The Kutztown University talk was a very well attended event last night, with an overflow crowd of around 200 coming out to hear James Weaver and Ben Riehl discuss Old Order Mennonites and Amish.

There was much humor and a warm rapport between James, Ben and moderator Dr. Rob Reyolds. The program lasted nealy two hours, with both pre-submitted and live audience questions covering a diverse range of topics. Some interesting points, in no particular order:

  • Old Order Mennonites have preserved a farming tradition to a greater degree than the Amish. Ben felt that it was easier for Old Order Mennonites to move to new locations and set up farming due to dfferences in permitted technology (tractor farming vs. horse-drawn).
  • Divorce is not something that either men have had much if any experience of in their own communities.  Among Old Order Mennonites a person is excommunicated if he or she divorces and then remarries.
  • Rumspringa is primarily a time to socialize ouside of the parental fold, and most importantly, find a life partner.  Both men felt they had done well in that department.  The idea that parents would want children to experience wickedness in the outside world in order to “inoculate” against it is a myth.  Parents worry about their kids in all cultures.
  • “We’re here by design not by accident” was a common theme of the evening. God’s hand is at work. Old Order people are also conscious of the choices they make and their lifestyle, technology and other cultural aspects have come about in large part due to deliberate decisions.
  • Amish worship in the home because their Old Order identity formed earlier in time. When the Old Order branch of the Mennonites crystallized, meetinghouses were already more accepted in the culture.
  • At one time ministerial candidates of financial means were favored among Old Order Mennonites due to having to be away from the farm frequently to fulfill church duties. James said this tendency had changed, however. Ben, making the point that financial status is not an issue among Amish either, noted that he had found himself in the lot three times.
  • When asked for a piece of advice for non-Old Order society James suggested trying to look out for one’s neighbor. He also proposed reflecting on clothing choices, noting that some of the customers at his produce business “challenged” his values by their choice of attire. Ben said that no matter what group you belong to you can’t go wrong doing random acts of kindness.

There was much more than that over the course of the event. Both men were gracious and charitable in their responses, both to each other and to the audience (and by extension, non-Old Order society). “We don’t think we’re necessarily better than you but here’s why we do what we do” was the general tone for the evening. I have a feeling much of the audience would have stayed for 3 or 4 hours had they the chance.