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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

German Baptists and Other Almost-Amish

Wandering around Amish Indiana can be confusing... 

There are women dressed ‘plain,’ but with clearly not-Amish head coverings (the local Amish all wear the same large, white, square head covering, shown below); there are women dressed in Amish-style dresses but in print fabrics.  There are the Mennonite women, who generally dress in t-shirts, long denim skirts, and tennis shoes and wear a “doily” on their heads...  How do these groups fit into the overall scheme of things?

I’m going to oversimplify, because most of my readers don’t want a theological treatise!—just a few hints to clear the confusion a little.  So, bear with me.

Firstly, “Amish” in this area (northeastern Indiana) generally means “Old Order Amish”—that is to say, plain-dressing, horse-and-buggy Amish.  This is the predominant group here in Lagrange/Elkhart County by far, with a population of about 30,000.  (My network of friends here are all Old ORder Amish.)  They have church in their homes, have large families, practice shunning for baptized adult church members who leave, chose not to use most forms of electricity, don't watch TV or movies, and rarely interact with most of mainline American culture.  Posing for photos is against their religion, and they are extremely uncomfortable with having their pictures taken even casually.

Other areas in Indiana and beyond have groups with the word “Amish” in their names who are not as conservative as the Old Order Amish. There are “New Order Amish,” and “Beachy Amish,” who are dress very plainly but are a bit more like the rest of us in lifestyle (car ownership and electricity in their homes, for example).

But there is a new thing springing up around here…  Where does an Amish person or family from this area go to worship when they leave the Amish faith, but they still want to live more plainly and conservatively than the rest of us?  To meet this need, an old term has been resurrected and put to a new use—“Amish Mennonite.”

One hundred years ago, “Amish Mennonite” used to be just another term for “Amish”—but the term hasn’t been used that way for quite a while.  The new use of the term refers to churches such as Rosewood Fellowship in Middlebury, Indiana.

It’s not always easy leaving the Amish, especially for those who don’t leave as young people who haven’t yet joined the church (this does not result in shunning)—but rather as an Amish family in which the parents might be in their thirties or forties and are leaving the church with their children (this does result in shunning).

Many become Mennonites, or join other denominations—but the most conservative ones often transition into an Amish Mennonite church like Rosewood.  There, they live under some of the same lifestyle restrictions they are used to, such as male leadership in home and church; non-resistance (pacifism); women’s head coverings; no radio (usually) or television; no musical instruments in church; and marriage for life.

Are these churches “in fellowship” with the Old Order Amish churches?  No… but it gives the ex-Amish somewhere to meet and worship with others who are in the same situation that they are.  One formerly Amish woman told me that all but one person at her new church speak Pennsylvania Dutch (the language of the Amish.)  They're not Amish, but they're not yet ready to call themselves "Mennonites" either.

As far as the Mennonites—I’ll be brief:  There is a huge spectrum of plain/conservative vs. mainstream/liberal groups in the Mennonite denomination!  The most conservative are the horse-and-buggy Old Order Mennonites, and at the other end are churches that are indistinguishable in dress and lifestyle from mainline Protestant churches.  Donald Kraybill says in his book “Simply Amish” that there are sixty different subgroups of Mennonites in America today!

And then there are the “German Baptists”—who are not connected with the Baptist denominations that most of us are familiar with.  German Baptists are also known as “Dunkards,” and over the years, they have split into a number of smaller groups with names such as “Old German Baptist Brethren,” “Old Baptist German Brethren,” and “Dunkard Brethren.”  (Check Wikipedia for more.)  Around here, they live in the Nappanee area, but they can be seen around Shipshewana, especially working at the Rise N Roll bakery.  The women wear Amish-type dresses but in printed fabrics, and their white caps are a bit smaller and more transparent than the Amish ones—see below.  They drive cars and wire their homes for electricity, but most don't own televisions or radios.

The website “Amish Quilter says this about them: 

Old Order German Baptists drive cars, usually black, they have electricity (but no TV), and the women are encouraged to help supplement the family income by working in the home, either by making Amish Quilts to sell, providing quilting services, or running a small dry goods store (fabric/general merchandise). The ladies dress plain, by wearing below-the-knee dresses in fabrics with small prints of flowers with a modesty cape and matching apron, and a loose weave (organdy almost like tulle) head covering.

However—I saw a woman dressed like the above picture the other day and asked her if she was Old Order German Baptist, and she said she was Old Order Mennonite (and invited me to her church).  So, the two groups must dress in a similar manner.  Old Order Mennonites differ in several ways from the Amish.  They worship in churches (not in homes like the Amish), and some are no longer horse-and-buggy.  Their theology and lifestyle are not quite as conservative and old-fashioned as the Amish.

There are more “plain” groups and sub-groups to be found in Amish Indiana—but I’ll stop at that, since I’ve told you all I know!