Well overdue, here is our second batch of Amish questions-and-answers.  I meant to get to more of these, faster, but as they say “circumstances intervened” 🙂  Thanks for your patience.

SharonR: Since the Amish farmers and their neighbors mostly eat farm fresh products, are they generally healthier than the “Englishers”, or have they also fallen to eating “junk” like so many of us Englishers have, when they go into ‘town’?

Well, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth!  But I realize there is a difference between junky sweets, and–let’s call them “wholesome” sweets, the homemade stuff without all the chemicals.  Amish do dip into the junkier stuff–more so as their occupational orbits pull them away from the home pantry.

A lot of Amish people look at the trashier foods as treats to be enjoyed here and there.  Moderation, remember.  So it goes with fast food and sugary drinks, for instance.  My family recently hosted Amish friends.  They allowed themselves to partake of a few Cokes–though they’re usually very big on healthy eating.

Theresa: How does one become pen pals with an Amish person?

Theresa you’ve submitted the number-one most-asked question I get on the blog or in my email inbox.  I wrote a piece on finding Amish pen-pals a while back.  I’m afraid there’s no extraordinary secret to it.  In summary:  make friends with someone who is Amish! Then write them a letter.  If that doesn’t work, repeat. 🙂 Takes some legwork, I realize.  Alas, there is no Amish pen-pal directory I can point you to.

Mona: Are all dogs kept outside or are some indoor pets?

I would agree with what Ohio Ann has to say: “Most Amish that I am aquainted with do not have dogs in their homes. Sometimes in the walk-in basement on very cold nights but mostly the dogs are in barns or shops. Have never seen a cat in a home but many in the barns. One lady I know who raises a small breed dog for sale (and NO she is not a puppy mill) does bring the pups in from the heated kennel to get them used to being in a house before they are advertised for sale but in general I have seen few dogs in homes but many at homes.”

Al in KY:  Is there much intermarrying between New Order and Old Order Amish? Are there still Old Order churches/districts that are changing to New Order as was the case when the New Order began?

Al, you ask a good question.  I’m imagine there has been some intermarriage though I doubt “much”.  Since the main place Amish youth meet each other is in youth groups and “singings”, and with New Order Amish having their own singings, that eliminates one big avenue for meeting a mate from outside your affiliation.

Also, the only place with significant populations of New Order and Old Order Amish living next to one another is really Holmes County, Ohio.  There you’ll find a little under half of all New Order districts (20-some).  The rest of the New Order Amish communities are only a few congregations or less, and typically constitute their own settlements–that is, no other Amish living next-door.

That said there is some melding between New and Old Order in the Holmes settlement.  Some of my Old Order friends and acquaintances “sound” like New Order Amish sometimes (ie, discussing assurance of salvation).  Old Order Amish have become involved in mission/charity organizations in various though sometimes less direct ways.

There is some sympathy among Old Order Amish for “New Order ideas” like the emphasis on clean courtship and the ban on tobacco.  The authors of An Amish Paradox note that Old Order Amish who took a New Order-like stance on controlling courtship and alcohol and drugs became known as Midways, though most Midway families did not join the New Order.  However the Midway philosophy has grown to encompass an estimated half of Old Order families in Holmes County, according to a minister cited by the authors.

I’ve also heard of some ideological shifting from New Order to Old Order currents of thought, though less in that direction.

Various Readers: Do Amish wear (store-bought) underwear, bras, etc?

Many Amish do wear the store-bought undergarments.  This is not so secret, as a drive-by on laundry day will reveal, even if you’re not actively seeking info on the topic 🙂  Some Amish do make their own undergarments which would lack elastic and look quite different from the everyday English version.

Stephen Scott covers the topic in Why Do They Dress That Way?, in one of my favorite-named sections of the book, “That Which Is Unseen”:  “Some plain groups have very definite regulations on appropriate underwear.  Understandably these rules are rather difficult to enforce…The most traditional Old Orders have insisted that underpants have legs (these are necessarily often made at home).  Brassieres, which date back only to about the 1920s, have not found acceptance among the ultraconservatives.  Any kind of lacy, fancy underwear is proscribed by the most rigid Old Orders.  Plain slips are made commercially by several Old Order women.”

Steve wrote the book in 1986 with an update in 1997.  I’m not sure if and how much the sands have shifted in some groups on stricter underwear regulations in the meantime, though I don’t expect the above has changed much in the more conservative groups.

Slightly-handled-Order-Man: The Amish do not have church buildings like Mennonites have “Meeting Houses” and other Christian denominations have churches of various sizes and styles. Is there a reason why the Amish chose to worship in homes?

The early Anabaptist Brethren famously met in secret, in caves and in homes away from the eye of the authorities, which I suppose set the tone for the future.  While in Europe Amish didn’t have much choice when most were tenant farmers and not able to erect their own worship structures.

Owning their own land in North America, Amish could build churches if they wanted to.  However, worshiping in the home emphasizes the people as the definition of “church”, and not the building.

Home worship is also practical and probably cheaper than maintaining a separate church structure.  Amish may need to build homes or buildings with large areas to accomodate their church brethren, but those large areas are going to get used anyway by large families or as work/storage space.

Julie Carte: I would also like an update on the Maine settlement. The information I have is old, an article in the Bangor Daily News in 2005. Are they still thriving there? Have more moved into the area? What about the Unity Maine settlement?

Julie there are actually a total of 4 Maine Amish settlements, with a 4th being founded in the past year (see this 2011 state tally from the Young Center).  Reader Nelson, who lived in Maine and has friends/relatives there, adds:

 “Some families have moved in to Smyrna and Unity Maine, but 5-6 households have left Smyrna since 2009, and 2 more households moving out next spring…4 of those households were members there,but the others were never able to be good enough to feel accepted, and some of the members who left told me the same, and all of them left the Amish except one family. Of course,there are some who move in,but received a call from Smyrna and Unity and does not sound too good.”

Debbie Welsh: My husband wants to know if any of their ” home remedies ” for illnesses really work, or any of the bottled pills and tonics you see in their shops?

Well this is the $64,000 question isn’t it 🙂  As reader Lois Morgan put it: “I am of two minds on this topic, plus a third, just to make things more complicated.”  We touched on vitamins and supplements this week, but for a discussion of home remedies, I’ll refer you to this post and this one about an Amish-penned book of home remedies.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Amish questions-and-answers coming soon.  If you missed it here is the first batch of answers.  Some questions were answered in individual posts:

Do Amish remarry?

How do Amish youth get driver’s licenses?

What are Amish burial practices?