Center’s Amish Studies Project  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

25 Facts? Part Four

This is a continuation of comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

13.  Mennonites And Amish Are Distinctly Two Different Communities. 
Both communities find it greatly insulting to be mistaken for one another. The Mennonites, pictured on the left, are not as strict as the Amish. Mennonites may wear brighter colors, drive cars, and even live modernly.

The “greatly insulting” part made me smile!…  As far as “strictness,” both the Mennonites and the Amish vary from group to group.  The Mennonites fall on a continuum, with Old Order Mennonites on one end—horse and buggy and nearly as strict as the Amish—to modern Mennonite churches on the other end, where dress and lifestyle are no different than the Presbyterian church where I grew up. 

The Amish also fall on a continuum,  but a narrower one.  The Nebraska Amish are so strict that they won’t use screens on windows, or carpets or curtains—but on the other hand, a small group called the New Order Amish have phones in their homes and drive cars.

The photo?  The people in the left photo are not Mennonites—I believe those are Amish women from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, based on the headgear.  The photo on the right, of the women all dressed in black?  I don’t know who or what they are!

12.  The Amish Came To America From Switzerland In The 18th Century. 
The Amish escaped persecution in Europe by immigrating to America. They found live more peaceful in their new country and decided to make it their permanent residence.

The greatest Amish immigration did happen in the 18th century (1700s), when most of the Amish in Europe came to Pennsylvania, at the invitation of William Penn, for religious freedom (and to escape military service in Europe).  A smaller group, even more conservative, called the Swiss Amish, came in the 1800s.  I wrote a blog post about this.

The photo?  Those aren’t Amishmen, and it wasn’t taken in the 18th century, when photography hadn’t yet come onto the scene.

11.  They Refuse Genealogical Testing Because Of Suspected Inbreeding. 
Despite living in small communities and reported inbreeding, the Amish refuse testing that would tell them who is related to who as they claim the testing is not of God’s will.

Besides being a blogger about the Indiana Amish, I am also a genealogist.  I’ve done lots and lots of Amish genealogy, and my various Amish friends were thrilled to receive an ancestry binder which outlined their family history and “who was related to who.”  I found that the rate of semi-close relatives marrying was about the same as it was in the “English” genealogies I’ve done—which is to say, it was and is extremely rare, but not unheard of.  The Amish may be uneducated, but they are not stupid.  They are aware of the dangers of inbreeding, and as a rule, they are very careful about avoiding it.

10.  Jakob Ammann Is Credited With Starting The Amish Religion. 
Jakob Ammann, an Anabaptist leader, began the Amish movement when he left Switzerland and other Christians decided to join him. Obviously, the word “Amish” comes from Jakob’s last name.

When Jacob Ammann decided to leave Switzerland, it’s not so much that “other Christians decided to join him.”  Rather, the Amish left Europe as a group and came to America.  Jakob and his followers were originally Mennonites, but they broke off because Jakob felt that the Mennonites were not strict enough on certain issues, particularly “shunning.”  He is indeed the founder of the Amish church, and it is named after him.

9.  Women Are Considered Second Class Citizens. 
As their tradition and old-fashioned thinking dictates, women are treated as second class citizens. This means girls are only destined to become housewives to cook, clean, and raise children.

I think my Amish women friends would disagree with the “second class citizen” statement.  As in many conservative Christian churches, male and female roles are well defined—and Amish families are large, due to the ban on birth control.  But I have seen true love and respect in the Amish marriages I’ve observed.  My original Amish friend Glenn has gone out of his way, over and over, to do things for his wife to make her life easier and better.  One time, he asked my husband to take them shopping for a good leaf blower; leaf cleanup is the wife’s role, as is all yardwork, but Glenn didn’t like to see his wife all tired out from a day of raking.  He and his wife are partners and best friends and have one of the best marriages I know.

The photo?  I don’t know what religious group these women belong to.  It’s very strange!

8.  The Average Amish Couple Has Between Five And Seven Kids. 
Amish communities do not believe in or use contraceptives, which results in large families. It’s also said they aim to have as many children as possible!

I not so sure about the aim as stated above; but due to the lack of contraceptives, families do tend to be large.  Reliable experts say that six to seven children would be typical.   

More next time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

25 Facts? Part Three

This is a continuation of comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

16.  “Meidung” Is The Act Of Shunning Someone From The Community For Breaking Rules.
With so many rules, it’s not unheard of for someone to be banned from the community. Known as “Meidung,” the only way for someone to be un-banished is to beg, or to die and be buried back in the community.

Shunning is much rarer that the media would have you think.  Part of the reason Amish young people are required to wait until young adulthood to join the church (90% of them in Northern Indiana eventually do join) is because it is a big decision, not to be made lightly!  Promises are made to live the Amish faith and lifestyle, and those promises are binding for life.  (Those who have not yet joined the church are not bound by these rules.) 

I’ve heard my Amish friends talk about local people who left the Amish church of their own accord, in order to be able to have a tractor, a car, a computer, or some other modern convenience not allowed by the Amish church.  This type of situation would be more common than a “shunning.”  As far as returning to the Amish church—that is always an option, by standing before the church body and repenting of whatever it was that got the person shunned.   

15.  Their Worship Services Are Surprisingly Modest. 
For such a religious community, the Amish do not see the need for extravagant churches or services. Instead, they show their faith in their work and how they live.

Yes, services are modest.  There are no church buildings; members take turns holding church services in their homes.  A family’s turn might come up twice a year.  In the old days, many homes had few walls, or removable walls, to accommodate the dozen to two dozen families in an Amish congregation.  Today, many newer Amish homes have a special large room for hosting church.  Others hold church in a barn, workshop, or other outbuilding.  And during the summer, some families rent a big white tent and hold church in the yard.

The photo, showing the large group of Amishmen in a back yard, hats on, laundry flapping in the wind, a station wagon in the yard, listening to a man at a table with a microphone?  I don’t know what this is, but it’s not an Amish church service—or at least it’s not how they do it in Indiana!

14.  Children’s Educations End At The 8th Grade Level. 
Boys will pick a trade to go into, and girls are all pre-destined to be housewives. Because of this, they see no need for an education past the 8th grade level.

This is quite true—education beyond eighth grade is not allowed, for many reasons.  I wouldn’t say the boys all “pick a trade,” although some do.  In Amish Indiana, many young men end up working in the local RV (recreational vehicle) factories, although this is often a stepping stone to starting their own businesses (dairy farm, harness shop, furniture or woodworking shop, etc.).  Girls aren’t necessarily pre-destined to be housewives, but most of them do marry and raise large families.  (I knew of one Amish woman, sister of a friend, who built a home, taught school, and didn’t marry.)  With an average of seven or eight children, women have plenty to do at home.

The photo of a classroom actually looks much like the several Amish classrooms I’ve visited.

More next time.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

25 Facts? Part Two

This is a continuation of comments on an article I recently came across online entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know”—a well-meaning article filled with the typical misinformation about the Amish which is constantly floating around the internet...

21.  Weddings Are A Simple Affair That Don’t Even Include Rings Or Flowers. 
Amish weddings are typically held at the end of fall, and are devoid of anything that they deem too extravagant. Instead of flowers, they commonly use celery, and the bride may not even wear a ring as it represents vanity.

Yes, Amish weddings are simple affairs.  I’ve been to two of them—one was in the spring and one in the fall—and they consist of a regular three-hour Amish church service with the 15-minute wedding ceremony added at the end.  Celery?  I didn’t see that—but I did drive a young Amish bride-to-be to Elkhart, Indiana to place an order with a florist.  The flowers were table decorations, though—not carried by the bride.  Wedding rings are never worn.

The photo accompanying this “fact” is amusing…  The clothing is not very accurate, and the preacher has a microphone!  A closer look indicates that this scene is part of a play.

20.  Most Amish Communities Speak At Least Three Languages. 
Besides English, most Amish communities also speak German and what is known as Pennsylvania Dutch. They will use English in school and business, but speak German in church and Dutch for common daily activities.

The Amish use three languages, but not all three are spoken.  First they learn “Pennsylvania Dutch” (usually referred to as “Dutch”), which is a colloquial form of German.  It is spoken but not written.  Secondly, they learn English (both spoken and written) when they start school at about age six.  Thirdly, they study German (the old High German used in their Bible and hymnbook) as a separate subject in school.  This Old German language is written but not spoken—church services are conducted in “Dutch.”

The photo accompanying this fact is amusing…  I don’t know what language is on the sign, but the sign appears to be in front of a church building—and the Amish don’t have church buildings, nor do they have Sunday School.

19.  They’re Not Allowed To Wear Bright Colors Or Jewelry. 
They wear the same plain clothes that tradition has dictated for many years. Amish are not allowed to wear bright colors or jewelry— not even to weddings!

Bright colors—yes.  Jewelry—no—not even wedding rings or wrist watches.  It’s true, the clothes are plain, and they have changed very little in hundreds of years, and nothing much varies from outfit to outfit except the color.  Prints are not allowed—solid colors only.  (Note:  Young people who have not yet joined the church are allowed much more latitude, and may be seen dressing like the local “English” kids.)

18.  Wedding Receptions Are Very Modest, As Is The Couple’s Wedding Night. 
Guests mainly talk and offer their blessings to the new couple following a wedding ceremony. Then, the bride and groom spend their first official night together at the bride’s parent’s home.

I’ve been to two Amish weddings.  The wedding is always followed by a meal, and it is anything but modest.  Often, over the four sittings which take place over the course of the day, over a thousand meals are served.  Guests sit at tables and talk and eat, while the bridal party sit at the head table, or circulates among the guests.  The last meal served that day is for the young single people, who socialize all evening.  As for where the couple spends their wedding night—I’ve never asked!

As for the photo—I cannot imagine taking a can of spray paint to a new buggy worth thousands of dollars!  The color and style show that this particular buggy is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania buggy.

17.  The Amish Are Known For Their Beards, But Never Have Mustaches. 
Amish men have beards, but no mustaches because of what the facial hair represents. Mustaches were once seen as a sign of wealth and military, and the communities wanted nothing to do with either.

This is mainly true.  Buttons and mustaches were common among soldiers back in the Old Country, and so the Amish avoided both, and still do.  Avoiding the military draft was a major reason the Amish left Europe and came to America in the 1700s and 1800s.

More next time.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

25 Facts? Part One

My sister-in-law Deb emailed me a question the other day.  She’d seen an article on a website called entitled “25 Facts About the Amish That Everyone Should Know.” She asked me, “So – are any of these actually true??  On the picture of the wedding they have microphones.  What about the no power/no technology thing?  I’m so confused.”

After reading the article myself, I decided it was time to lay out some better information, based on the 20 years I’ve had friends among the Amish.  My knowledge is based mainly on the Indiana Amish of Elkhart and Lagrange Counties, but I’ve read enough reliable information on the other major groups to have a feel for their beliefs and lifestyles also.  (And I know where on the internet to go to get trustworthy information!)

Let’s take them one by one… in reverse numerical order, like the article.

25.  Courtships are usually short and quickly followed by marriage. 
Once a couple starts “dating,” they will go out only a few times before deciding if they should marry. The church will then bless the marriage, and the engagement becomes official once it’s announced in their town’s newspaper.

I’ve watched half a dozen Amish courtships over the years, including a few that ended up with breakups and broken hearts.  I would say that their courtships are no longer or shorter than ours in the “English” world.  Going out only a few times?  That’s just not true...  I’ve never heard of a “church blessing” before a marriage (although the engagement is announced, or “published,” in church)—but what typically happens is, if either or both are not yet baptized members of the Amish church, then that’s the time it’s done.  As for announcements in the town’s newspaper—nope.  Shipshewana, Indiana, for example, doesn’t even have a newspaper.

24.  The Amish Have Lower Cancer Rates In Their Community Than Other Demographics.
The Amish not only produce their own food— free of pesticides and processing, but they also refrain from drinking and smoking. This healthy lifestyle means lower cancer rates for their communities.

Most Amish refrain from smoking (except some of the tobacco growers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania), and drinking is not a part of their culture.  They don’t produce all their own food, however, although many do have large gardens.  Some have organic farms (free of pesticides and processing), but some don’t.  And I’ve shared a very non-organic local pizza, and other dishes, with Amish friends more than once!

23.  New Couples Are Encouraged To “Sleep” Together. 
Surprisingly, young couples are encouraged to share a bed together prior to marriage. However, both parties are fully clothed and a board is placed between them to prevent contact. The idea is for them to spend the whole night talking instead of doing other things…

This practice is called “bundling,” and it was common in Colonial America—google it for more information.  It is not, however, common in Amish communities today.  And the photo that goes with this one—wow!  It’s ridiculous!  Wikipedia has this one just about right:  “The [bundling] tradition is thought to have originated either in the Netherlands or in the British Isles and later became common in Colonial America, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  Some Nebraska Amish may still practice it.”  (The Nebraska or White Buggy Amish are the most conservative among the Amish groups today.  See my 2015 blog post on them.)

22.  Amish Beliefs Forbid Them From Using Technology.
The Amish do not use technology even in the slightest sense. They go without electricity, phones, and internet due to their belief in “Gelassenheit,” which is a Christian word equating to keeping the earth as God created it.

The Amish do indeed use technology—but sparingly, and after great deliberation.  Drive around Amish Indiana and watch for the solar panels on the roofs of Amish homes and barns.  I’ve seen items in Amish homes like an electric typewriter that ran on a 12V car battery.  My Amish friend Glenn recently said, about a son-in-law, “He really likes to use that GPS!”  And some Amishmen who have businesses which require being away from home all day, are allowed to have cell phones; I know an Amish cement contractor who has one.  Also—“Gelassenheit” is an Amish word which means submission—yielding oneself to a higher authority.

More next time.