Please do me a favor and close your eyes. Think of the Amish and an Amish community. Do you see women wearing dresses and kapps, men in pants with suspenders and wide-brimmed hats, all piled into a shiny, black buggy being pulled by a chocolate-colored horse? I bet if you continue to think about it, you may even be able almost to hear the clippity-clop of the horse’s hooves.
That’s what the Amish, to us English (non-Amish), look like at first glance. But when I started to dig deeper into the community in Shipshewana, Indiana, and what it holds near and dear, what I learned was eye-opening, at the very least. My experience changed how I now see Amish folk and why I have a new respect for them and their culture.
Amish Is Not a Religion but a Way of Life.
Amish follow the basic tenets of the Christian faith, so they’re Christians. What they practice, weekly in church and daily, follows traditional Anabaptist (literally translating to “re-baptizers”) theology. Coming from Europe two centuries ago to escape religious persecution, their specific religious tenets have been practiced for 800+ years.
Breaking from the Catholic religion, they’ve chosen adult baptism instead of baptizing babies. The same community and Christian tenants broke with the Mennonites in the 1600s as they felt the latter was becoming too “worldly.”
The Amish May Be Ignorant, but They’re Far From Stupid.
As a Gen X’er, when someone was called ignorant, it meant they were foul and rude. The true meaning of ignorance is a “lack of knowledge or information,” so we who called others were instead the ignorant ones.
The Amish attend their own schools but only go through eighth grade instead of graduating in twelfth grade like most Americans. Their schooling focuses on the basics like math, literacy, and writing but includes Amish history, values, and vocational training. So, while we may know more compliments of more years in school and college educations, they’re more prepared for life after school. When was the last time you needed Trigonometry or memorization of James Joyce to function in society?
They’re Not Rude, They’re Reserved and Modest.
As a gal who loves to say “hello” to strangers out of habit, I did the same with Amish men and women and always received a hello and a smile back. Simplicity and modesty are a big part of the community, but that doesn’t make them backward. Instead, that reservedness can be thought of more as a mild personality with plenty of humility.
I had the pleasure of talking to Seth Jones, owner of The Carriage House in Indiana, and, boy, did I have questions. I knew ahead of time that Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch growing up, but they learn English at school. In church, most of the service is spoken and sung in German. So I asked him if he could understand the German he was hearing and singing. His answer was a simple one, “Yes.”
I can speak English and Spanish and understand some French. I’m also teaching myself Korean compliments of my adoration and passion for South Korea, so I want to both speak and understand several languages.
Young Adults Aren’t Forced Into Being Amish—Rumspringa Helps Them Decide if It’s Right for Them.
Rumspringa, or in German “jumping and hopping around,” is an Amish rite of passage when adolescents turn 16. During that time, they can do things non-Amish do, such as owning a cell phone and browsing the internet. Again, I asked Seth Jones about the custom, and he told me that Rumspringa occurs until marriage and baptism.
While Amish adolescents may enjoy rumsprings for several years, between 80 and 90 percent confess their faith through baptism and return to the church. Those who decide the non-Amish life is for them are free to leave the community and are not shunned because they haven’t been baptized.
They Celebrate Major Holidays Just Like We Do.
Next, I asked about celebrating holidays and, yes, the Amish do enjoy them. They celebrate Christmas by singing and lighting candles, decorating their homes with greens, and enjoying large, calorie-packed meals and gift-giving. On Easter, they celebrate Good Friday by praying, reading scripture, fasting, and even coloring Easter eggs. What about Independence Day? They partake like we do by watching fireworks, parades, and picnics.
In a Nutshell
The Amish are opposed to war and fighting, and they vie for peace. It’s palpable in the community. Even driving along the backroads in Shipshewana and its neighboring towns, I couldn’t help but notice a lack of noise (apart from farm animals) and stress. Instead, walking down a few unpaved roads was a pleasure, and I felt safer there than I would in a big city by myself.
While the Amish and the English may look like polar opposites on the outside, my deeper dive into their world allowed me to learn so much about myself, what I hold dear, and if I could live without it. Personally, it would take a massive amount of strength and willpower to give up everything and live a simpler life. That’s something I’ll always respect in the Amish community.