What if, instead of simply getting up, dressing in your Sunday best and driving to church, church came to you?
What if your home was flooded with 150 people for a three-hour service followed by a couple of hours of eating and visiting? This would be the picture once a year if you were Amish.
Your other church Sundays would be spent as one of the visitors, usually at neighbors’ homes no more than a short walk or buggy ride away.
In nearly all instances, Amish hold church in their homes, in large rooms or basements, or in a separate building on the property, such as in a workshop which has been cleared of tools and equipment.
And preparing for 150 church guests is no small chore. A recent article gives a look at church prep in a New York Swartzentruber Amish community:
Preparation for church services starts at least a week in advance, because the Amish want their homes in peak shape. Windows, walls and furniture get scrubbed. Pies and bread are baked a couple of days ahead of time, with women sometimes recruiting help from their Amish neighbors or family members.
While mothers and daughters focus on getting the house in order, boys and fathers do outside work such as cleaning out barns and picking up in the yard.
“We have to get the barn ready for all of the horses that will be here,” Mr. Hershberger said.
With 22 families in their church district, the Hershbergers prepare by baking 15 loaves of bread, 60 moon-pie cookies and several pies. Before the services, living room furniture is pushed aside for long wooden benches that get transported from home to home.
Girls often wash and braid their hair on Saturdays. On church days, females wear white capes over their dresses while males wear clothes set aside for Sundays: white shirts, dark-colored vest, pants and jacket. Married women wear white caps while girls and unmarried women wear black caps.
Other things we might add about how the Amish hold church:
- With roughly 26 church Sundays in a year, and Amish church districts typically 25-35 households in size, most families would expect to have church about once per year, or a little less.
- However, in some cases families will hold church more than once in a calendar year. This occurs in the case of small church districts–particularly in a fledgling settlement. For instance, if you are in a new community of just 3 or 5 households, you’ll be holding church a lot more often than in a mature settlement. Of course, you’ll have fewer visitors to prepare for.
- Additionally, single people might not be expected to hold church, or those with small spaces as in the case of rentors, or old folks.
- As noted above, getting a home in tip-top shape is important. Besides the natural desire to make one’s home presentable for guests, those who study the Amish have described a regulatory function: “As the Gmay is welcomed into each family’s home, the congregation has an annual opportunity to appraise a family’s compliance with Ordnung expectations for home furnishings and appliances. Thus, each household is, in a real sense, open for inspection once a year” (The Amish, Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, Nolt; p. 78).
- This does not account for other large hosting occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or youth singings.
Bringing church into the home, rather than going to a separate ceremonial building, is a fundamentally different experience than what most of us are accustomed to.
It’s an arrangement with both practical, and spiritual, implications. As the authors of The Amish observe, “Meeting in a home reinforces the fact that Amish religion is embedded in the material texture of daily life” (p. 78).