Today I thought I’d touch briefly on Council Meeting, a special twice-yearly occasion happening now in Amish churches in Lancaster County and elsewhere.
Council Meeting: Preparing for Communion
Last Sunday while staying with Amish friends in Lancaster, I did not get an invitation to attend Amish church. Usually the family I was staying with asks if I’d like along. But last Sunday they had Council Meeting, which is members-only.
Council Meeting is meant to prepare the church for Communion which occurs two weeks later. The authors of The Amish Way describe it as “accent[ing] mutual submission and an affirmation of the Ordnung” (see The Amish Way, p. 70). At Council Meeting the Ordnung is reviewed and outstanding issues, such as “out-of-order” members, are addressed.
The first part of the service includes a sermon encompassing Old Testament stories of creation, the flood, and prophecies of a savior, to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The “cornerstone scripture” is Matthew 18, with its themes of humility, forgiveness, and addressing sin in the church.
Members are encouraged to forgive and resolve disagreements. This is important because Council Meeting is a time of preparation to assure the harmony and purity required for Communion service (The Amish Way, p. 70).
The Ordnung & Church Issues
This second part is members-only, and is called Abstellung, meaning to place off-limits, or put away (The Amish Way, p. 70). This is the part when the Ordnung is reviewed and affirmed–including day-to-day aspects of Amish life such as clothing, technology, restrictions on work, as well as general admonitions against sin. Any non-members present (which would include unbaptized youth) will be dismissed to wait outside.
Issues in the church may be addressed at Council Meeting. For instance, in another church I know of, the behavior of one errant member will be addressed this year, after issues have built up over an extended period of time. “Issues” may include use of forbidden technology or attending services in another church (or a combination of things).
If problems remain in a church, it may prevent Communion from being held, or other church functions from being carried out, such as the ordaining of new ministers. Since problems in a church can impede the normal functioning of a church, they are taken seriously. And more importantly there are implications for the spiritual health of a congregation.
Issues in the church, and the impending excommunication of a member can cause great anguish, the more so if the person in question is a family member–brother, sister, child, or spouse. On the other hand, as an Amish person recently explained to me in so many words–it may be better for all involved to have it done with.
Two weeks after Council service, if a church is in harmony, Amish churches move forward with Communion.
Communion in the Amish church is held twice yearly, in the autumn and spring. It is the longest church service and the “high point of the Amish year” (The Amish Way, p. 73). It includes a long preaching schedule reviewing biblical history and the life, death, and teachings of Jesus Christ, affirmations of unity, and the partaking of bread and wine, as well as footwashing.
If you’d like to know more about these important religious events in the Amish calendar, I’d recommend The Amish Way for a more thorough account of both Council Meeting and Communion.