5 Lessons Learned From Joining The Amish
Bill and Tricia Moser joined the Amish 20 years ago.
In an essay for The Washington Post, Bill Moser shares five lessons he and his wife learned from their experience.
The Mosers are described as being “motivated by a desire to live out their faith in a more moment-by-moment way.”
They came from an upper-middle class suburban background, with careers in architecture and occupational therapy.
Below are the five lessons (plus a bonus sixth “lesson”) with my short summary of each. Go here to read the article and points in full:
- The Amish defy political and cultural categories – If we apply political categories, there are aspects of Amish life that could be classified as both “conservative” and “liberal”
- Community is essential – Rather than a separation of church life and daily life, the Amish combine the two. Community “fulfilled a deep human need” for the Mosers
- Capitalism can and should be done in a more humane way – Amish business includes elements that could be considered “socialistic”
- Education can happen outside a schoolroom – We can learn important things in informal settings
- There were aspects of Amish life that weren’t for us – The language barrier and a desire for more active faith outreach were two challenges for the couple
And number 6: It’s not easy becoming a horseman in middle age
I found what they chose to highlight here interesting. And I’d imagine that if they wanted to add to it, this list could be much longer.
As often happens with Amish converts, the Mosers no longer belong to a horse-and-buggy Amish community. At some point they moved over to a more progressive Amish-Mennonite church.
If you’d like to learn more, the couple’s story is told in a new book by Jeff Smith called Becoming Amish.
There are Amish-like horse and buggy churches, that do not speak Pennsylvania German, but English only instead:
The John Dan Wenger Mennonites
The Virginia Old Order Mennonite Conference (Cline-Showalter)
The Lloyd Wenger Mennonites
People should look around which grouup fits best to what they expect. I find it always very sad if people leave after such a long time, because of a problem that could be avoided.
The Caneyville Christian Community is another Amish-like horse and buggy group, where there are several families who don’t not speak a German dialect including the family of its leader, Bryce Geiser.
Among the Caneyville people the are also families, who preserve their German language. The Caneyville people are very open to outsiders.
And then there are two horse and buggy Old German Baptist (Schwarzenau Brethren) groups:
The Old Brethren German Baptists
The Old Order German Baptist Brethren
All these groups can be found at Wikipedia.
I read an advance copy of the book by Jeff Smith and thought it was well done. It definitely should be read by anyone who thinks they would like to join the Amish. I thought the book was accurate and raised some very good points. It should be required reading for any Amish families involved in helping a potential convert.
This desire for Faith Outreach seems to be a problem not only in keeping converts, but also in keeping the in-born Amish. Truth be told, I don’t get it.
Living by example is the best outreach in the world. No amount of talking, persuading, asking me if I found Jesus, pamphlets, revivals, etc. etc. ad nauseam is going to convert a person’s true heart and soul. If we see Christ in the way others live – then that is the most attractive conversion tool in the book. No one wants to be nagged into Christianity. And I thank the Amish for their wisdom in this area. The Amish who think they need to go out and “save” people – may need to take the plank out of their own eyes first, and see, truly see, that God comes to us in the quiet presence of witnessing others’ good works.
“Living by example is the best outreach in the world.”
I agree, Judith! And that is why it is so painful to hear of professing Christians whose lives do NOT reflect God’s presence. I had to think of the answer I heard someone say when they were asked, rather aggressively, if they were saved. The answer was along the lines of, “I can say anything, but to know the answer, ask the people I live with, work with, and commune with.”
I appreciated your comments.
As another sayin’ goes…”I would rather SEE a sermon any day then to HEAR one!”
Number 6 is a biggie. Joining in middle age is no small feat. If I am correct in assuming this (and I’m sure Mark will correct me if I’m wrong 🙂 ) – most Amish are done with the bulk of their life’s manual labor by middle age. Their children are usually old enough to be married and take over the farm (if there is one) and Mom and Pop get to move into the Dawdi House – but still help out when they want to and can.
That’s the thing for me. I could speak Penn Deutsch, I can speak German, I can steer a buggy, I can bake a mean apple pie, I can live without electricity, I know the Bible so well – I could be a Bishop – but I would be a totally useless convert. Why? Because I’m ready for the Dawdi House. I am a young 52 year old, but 52 none the less. Which means with my arthritic knee I can’t walk to Church, I can’t garden unless it’s a raised bed, I can’t even get the dustballs underneath the couch. I would be a horrible, lazy Amish person.
I could sit on the porch in my favorite rocker and tell stories. But that’s about it. :-/
Greetings Judith, I know of a community in Smyrna Mills Maine of Old Order Amish- a 60 year old divorcee from Boston had visited the area with her daughter- they were so inspired by the Amish there that the 60 year old woman (who was legally blind with a seeing eye dog) wrote the Bishop to ask if it was possible for her to join the community. He suggested she spend two weeks visiting, go home and pray about it and then write back. She did this, and guess what? She was welcome in the community, handicap and all, at age 60. They did not see her as useless but did help her, and I’m sure found ways for her to be of some help in ways that were not inhibited by her vision- I’m just sharing that with you because if it is something you truly desire, God will make a way- granted there are 2 communities in Maine that are more ‘outsider’ friendly than many, but I feel like part of their faith would want to accommodate someone who truly wants to join their community regardless of your inability to do the specific things you mention-
By the way, last I heard about the 60 yr old woman from Boston who joined, she had become a full fledge member and heard she said it would take a bulldozer to make her leave.
Valerie, thanks for sharing, very interesting account. The standard line for divorced would-be seekers is that Amish wouldn’t accept them due to the divorce, but maybe there are exceptions.
And Judith kudos for the cold self-assessment 🙂 I usually don’t encourage conversion to the Amish, but I’ll just point out that there are some lazy Amish people, and not all of them have manual-labor heavy jobs 🙂
Unique Amish in Maine
You’re probably right Erik, most Amish communities are not outsider friendly to begin with in joining them for a variety of reasons (some justified by their experiences perhaps) and a divorcee becoming a member is probably really really rare- but these communities, Unity Maine & Smryna Mills Maine are seemingly more open to outsiders- there was another family who wanted to join so badly- who had several adopted children- however the wife had been married and divorced before- so this same community that took in the divorcee, would not allow the family who so longed to join their community- it wasn’t the ‘divorce’- it was the ‘remarriage’ while the first husband was still living, that they will not ever allow- Amish always see a second (or more) marriage as an adulterous marriage if the first spouse is still living.
Thank you, Erik, for letting me know that manual labor is not specifically a prerequisite for becoming Amish. I will take that to heart the next time I think of my fantasy of living out my retirement as an Amish person. 🙂
And thanks, Valerie for that interesting story of the divorced Boston woman who joined at age 60. Now if only my ex-husband would die….. (just kidding). See? The Amish would never let me in with a sense of humor like that. 😉
Judith, not all Amish people are hard workers! As years go by, we tend to slow down, right? Also, don’t overlook those who are unable to tackle a lot of work whether because their age is catching up with them or there is a physical or mental challenge. I don’t see someone who would like to work but can’t as lazy… Lazy is when there’s nothing hindering you but you don’t work by choice.
What do amish people think of groups like Caneyville Christian community?
Interesting information. I would like to read the book. In other accounts I’ve read about non-Amish joining the Amish, I quite often read that one of the biggest challenges was accepting rules of the Ordnung they didn’t necessarily agree with because they couldn’t understand the reasoning behind some of the specific rules of the Ordnung. For me, learning to drive a horse and the language would be the two biggest challenges, just as Moser mentioned.
Outsiders and Ordnung
Very true about outsiders who can eventually get frustrated with some of the rules in the Ordnung that do not seem Scriptural and then they start questioning things. The above community in Maine I mentioned had a family like that who became Amish- but eventually they started questioning some of these rules like ‘suspenders required’ verses allowing a belt (for the men). But questioning is simply not allowed and is seen as divisive- you submit to the brotherhood whether you agree or not, it’s not about your own opinion or understanding as much as it is submissive and laying down your own opinions-
To some, if they don’t find these extra Biblical rules as something the Lord would encourage- then they get tired of all the rules that make no sense to them and move on, often towards Mennonites if they still want to be “plain” or conservative non-resistant Christians-
It is interesting to me that the Ordnung would be a reason for converts to leave. It’s one of the first things one should consider carefully and accept before attempting to join an Amish Community. If one is serious about joining, it would seem logical that one would study the rules of the Community they are attempting to join – and then research the history of the Ordnung with regards to the Amish way of life.
As far as I can tell from my research – the extra-Bible rules of the Amish range from practical to inane. And the Ordnung can change at any time – what was allowed one year, might not be allowed the following.
The Ordnung is there to keep the flock from straying, it’s like the staff of the Shepherd. And the members of the community must abide by it, no questions asked, much like the sheep do the staff. The Shepherd is in charge, not the sheep, and the sheep just have to follow and trust that the Shepherd is leading them out of danger and into a valley with clear water and green pastures. If one of the sheep keeps straying from the staff – and goes out on its own – the Shepherd must leave the flock unattended and in danger, to retrieve the one sheep that strayed. This endangers the whole flock. So the Amish have these rules for a reason.
So – why would someone join the Amish and then complain about the Ordnung, knowing full well that there is an Ordnung in place that could change at any moment, put into place by Bishops and Ministers who are very human and can make mistakes, knowing that an Ordnung could have ridiculous rules and that they (the converts and the Community) are expected to follow it no matter what, no questions asked — why are they complaining AFTER they’ve joined? That makes no sense. Even less sense than some of the more arcane rules of the strictest of Ordnungs.
I would think that for converts – the Ordnung would be one of the first issues they would have to accept. They would have to abide by the rules, no questions asked, no talking back, do not stray. And conversely I would think for converts that the Ordnung would be one of the last reasons to leave a Community because they should have been schooled in it during the research, preparation and transitional period they experienced before they actually were accepted and joined.
For me personally, an Ordnung holds no fear for me. I would think following an Ordnung (no matter how peculiar the rules are) is not the hardest part of becoming a part of an Amish Community. It’s actually the easiest part – it’s spelled out for you, what you can do and what you can’t. There’s no guessing, no questioning, it’s the rules. I think the hardest part for me would be finding a place in the Community. That would be hard. The Ordnung is important, but superficial.
An Ordnung is not for everyone. And there can be some pretty important reasons for leaving a Community. Maybe I’m wrong, but the rules of an Ordnung don’t seem as important as say, education, or women’s equality. I think those are heavy weight issues for leaving. But an Ordnung? Nah.
Doing your homework
I agree with most of your comment, Judith. My son, Mark, calls it “doing your homework.” A “seeker” needs to do their homework before joining any Amish church. The doctrines of the Amish are spelled out in the 18 Articles of the Dortrecht Confession of Faith. The ordnung of any specific Amish church can be discussed with the ministry if it is not written out. I would disagree with you about the ordnung being a top down fiat from the bishop. According to my son, any member can bring concerns they have to the ministry. These can eventually result in changes to the ordnung. Also, any changes to the ordnung must be agreed to by the membership by consensus. If a bishop is felt to be totally out of line he can be silenced by the church and even excommunicated.
Top down - not so much...
Hmmmm….that is interesting, Don. So the Ordnung could be changed by the Community as a whole! I did not know that! So for instance, a farmer would like to use a particular type of equipment, he then lobbies the rest of the Community, they vote (?) on the issue and then it becomes so regardless of the Bishop or Minister. That makes the Amish even more interesting to me, if that is possible.
Changing the ordnung
I’m not quite sure about all of this, Judith. I’ll have to ask, Mark. But as I recall him telling me when I brought this up he said that a member could bring their concern to the ministry. The ministry would discuss the concern among themselves. If the ministry considered it a worthwhile matter they would bring it to the church and it would need to be agreed upon by the church by consensus. Just to lobby the membership and go behind the ministry’s back would not be done. However, if the church found a minister to be in sin or out of line in some way with Scripture, outside help could be sought from the ministry in other districts or communities and the offending minister could be silenced or even excommunicated. However, probably if the entire membership were for or against a certain ordnung it would probably be changed.
Hi Judith, Don has always got some good comments via Mark, and here is also another general piece on the Ordnung which might give you a better picture:
Very well said, Don Curtis. Between you and Mark you have explained things very well. I have nothing to add except my agreement.
If you seriously consider to join the Amish, you should read this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seeker_(Anabaptism) This article contains a lot of information for seekers who want to join an Old Order group.