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The Amish:

Practices of various groups


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Church organization:

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 are:

  • 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 restrictive.

  • Language: Members usually speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch). High German is used during worship. They learn English at school.
  • 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 military.
  • 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.
  • Modern conveniences:
    • 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 December.
  • 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 sermons.
  • 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 beverages, wear 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 choice." 5
    • 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
    • On 2008-JUN-24. 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; one went 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.

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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


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References used:

  1. 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:
  2. "Amish teens tested in Devil's Playground: Documentary reveals youths' experiments with 'English' life," NPR, 2002-MAY-30, at: http://www.npr.org/
  3. "Swartzentruber Amish Ordnung," at: http://www.amishabuse.com/
  4. Steven Nolt, "A history of the Amish," Good Books, (1992), Page 58. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Rob Owen, "Tuned In: Cinemax series probes Amish teens' dilemma," Post-Gazette, 2002-MAY-30, at: http://www.post-gazette.com/
  6. Rob Owen, "Tuned In: Amish give 'Real World'-style show a twist," Post-Gazette, 2004-JUL-22, at: http://www.post-gazette.com/
  7. Rob Owen, "Tuned In Journal: ABC News tracks Amish teens," Post-Gazette, 2008-JUN-23, at: http://www.post-gazette.com/

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Copyright � 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson




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