The Amish adopted a congregational organization. Each congregation is
independent and has its own leadership. There is no formal national head office.
Like most conservative Christian denominations, the Amish do not allow women
to hold positions of power. The four church offices are reserved for men. They
Völliger Diener: (a.k.a. Full
Servant or Bishop). He provides spiritual leadership for the
congregation. He preaches, and performs baptisms, marriages and ordinations.
He pronounces excommunication on unrepentant members of the congregation.
Diener zum Buch: (a.k.a. Servant of the
Book or minister). He assists the bishop in preaching and teaching. Most
congregations have two ministers.
Völliger Armendiener: (a.k.a.
Full Servant of the Poor or Full Deacon). This office is rare in North
America, but was once common in Europe. He assists with baptism and does
some preaching. His main role was as guardians of doctrinal orthodoxy.
Armendiener: (a.k.a. Servant of the
Poor or Deacon). He reads from the Bible at church services, assists the
bishops in various duties, and administers funds for the poor.
Candidates for leadership positions are initially
selected by vote. Typically, those who received more than one vote would draw
lots to determine who would be ordained. Ordination is generally for life.
Practices of the Old Order Amish:
Practices shared by most of the Old Order Amish, the largest Amish group,are listed below. Some smaller Amish
groups have adopted practices which are either more progressive or more
Language: Members usually speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch). High German is used during worship. They learn English at
Education: Schools are one-room buildings run by the Amish. Formal education beyond
Grade 8 is discouraged, although many youth are given further instruction in
their homes after graduation.
Appearance: Men follow the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures with regards to beards. They do
not grow mustaches, because of the long association of mustaches with the
Clothing: Men usually dress in a plain, dark colored suit. Women usually wear a plain
colored dress with long sleeves, bonnet and apron. Women wear a white prayer
covering if married; black if single. Brides' gowns are often blue or purple.
Vehicles: With very few exceptions, Old Order Amish
congregations do not allow the owning or use of automobiles or farm
tractors. However, they will
ride in cars when needed.
Electrical devices: They do not use electricity, or have radios, TV sets,
personal computers, computer games, etc.
Telephones: In-home telephones are not normally allowed. Some
families have a phone remote from the house.
Government programs: Most Amish groups do not collect Social Security/Canada Pension Plan benefits,
unemployment insurance or welfare. They maintain mutual aid funds for members
who need help with medical costs, dental bills, etc.
Photography: They do not take photographs or allow themselves to be photographed.
To do so would be evidence of vanity and pride. Also, it might violate the prohibition in Exodus 20:4, the second of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of
anything that...is in the earth..."
Marriage: Marriages outside the faith are not allowed. Couples who plan to marry are "published"
in late October. They are married in one of their homes during November or early
Days of Celebration: They celebrate the traditional Christian holy days. They also observe a Fast
Day on October 11.
Religious services: These are held biweekly on alternate Sundays.
One the "in-between" Sundays, members often attend another congregation's
service, or visit friends or family. Services consist of singing, two
prayers, Bible reading, a short opening sermon, and a main sermon. Each
baptized male then offers a comment on the biblical correctness of the
Communion services: These are held twice yearly, in the spring
and fall. Before the service, a council meeting is held in which the
attendees resolve any disagreements that they have with each other. They
also discuss matters regarding proper lifestyle and conduct.
Meeting places: Services are usually held in the homes of members.
As a rule, they do not build meeting houses or churches. One source speculates that this
practice may have been done "...out of frugality, perhaps out of
necessity, or perhaps to emphasize that people (and not the building were
really the church..." 4
Funerals: These are conducted in the home without a eulogy, flower decorations, or
other display. The casket is plain, without adornment. At death, a woman is
usually buried in her bridal dress. A simple tombstone is
erected after burial.
Rumspringa: Some Amish groups practice a tradition called rumspringa ("running around"). Teens aged 16 and older are allowed some freedom in behavior. It is
a interval of a few years while they remain living at home, yet are somewhat
released from the intense supervision of their parents. Since they have not yet
been baptized, they have not committed to follow the extremely strict behavioral
restrictions and community rules imposed by the religion. Depending upon the
behavioral rules of their particular community, they may be allowed to date, go out
with their friends, visit the outside world, go to parties, drink alcoholic
jeans, etc. The intent of rumspringa is to make certain that youth are giving
their informed consent if they decide to be baptized. About 80% to 90% decide to
remain Amish. 1,2
The media have generally given an unbalanced portrayal of rumspringa. They
typically concentrate on that small minority of youth who decide to leave
their tradition. For example:
On 2002-MAY-30, Cinemax's "Reel Life" documentary series
featured "Devil's Playground." A Pittsburgh reviewer commented that:
"...viewers learn that 90 percent of Amish teens ultimately choose to
commit themselves to the Amish community and church, but the bulk of the
film is spent chronicling the lives of teens who make the opposite
On 2004-JUL-22, the series "Amish in the City" debuted. Five Amish
teens were given a rude reception by six city kids at a large house that
they all shared in Los Angeles. Two of the Amish youth, Ruth and Mose
said that they did not feel that they were being exploited by the show.
But Mose commented: "If they still take us back after we have been on
national television, they will take us back whatever we do." 6
ABC News broadcast a documentary titled: "Primetime: The Outsiders" at
10 PM. It concerned a group of four Amish teens from central Ohio engaged in Rumspringa.One decided to return to Amish life;onewent to jail for burning a buggy; one decided to leave
the Amish tradition; one was undecided. 7
Slavery: In the early years of the movement, there are no records of any Amish family owning slaves, even though this was
a common practice among "The English" (non-Amish) in Pennsylvania until the late 18th century. However, some
families did purchase redemptioners. These were skilled European immigrants who
had no money with which to pay for their trip to the New World. They promised to
work for a family for a defined number of years in exchange for the cost of their passage.
Practices of the Swartzentruber Amish:
The Swartzentruber Amish broke away from the True Old Order Amish in 1913 because they felt that the latter were too
modern. The Swartzentruber church does not recognize other Amish faith
groups as being true Christians. Their set of behavioral rules, the Ordnung, is particularly strict and
governs almost every area of their life. Style, color, and dimensions of
clothing are closely regulated. German language is spoken in the homes; children
do not learn English until they attend school. Women are not allowed to cut their hair, shave
their legs or underarms. They are not allowed to use any type of birth control,
makeup, nail polish, perfume. They cannot smoke. The rules for men are more
relaxed. Their furniture must be built to specific sizes. The wood has to be
stained a dark color; no lighter stain that would bring out the grain of the
wood is allowed because it would make the furniture look too fancy. The widths
of the home's door casings and windows are specified, as are the interior wall
colors, curtain colors, design of dishes and silverware, bed sheets,
pillowcases, comforters, etc. Sexual behavior between spouses is severely restricted to what is needed for
reproductive purposes. They cannot engage in sexual intercourse on the many fasting holidays. 3
D.R. Elder, " 'Es Sind Zween Weg': Singing Amish children into the Faith
Community," at: http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/ You may need software to read these PDF
files. It can be obtained free from:
"Amish teens tested in Devil's Playground: Documentary reveals youths'
experiments with 'English' life," NPR, 2002-MAY-30, at: http://www.npr.org/