About amish a day among old order mennonites in the shenandoah valley electricity in india travel


A minister from the community met us at the church to talk about their church and community practices. He explained what a typical church service is like, and about the ordination of church leaders. He answered audience questions. David asked if they practice foot washing, and he said they did. I was struck by the way men are nominated to be in the “lot” for ordination. The church leaders are in a room by themselves, and they invite anyone who feels so moved to enter the room and nominate someone. This is so different from my original community. There every adult — man and woman — were expected to nominate who we thought would be a good leader in the community. We did that by filing past an open window and whispering the name to an elder who recorded it. Any man in the community who received two or more votes was then placed in the lot. From here, the ordination process he described is much like the one we practiced. If there are six men in the lot, then six books are set out. Only one of those has a slip of paper in it. Whoever picks up that book is now an elder for life.

I know why the difference is important in the way potential elders are nominated. Putting myself in the shoes of an Old Order Mennonite woman, I cannot imagine voluntarily getting up from my seat and walking into the room where all the elders are gathered to nominate a man in the community. I would find that intimidating, and I’ve been living outside the community for more than 35 years. My hunch is that this “voluntary” arrangement largely excludes women from that process.

After everyone had left the building, I went out to take pictures. David and I found ourselves in conversation with this minister. David told him I grew up Amish in Ohio and right away we had a conversation about Ohio, which is where this elder was born and raised. I discovered that he actually can speak Pennsylvania German. This is highly unusual for the Old Order Mennonites here in the Valley. They decided to preach in English nearly a hundred years ago because there were those who were marrying into the community who could not speak it.

A few minutes after David told the minister that I’d grown up Amish, he came up to me and said, “Now, I have a personal question for you, since you’ve told me what you did.” I knew what was coming. His mannerisms and his hushed tone, and everything about the way he set himself up to ask was much like those of an Amish elder wanting to know, “Have you ever regretted your decision to leave?”

The Amish preachers often used the regrets of those who had left as a cautionary tale to admonish their flock. Like them, I felt like this preacher wanted a particular answer. He seemed to be waiting eagerly for my answer. I chose my words carefully. I said, “No I don’t. I have enjoyed the freedom of going on to get an education, and I was able to marry David, who grew up Catholic, which I would not have been able to do had I stayed. He is the love of my life. But I make a distinction between regretting leaving and missing aspects of Amish community life.” He began listing off all the reasons why it’s good to stay in such a community, including how people come together in times of need, and how everyone knows what to do when there is a funeral.

“As well you should have been!” he said emphatically. I’m still not sure how to take that statement. Then he asked me where we go to church now, and I told him we attend Parkview Mennonite, where Phil Kniss is the pastor. I did not have time to stay around to find out if this answer satisfied him because it was time to get on the bus.

Our next stop was a buggy shop. The person who used to be the proprietor has become the employee of his son, who has taken over the business. When asked if his son is now bossing him around, he replied, “He’s certainly taking a whack at it!” With his sense of humor, he showed us around the buggy shop. This is actually something I never did back in my Amish days is visit a buggy shop, so I found this tour fascinating.

Remember though, that rumspringa is not as the mainstream media has been portraying it. No Amish parents or elders actually say, "Go out and taste of the world and decide if you want to become a member of the Amish church." There is always the expectation that every young person will eventually join the community. When I was Amish, the thought "should I stay or leave?" did not occur to me in that form. Only when I began making plans to leave did I feel like I was actually making a conscious choice. Before then it was following the path that was set out for me.

The other thing I would say is the mainstream culture values personal choice. The Amish (and I think this is also true of the Old Order Mennonites) place much more value on community cohesion. So giving up personal choice is actually considered a virtue. I have to be careful not to project my values of personal choice onto the culture I left. Like you said, there are many who are content (and perhaps even happier than they would be in the mainstream culture) to follow in the footsteps of their parents and ancestors, from the cradle to the grave. Anna comes to mind. She was paralyzed by the choices she was being called to make in the outside culture.

I don’t think there are any easy answers for the conflicts that arise between personal freedom and community cohesion and survival. I am happy with the life path I chose, but each person must ultimately do so for him or herself. In some cases it’s more of an unconscious choice than a conscious one.