The Amish hold Communion twice yearly, in the spring and in the fall. The Communion service is an important time of affirming unity, described as “the highest and holiest moment of the Amish church calendar” (see The Amish Way p. 69).
Why do Amish observe Communion? In 1001 Questions And Answers On The Christian Life, an Amish doctrinal book, the following four answers are given to that question:
- Our Savior commands it.
- It renews the memories of the great sacrifice made for our sakes, and our consequent privileges and duties.
- It emphasizes the necessity of self-examination.
- When observed in the right spirit, it impresses upon those who witness the observance of the ordinance the fact of Christ’s suffering and death.
So how do the Amish prepare for Communion? What happens at the service itself? And what is Council Meeting and why is it important?
In today’s post, Rebecca Miller (who previously described how Amish youth prepare for baptism) answers these questions and more, with an account of the most recent Communion services in her Holmes County settlement.
I would like to begin with the preparations for Communion, which starts two weeks earlier at Council Services. Actually from the ministry’s viewpoint it starts earlier as they have a meeting to discuss issues and make decisions about changes, etc. they might want to bring before the congregation. If there are erring members they will need to decide how to approach the situation. They will also want to be sure they are all in unity.
Council Meeting (Two Weeks Beforehand)
Then Sunday morning Council Meeting services begin like usual, except the children aren’t present. Council Meetings and Communion are only for the members. I know in some communities the children go along for the services, then just leave the building while the members have meeting. Around 11:20 we start going in for lunch.
At Council services we usually split in two groups and the minister keeps preaching. He finishes the service then and the congregation sings until everyone is done, then the bishop gives a talk following a path through the Old Testament, mostly commenting on what the ministers shared in the forenoon.
Then, following that, he reminds everyone that we want to be honest and upright people, and then goes over the Ordnung (spoken church rules). After this, he shares that they (ministry) have all come to an agreement on these things and would wish to hold Communion with the congregation in two weeks, and the ministers can now go ask the church for their “Rot” (vote/council).
Each person then has the opportunity to give voice of their opinions and concerns. If everyone is in unity, then Communion is set for two weeks in advance. Everyone is urged to make things right with people if they have anything between them that might hinder good feelings. Then the in-between Sunday we have a fasting and prayer day to release “he who we might have blamed unjustly” and any grudges we may have toward our fellow church members.
This service may be on Saturday or Sunday. The beginning of the services is similar to a regular church Sunday. We are likely to get more visiting ministers.
Following is a description of our latest Communion services, attended by all our church members, a couple from a neighboring church, two visiting bishops, four ministers, and two deacons and all their wives, and some little children.
We sang four hymns while the ministers were in “Abrot” (ministers’ council). The first sermon, the “Forstellung” (introduction) is done by a bishop. He stays sitting in a chair, and gives an overview of what we will be hearing during the day. At Communion, unlike other services the ministers have a certain path they follow. They call it The Golden Path–from the patriarchs, through the prophesies, and into the New Testament.
After about 20 minutes he finished and a visiting minister had the “Anfang” (beginning). He has a powerful voice, and was very expressive. He really had a way of keeping everyone’s attention. He really got us to think of Psalms 139, about having a clean heart, being forgiving, and striving to follow Jesus, our salvation.
He told us that we can’t only give our lives to God and that is it- we need to keep growing, keep going forward, and grow in the Spirit and bear fruits, and seek to better our lives through Christ. He also explained the Headship Order so well. He then followed up with a sermon from Creation through to Abraham. After his sermon, Luke 22 was read.
The third sermon was also by a visiting minister. We call this one the “Altvater” (patriarchs). He explained “Gelassenheit”, joy in submission, so well. He spoke in a strong voice, loud and fast and had a great gift for quoting scripture. He picked up the Golden Path at Abraham and followed through to Moses. He spoke much of the importance the Israelites placed on keeping their promises and how we should also be very diligent in keeping our promises to God and the church.
At 11:20 the first group went for lunch (we split into 3 groups, since there were more people). We had delicious potato soup, besides our usual church meal. By 12:45 we were all done and the fourth minister was standing. He read 1 Cor. 10 and commented on it . We call this the “Leide,”(Suffering of Christ) or simply The Main Part.
He had a soft voice, conversational and kind. He took the story from the Israelites, up through the patriarchs, the prophesies of Jesus, and into the New Testament, Jesus’ birth, childhood, ministry, and especially His suffering, sacrifice, and resurrection and ascension. He spoke so “feelingly”, it was like you were right there!
By 3:00 we were ready for the Communion interspersed with scripture readings and special prayers. He explained how–like a grain of wheat dies and is then raised up in spring with sunshine and rain–so our Christian life should be–the dying off of the old man and the growth of the new man in Christ. The same with the use of wine. The grapes are pressed and the impurities have been fermented off and together all the grapes become a pure thing, sweet to the taste, so Christ’s blood can also cleanse all our impurities and together with other members we can become something sweet and good.
Then the bread is passed followed by a prayer and scripture, and then the wine. Then he finished the services by reading the scripture pertaining to foot-washing and alms and asking testimonials from our bishop and two visiting minister. This is followed by the salutation, an invitation to visit their church, and prayer. When the congregation starts singing the foot-washing hymn, two deacons bring in four buckets and towels and we wash each others’ feet in a sign of humility and brotherhood. Then we give alms and head home with the last strains of the hymn still in our ears.
The middle-aged and older couples stay for a light supper meal, but the young folks and parents with youngsters at home head home. Usually it is 4:00 – 4:30 until we are all done.
If everything is as it should be, we go home with a feeling of contentment and renewed brotherhood and have realized anew what our Lord and Saviour has done for us.
Here are some of the scripture references used during the day: Luke 22, 1 Cor.10 &11, and John 6 & 13.
Grapes image: Jose Pestana/flickr