If you’ve ever wondered how Amish circle letters work, Amish Heartland has a nice piece featuring input from an Amish man who writes them.

And if you’re just wondering what a circle letter is, it is a low-tech way by which Amish people with common connections keep in touch.

In a nutshell, each person in a circle letter group writes a letter, which is added to a batch of previous letters from others in the group. The whole batch is then sent on to the next person on the list, who does the same, and so on.

It’s like a pony express-speed forum, with participants often linked by common interests and circumstances.  There are circle letters for those dealing with trying situations (the authors of The Amish note circle letters for parents of children killed in accidents or open heart surgery patients, among others [see p. 238]), or those with common interests, such as for people who raise hosta plants, as mentioned in the Amish Heartland article.

Some are also based on arbitrary circumstances, such as having a common birth month, year, or name.  For example, I just took a look in some copies of The Diary and saw a request for circle letter participants with the same name born in a three-year span, and one for men born in August 1987.

Here are some interesting things about circle letters according to the Amish Heartland article:

  • Circle letters are advertised in Amish publications – as mentioned above, prospective circle letter writers may seek participants in Amish newspapers like The Diary or Die Botschaft
  • Letters are named and numbered – this helps keep them in order
  • If there’s a lot of interest, letters may be divided – the Amish interviewee explains that this happened in the case of a circle letter for previous and current male school teachers
  • Tardiness may be penalized – For holding the letters longer than a week, a penalty may be assessed, such as paying postage for the next few recipients

Circle letter participants may never meet, and since personal photos are not typical among Amish, may never even know what the other participants look like.  However some circle letter groups have reunions where participants can meet in person.