5 Things You See at an Amish Church Service
I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to Amish church services close to a dozen times.
As an outsider, you naturally notice things that are either like or unlike the services you’re accustomed to.
And if you don’t speak Pennsylvania German, you don’t really have the preaching to keep your mind occupied. Thus my senses naturally hone in on other aspects of the service.
I put together a list of a few things you usually don’t see at an “English” church service–but you stand a good-to-guaranteed chance of seeing at an Amish one.
Amish Church Basics
Before we get to that, the quick basics of Amish church service:
- Amish hold church once every two weeks.
- Congregations are typically 25-35 families in size, around 100-150 people.
- Church is held in the home. “The home” may mean literally a room or basement of the home, or maybe a shop, or even a barn. This keeps the focus on the community. As the authors of 1001 Questions and Answers on the Christian Life observe, “In the Bible…church always refers to people, not to a building.”
- Holding church at the home means a lot of preparation for the host family. Read about what goes into that here.
- Service consists of singing, preaching, prayer, testimony (Zeugniss), and then a members’ meeting (sometimes), and fellowship meal after church concludes.
If you want to know more about Amish church services, here is one article.
Five Things You See in Amish Church
1. Children eating a snack
Amish services are around three hours long (and sometimes longer, in plainer groups). I don’t know of many other denominations’ services which are as long as an Amish church service.
It’s hard to sit still for such a long time, but the small children are usually quiet and well-behaved. They may come and sit on a parent’s or grandparent’s lap, and drift off to sleep for awhile. Other times they get a snack to keep them occupied.
When I’m in my own church, I see small children with toys and books, but not snacks. A snack not only gives you something to do but also a little energy to get through sitting still for so long.
2. An hour-long sermon
And you will probably need the energy, because Amish sermons are long. At least, the second sermon is. In fact, at around an hour duration, this sermon by itself might be longer than some other churches’ entire worship services.
As noted in The Amish Way, Amish ministers use the scripture reading from the lectionary calendar as a starting point (examples from one community: Matthew 8-9; Matthew 4-5; John 17-Ephesians 4; John 17-Romans 12), but often incorporate the Psalms, the Old Testament, and examples from daily life.
Amish preachers and sermons can be engaging or, as as accounts have it, not so much.
Of course, Amish ministers do not seek the job, and they’re not formally trained in preaching. “Most sermons are patterned on a style of preaching that they have heard since they were children” (The Amish Way, p. 66).
So it’s not like Amish men are attracted to the ministry because they have a talent or desire or gift for talking about Scriptures in front of a crowd.
Another thing about the preaching: the person offering the sermon on a given Sunday may not be your regular preacher.
You’ll often have visiting preachers in a church (something that is probably more common in larger communities where it is easier to travel to another congregation). You will hear Amish people comment that they enjoy the preaching of such-and-such a preacher.
3. Someone sleeping
So, doesn’t it make perfect sense that this follow the point on long sermons?
Truth be told you might actually hear this before you see it, if some unfortunate snoring happens. A seat in the back corner of the building is ideal (Amish church benches don’t have backs, but the back rows are usually pushed up near the wall).
I’m sure Amish people aren’t excited to think that church members occasionally snooze, but I can’t blame them if they do. This might be the youth who was out late the night before or the fellow who had a bit too heavy a breakfast that morning.
I don’t write this to suggest that Amish people are sleeping through church every Sunday, but with 100+ people over a 3-hour service, especially if a preacher maybe isn’t the most engaging speaker, you can see how you might drift off (it actually happened to me one time too).
Some Amish might abstain from breakfast or eat lightly to avoid going to church on a sleep-inducing heavy stomach. In the end it is just more evidence that Amish people are human, too (news flash!).
4. The Holy Kiss
Amish ministers greet one another with the Holy Kiss. This is a kiss on the lips as ordained in numerous books of the Bible, including Romans, I Thessalonians, I Peter and others.
In some churches (New Order, for example), all members exchange the kiss (males with male, females with females). It’s also given to newly-baptized members following the baptism ceremony.
When you arrive at an Amish church service, the men who are already there are usually standing around, forming a circle or semi-circle by or in the barn. The women go into the house.
Each new arrival walks around the circle and greets the others present. This is when the Holy Kiss is exchanged, either by the ministers or between members if such is the custom (visitors don’t get one).
Truth be told it might surprise you if you don’t know it’s coming. But Amish can give plenty of Scriptural backing for the practice.
As one doctrinal pamphlet explains, “It is a token of love and fellowship with one another and with the Lord. It is to be practiced regularly by all Christians as they meet and fellowship together, as a brotherhood” (see The Truth in Word and Work, p. 57).
5. Amish peanut butter
This technically isn’t a part of the service, but of the fellowship meal which follows.
I’ve been to Amish church in communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The fellowship meal varies a bit in my experience, but there are some things that stay pretty standard.
Black coffee, breads and cheese spread, some pickled beets, cheeses and pretzels. Sometimes you’ll have some lunch meat, other times no meat. I’ve had a hot noodle soup before too. I hear plainer groups have a traditional bean soup, but I’ve never been in those church services.
It’s a tasty but pretty modest meal. But you’re often so hungry after the service that you gobble it up and grab seconds–if you have time before they switch out the table for the second seating.
I’ve probably seen the most variation in desserts offered–cookies and dessert squares in some churches (in Ohio), snitz pie in Pennsylvania (a Lancaster County tradition).
Amish peanut butter seems to be standard everywhere. It’s a characteristic staple of church Sundays. I don’t know if it’s technically considered a “dessert”, but it sure tastes like one to me.
Made of a combination of peanut butter, marshmallow creme, and other sweeteners, you don’t need to add jelly to this peanut butter. Tastes great on a piece of bread, nothing else required.
A sweet ending to a day of fellowship. And even though you might not understand all that is said during Amish church, you still can get a lot out of the experience. At the least, your hosts will fill you in on what you missed during the fellowship meal.
Have you attended an Amish church service? What stood out to you?
Image credits: Pretzel snack- Windell Oskay/flickr; Bible- Sarah Nichols/flickr; Alarm clock- Ninian Reid/flickr; Amish farm- ShipshewanaIndiana; Peanut Butter- Das Dutchman Essenhaus
I have never been to an Amish church service, but have been at various Amish homes on Saturdays when they are preparing for church and it’s always a busy time! I have also had the experience three times with three different Amish ministers, being around when they are preparing their sermons. All three were using their Bibles, concordances and a couple of other books in doing their preparation. This surprised me because I thought Amish sermons were entirely extemporaneous. Most recently I stopped by for a short visit with an Amish minister and his family on a Saturday. I could see he had his Bibles and other books and a notebook to write in. I mentioned it looked like he was preparing his sermon and asked if he was the minister who would preach the next day at his church’s service. He said, “Yes, unless
some guest minister shows up and then he will likely preach.” I thought, “How disappointing, if you’ve worked several hours on a sermon and then wouldn’t even get to preach it.”
Al, as someone who has preached (generally not in Mass, because the Catholic Church does not ordain women, but in other settings such as retreats), I imagine that an Amish preachers might be somewhat disappointed not to be called upon to preach after putting in a lot of prep, but would also know that the study time was not wasted, as it would make the sermon actually preached at the service more meaningful to him.
And Amish preachers may well experience the same phenomenon that I have: If I know in advance that a preaching occasion is on my schedule but something beyond my control has prevented me from taking the time to prepare thoroughly, the Holy Spirit always helps me to find the words to say. If, on the other hand, I am unprepared because I was being lazy and just didn’t get around to it, the Holy Spirit is perfectly happy to watch me founder in front of all those people! It’s a lesson that doesn’t have to be taught many times to be well-learned!
just like to know if there is amish churches in maine
hello I was wondering if there may be any amish churches in maine I’m from bangor maine I’m so big in amish and the way of living
Looking for an Amish church near 7 corners Pennsylvania
Looking for an Amish church near 7 corners Pennsylvania. I would like to know where and when the meetings are held. Is this something I can find online? Thank you. Roberta Hartley
I have two brothers in the ministry. As far as I know, all ministers study for Sunday even if they know there is a chance they will not be the one to preach. A minister planning to attend in another district can look in the register to see what scriptures will be read and can read and study those in advance. A minister does not use notes in his preaching. I have often heard of ministers who had an idea of what they might talk about but when the time came, something completely different came to mind or what was preached in the opening sermon might send their thoughts in a new direction.
As for getting ready for church, it is a busy time. It’s a good way to get all the corners of the house & other buildings cleaned up. 🙂 It is also a good feeling once church is over and normal routine can be taken up again. Or as our 17 year old son put it last time, “Now we can make a mess again!”
About Amish church service
It’s interesting about the length of the service- I can relate to this. I am Jewish, and growing up, our family attended Orthodox and/or Conservative services, that were typically 2 to 3 hours in length. As an adult, my husband and our children and I attend a reform Jewish congregation, where normal weekly services are an hour, but for the High Holidays are 3 1/2 hours.
Women and the kiss of peace?
Erik, do you know if women in the Amish community exchange the Kiss among themselves? I would think that “all Christians” would include both halves of the community, but sometimes such things fall between the cracks of history, if it became identified with “the ministers” and that was defined as “the men.”
I can also imagine, however, the women exchanging the kiss when they gather in the house, as the men do when they gather outside, so a male visitor (or male ministers, for that matter) might not normally see it.
In Catholic churches, the Kiss is exchanged at a specific point during the Mass (service) shortly before communion, and after the Second Vatican Council was turned from a literal “kiss” into whatever gesture of fellowship is acceptable and understood within each culture. In the United States, the accepted gesture at this time is a handshake. I’m told in some Asian countries it is a bow. The US Bishops are thinking about making a change to the gesture here, but I have not heard what they are thinking of changing it to.
Good question. Actually I believe women do give the kiss to women in some churches. The bishop’s wife also gives the kiss to newly-baptized female members.
In his comment below, Mark has confirmed that women in some communities exchange the holy kiss too. I’ve added that to the post.
Since there’ve been references to the Holy Kiss (and because Erik said I could refer to my related blog post), I’ll share a post on the Holy Kiss “Amish Pucker-Up” http://brendanixononamish.blogspot.com/2013/05/amish-pucker-up.html
I find it surprising.....
…..that there are so many rcc comments in this thread…..mainly because it was the rcc that persecuted all the Anabaptist faiths.
How can they be compared, at all? Does anyone really care what the rcc does or plans to do in a Amish blog?
Jim, anyone can comment as long as they’re respectful.
Don’t try to “shut down” other commenters because you disagree with or dislike another church. We talk about different faith experiences here and threads go in different directions. Are you a new commenter here?
Trish, comment away.
Catholic Influence on Early Anabaptiusm
Charles Loomis was one of my professors in graduate school at Michigan State. He argued that there was a significant Catholic influence on early Anabaptism.
For example, he attributed the early Anabaptists’ proficiency in agriculture to the transfer of skills from the monasteries through monastic converts to the Anabaptist movement. Remember, in medieval times the monasteries were the centers of learning and of technological innovation (think Mendel and his peas, as a case in point!). And the monastics were often practitioners of a rigorous Christianity (take a bow, Francis of Assisi!)
So, Catholicism is not irrelevant to the development of the Anabaptist movement.
Bill, you are absolutely correct. Michael Sattler, who was very influential in the early Anabaptist movement was a former Benedictine monk. He was one of the authors of the Schleitheim Confession, and he basically lifted seven of the articles of faith from the Benedictine rule. The Amish today still adhere to the Schleitheim Confession. The one Sattler didn’t bring into the SC was the vow of chastity. My husband, David, who has done extensive reading on this subject, claims the Amish lifestyle is like monastic life, except with families.
I think your idea of monastic farm life being influential is also right on. In fact, some of the early Anabaptist leaders could have been working at the monasteries as lay members (besides those who were actually monks or priests). They would definitely pick up the farming techniques that way.
It is hard for me to comprehend how much blood was shed over the idea of people choosing to be baptized as adults. I scratch my head over why this idea would have been such a threat. There must by something I’m missing about the culture at the time. I know it is tied in to self-empowerment versus taking your orders from those in authority. But good grief. The authorities didn’t know human nature very well… if the human spirit is oppressed, then people will react. Simple as that.
I’ve often wondered the same thing…why was adult baptism viewed as anarchy?
Here’s what I’ve learned–infant baptisms were documented in church records. And those were used for taxation by the government.
Not sure if that’s the answer…but it wouldn’t surprise me. So many conflicts boil down to a “follow the money” issue.
Please share your thoughts!
“I’ve often wondered the same thing…why was adult baptism viewed as anarchy?”
I suppose if we really split hairs, technically the adult baptism wasn’t the issue per se, but rather the rejection of infant baptism which was implied by the need for rebaptizing as adults. I would presume that the RCC would themselves baptize adults who were converted to their denomination — so it’s not adult baptism itself. But the Anabaptist (“ana-” = again) insisted on baptizing adults because they rejected the baptism of infants — and that was considered a slap against the RCC doctrine (and it was).
That is much appreciated, Erik!
5 Things You See at an Amish Church Service
Erik, I share Trish’s appreciation! Many evangelical Christian demonstrations (not all!) have an impulse to dismiss the Roman Catholic Tradition and it seemed that was Jim’s first impulse in his comments.
By discussing the Amish tradition here, the Kiss of Peace, the modern Catholic tradition of the handshake for the Sign of Peace, we have the chance to look at both and think of both critically. This is good! The discussion of an Amish tradition, in this case, brought an exam of Catholic one — how we are similar, how we differ and where both/either may go in the future. In this sense, we help each other along our differing paths of religious traditions and continue to walk a path of Christian faith together.
And I really like Amish peanut butter!
The Amish have a lot in common with the Catholics
I have often thought that, even though the Plain People rebelled against the Roman Catholic faith and often paid a heavy price for it, the Amish retained a good deal of their heritage. (Although, strictly speaking, the Amish didn’t have the Catholic heritage; they rebelled against the Mennonites who were the ones who had been Catholic). But the Amish women, in particular, retained a good many features: i.e. their clothing. Think of the traditional dress of Catholic nuns- doesn’t an Amish woman look a great deal like that? Think of the long, solid-colored gown. Even the white covering could be a stand in for the wimple, while the black bonnet resembles the black head coverings that traditional ‘sisters’ wore. Incidentally, Amish songs resemble the Gregorian Chants of Catholic monks.
The Amish, at least in the time that I was Amish, feared and despised the Catholics; their memories are long and bitter. The “Martyrs’ Mirror’ is practically a sacred book to the traditional Amish. And the Amish often thought/think of Revelations’ depiction of the end times as referring directly and distinctly to the Catholic Church and the Pope.
I’m proud of my Amish heritage – after all, not too many Americans can boast of that- but let’s not forget their peculiarities.
A lot of the persecution of the early Anabaptists was also coming from the Protestant authorities. I guess I always saw it as coming from the State Churches, not just one or the other.
I have heard people mention the dress of Amish women looking like nuns before. Don’t remember where I heard it, but there was a taxi driver who picked up some Amish girls in a big city train station and asked if they were “sisters.” One answered, “No, but some of us are cousins.”
The bonnet came along later and was really an issue at one time. I guess the bonnet became popular in a lot of areas in the time of Queen Victoria and slowly made it’s way into the Amish churches. (And others.) There are still Amish churches in PA that do not allow the bonnet to be worn.
Mark, your story about the taxi driver mistaking the Amish girls for Religious “sisters” (nuns) reminded me of a time when I was in Divinity school, and some of us went to a conference in Springfield, Missouri. I was eating at McDonalds with a friend of mine who, like me, was from Indiana (so we both knew Plain folk when we saw them without really even thinking about it), and with us was a Religious sister from Ireland, who of course had never seen any. A couple of Plain women came in and the Irish sister said, “Oh, I wonder what community they’re from? I haven’t seen a habit like that before.” It was all my Indiana friend and I could do not to laugh at the dear sister. We explained to her. She had heard of Amish, but it had never crossed her mind (even when she came to study in the United States) that she might actually see some, especially at a fast food restaurant!
That’s a good story, Trish! Thanks!
about State churches
Also Mark, you are right that persecution has tended to come from “civil” authorities, who in the early years of Anabaptist history were tied to “church” authorities, whether Protestant or Catholic. There was a tendency to see religion as a source of cohesiveness within all of society, and civil authorities saw nonconformity as undermining that social cohesion. The problem that leads to persecution is not necessarily believing one’s own religion to be right (as nearly all religions do), but in the idea of Establishment of one religious view as part of the foundation of State authority.
In fact, now that I think of it, it seems that much of what we think of as “sectarian” violence has more to do with state establishment of one religion rather than simply two religions fighting against one another, including violence in Northern Ireland (my ancestral home), or the current violence in Syria, where ISIS is trying to establish Islamic authority over the state.
Good points, Trish. In my reading of Anabaptist history I saw it much more as a political persecution than a religious one even though it seems to be religious because it is a religious group being persecuted. It can get really complicated, though.
Jim, if I may make an observation here. As a ‘white’ guy in the USA, I am a part of a group that was once response slavery which sometimes included especially cruel behavior towards those slave. Of course not every white guy back then supported what was done, and I for one am neither defined nor limit my options of who to befriend because of what others within my group did long years before I was even around.
I understand your question in light of the RCC and Anabaptist conflict way back when…, but isn’t like asking how could a white guy like me sit and have a discussion with a black guy because the slavery that already ancient history before we were born?
Just a thought.
The face on the beginning of the Reformation of course, is Luther and his posting on October 31′ 1517, of the 95 articles against the Catholic Church. He had been taking these type of positions for about 10 years prior to this turning point. The invention of the movable type printing press allowed his to translate the Bible from Latin into German. Luther was strongly influenced by John Hus (or Huss).
The Anabaptist reformers did not emerge for some time. They’d were not ANTI-Baptist but ANABAPTISTS. The phrase ANA means again. This was the beginning of Adult Baptism.
Both the Catholic church AND the early reformers where theologically opposed to Adult Baptism due to their STRONG belief in Original Sin and of course the tax that both the State and the Catholic church levied on the family. Anabaptists were severly prosecuted, burned at the stake, but often drowned. You can’t miss the irony of that.
Response re the early Church
Daniel, a Brethren, commented that the Catholic Church was opposed to
adult baptism. Such is a misunderstanding, as if all the Catholics
supported whatever the worldly governments wanted. The majority of
baptisms in the early RC Church were adult baptisms and in accord with
Scripture allowed for infant baptisms (ref.)”whole households”as well.It
has always been the practice to baptize adult converts who have not been
baptized, and infants who soon enough at the age of reasoning, can
make those baptismal promises, accepting Christ. As Catholics we do
believe strongly in the doctrine of original sin which the early church
fathers (leaders) wrote about and so many testified for such by their
martyrdoms during the severest Roman persecutions of the first few
It is good to see some of the sincere dialogue taking place on this
website. An “Old Order”Roman Catholic, Brother Jeremy
Erik, I’ve been to three Amish church services (2 in PA, and 1 in Jamesport, MO), and my experiences pretty much matched yours — although I don’t recall the Holy Kiss part. These services were in a hay barn, a basement, and a work shed. My wife and I also had the opportunity to help set up for service while we were staying in Mt. Hope / Holmes Co. (although we were not able to attend the service itself) as it was being set up in a shed annex built especially for church meetings, but was used to store farm stuff during the rest of the year.
I would add singing to your list of five (although I can’t attest that they are true in every Amish community/service). Of the three hours in service, singing takes up approx. a third of that — and they cover a mere three hymns in that period of time. They hymns are written without musical notes (and look very similar to the way the Psalms are written in many English Bibles) with many verses, are song acapella somewhat similar to a very slow chant. Even if you don’t know German, with a little hooked-on-phonics under your belt, the singing is slow enough that you might be able to ‘sound-out’ the letters as they go along. (Some of the Amish ladies even asked my wife after the service if I spoke German. )
You mentioned the fellowship meal, and we English tend to focus on the interesting ingredients in that meal — and understandably so, for there is some neat stuff served at that time. But if one can mentally step back and take it all in, for the Amish the meal seems to just be a platform for the more important fellowship. For a people that are (at least stereo-typically) considered stoic, you can watch a number of very animated discussions going on.
One other thing to mention that characterized my visits: AWKWARDNESS. Little screams “I don’t fit in” like pulling your Honda off the driveway into a yard full of buggies. The PA congregations were more accustom to non-Amish visitors, but it still felt a little weird. The Jamesport group seemed to not be used to it, and only half-a-dozen people knew we were going to be there. It seemed that all eyes were one us and all minds were asking, “What are *these* folks doing here?” But the awkwardness subsided as we were later able to visit — and were made to feel very much at home.
The Amish church services remain one of the highlights of my Amish experience. It might not be for everyone, but it is a cherished experience for me.
The noon meal is a big part of the day, not just for the food but the visiting that takes place. It’s not unusual to spend much of the afternoon just visiting with one another. We know some Amish who were from Somerset, PA, where they have church-houses and do not serve dinner after church. When they moved to a community that does, they felt that community was “closer” and they knew one another better.
The Holy Kiss: in some communities all baptized members exchange it (men with men, women with women and Trish was right, in the house where the men might not even see it) and in others it is just the ministers. We are used to seeing it with the ministers and older church members. It is also used to welcome newly baptized church members into the church and by all baptized members at communion.
Don Burke mentioned awkwardness. Even here in our community, non-Amish visitors at church (other than Mennonite relatives, maybe, or co-workers) are just rare enough that people do want to know “Who is that?” I doubt anyone realizes they were making a visitor feel uncomfortable, but you can be sure I’ll be thinking of that next time there are visitors in church! It can go both ways — we felt really awkward attending a non-Amish wedding a few years ago but as the day went on, we felt more relaxed and welcomed. I’m sure part of the awkwardness was only in our own minds.
One last comment, I find it interesting to read the comments of people from other churches, like Trish’s comments. Sometimes a different view-point helps me understand my own better just like questions from someone can cause us to look at something more closely, something I might not have thought about very closely before.
In case I wasn’t totally clear, please understand that the Amish at the service didn’t do anything rude or otherwise uncaring. Any sense of awkward was because of our own internal angst — feelings we probably should have known better than having in the first place. Unlike our previous visits to an Amish service, I only half-way knew one person (one of the ministers) and had only the day before met a second person from the congregation. My wife knew no one. So there was a bit of apprehension about whether our being there would be an issue for anyone or not.
But like Mark pointed out, it also gave me a bit of an insight on what it’s like being on the other side of the coin. Where I am normally the one silently looking on (read: gawking?) in honest curiosity as the Amish come into portions of my world, when the roles are reversed it’s easy to see that a kind and accepting word or gesture can mean a lot to make someone feel more at ease.
Don, I didn’t think anyone had been rude, but on the other hand it does make me wonder what could be done to make a visitor relax and feel welcome. And like you wrote, I’m sure times I have felt awkward it was mostly in my own mind. I’m guessing that social awkward feeling can happen in any culture. 🙂 I know that when we attend church in other communities, I often arrive feeling a bit awkward but once we start visiting I realize (again!) that I was nervous for no reason.
Seating at the fellowship meal
I usually feel a little awkward (not through anyone’s fault) except for in a couple of congregations where I’ve been multiple times and people know why the English guy is here, who he is and who he came with 🙂 . You feel this more at first when you arrive because naturally people are wondering who you are (I would be too!) but by the meal not at all.
Mark one thing I always notice about the fellowship meal is that it is tight quarters. You kind of have to wedge yourself into a spot at the table. And that makes sense since there are other people waiting (I’ve been “lucky” enough to get in on the first seating just about every time 🙂 )
I never thought about it being tight, but then I wondered if you were in PA or OH? There is a difference. Around here there is just one setting and ministers & visitors almost always get seated first. Anyone who does not make it to the table will eat at the “draa laaf disch, ” or I guess “walk up table.” The tables will be set up where church was and the youth and any of the home men who did not have place at the table will be served dinner on tables in the basement or wash-house and they will not be seated but just stand around the table. This table is set up before church ends so the youth & boys can leave the service, eat immediately, then leave church for whatever activity they have planned. When we have been in PA the table was set tighter and there was more “push” to eat and make room. Does that make sense? Here once lunch or dinner is finished we might stay at the table for an hour or two.
Good question. I thought this was pretty much my experience everywhere I’ve been, but maybe not. Definitely in PA. At services I’ve been to in Holmes County, I don’t remember noticing, or just didn’t realize there was a walk-up table. But I do remember once standing while eating one time in the basement in Holmes County. I guess I was not a VIP that day, or they wanted me to have a different experience! 🙂
“Tight” quarters has seemed to be a function of the facility (in my very limited experience). The meeting in the hay barn had more room than the one in the basement (both in PA), and the ‘tightness’ of the smaller area was not so much in the larger.
Since I am a pastor/minister, in both PA services I was instructed (not even asked) to sit with the ministers during the worship service. (Erik, talking about a bad place to be when a nap is sneaking up on you. 😉 ) I was also seated with the ministers during the meal. And if memory serves, both of the PA meals had a ‘second seating’ for the younger men that didn’t fit around the table the first time. I believe my wife said that there was even a third seating in the house where the women and children were on one of these. But as I recall, the Jamesport service didn’t require a second seating (although maybe some of the younger ones did eat outdoors.
If you sat with the ministers, did you get a seat with a back then? That is the real VIP treatment 😉
Yes, I did, Erik. I recall the first service we went to there being something like folding chairs for the ministers. Two rows, facing each other in the front-center of the room. The men sat on benches behind where I was sitting; the women on benches in front of me (behind the row of ministers). The teens and young adults in a third section with benches running perpendicular to the other two sections. The second service we attended I can’t recall for sure, but think it did have some kind of folding chairs.
The third service (Jamesport) I didn’t sit with the ministers, but they sat up a couple of padded chairs next to the benches for my wife and I to sit in. (Benches were set up in two sections (men and women), all facing the same direction, with a small aisle in between) My wife felt a bit awkward sitting on the side with the men (but even so she thought that was better than sitting alone on the other side). So, if have a chair with a back is VIP fare, well, I was VIPed in all three instances. 😉
Don, I might suggest a way that might be a little less uncomfortable for you, should you attend any other Amish church services. If I were to attend one, I would park my car a little distance down the road and walk in. It’s just less awkward.
Saloma Furlong comments here?! I’ve read all her books! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE her! Ms. Furlong is super cool and very awesome. She is a truly beautiful writer, I love her writing as much as her nonfiction stories.
Regarding the Holy Kiss, as a Catholic, I must say I’m thankful we don’t have that anymore. It’s enough that I have to dip my germy hand into the germy Holy Water that a thousand germy people put their germy hands in – to bless myself upon entering and exiting the Church – but to kiss all those people on the mouth? I’m sorry, but I can’t help that God gave me a slight bit of hypochondria and a germaphobic mindset.
I’m actually interested in the sermons. Do they meander, or do preachers pick a topic and embellish around it, or do they tell stories that relate to scriptures read, or all of the above? Are they influenced by each other? Are the sermons “fire and brimstone” or more “God is Love”? Is it just one sermon, or are there multiple preachers?
Also I’m interested in that marshmallow/peanutbutter. How can I get ahold of some? I’m not kidding. It sounds so addictively delicious. Do they sell it in California?
I’m actually interested in the sermons. Do they meander, or do preachers pick a topic and embellish around it, or do they tell stories that relate to scriptures read, or all of the above?
Janice, parts of all the above. Amish ministers do not use notes and most of the time, not even the ministers know who will preach until everyone is assembled at church and we see how many visiting ministers are present. With church held every other week, ministry can go visit other districts on their “off” Sunday. It’s rather rare to attend our home church and not have at least one or two visiting ministers. We once had 27! No notes are used and since a minister does not generally prepare ahead of time, (though they do study the scriptures that that district has planned for that Sunday) a sermon can go in different directions. It might relate mostly to the scripture but it could also cover something related to current events, or seasonal. Many ministers relate “stories” or happenings.
Are they influenced by each other? Are the sermons “fire and brimstone” or more “God is Love”? Is it just one sermon, or are there multiple preachers?
I’m sure they influence each other, especially the minister who has the main sermon. (There are two sermons, a shorter one first.) I’d say there is admonition or warning, but not the “fire & brimstone” I have heard in a few non-Amish settings. There is a lot of emphasis on the Love of God, repentance, and forgiveness. There are usually three ministers who actually participate in the usual church service, with other ministers asked for closing comments or testimony.
Do Ministers or Bishops wear any vestments? Is there a consecration of the bread and wine during communion?
Also, the music is especially interesting to me since I am a professional musician. It’s definitely monophonically close to Gregorian chant. And it appears to be modal. Can anyone point me towards any musicology studies of Amish service music?
Erik, no I am not a new commenter, I have joined in before.
As for shutting down anything, I think everyone has jumped to a conclusion that was not intended, I just have not noticed so many rcc comments in one thread before, and it seemed out of place / off topic to what the OP was about.
Again, sorry that it was taken way out of context….
Okay, that’s fine. I hope you understand why I interpreted what you wrote the way I did given the wording of your comment (“Does anyone really care…” sounds like you don’t want to hear anything related to RCC).
Historically it is pretty relevant to bring up the Catholic church given Anabaptist origins. That aside, like Mark commented, I appreciate different perspectives and don’t want to discourage them. Trish has made a lot of great contributions to this site.
At the time you commented there were a total of 2 comments on this thread mentioning the RCC. Half of one was an Amish-specific question, and the other attempted to relate to the Amish too.
Anyway, no worries.
I have attended a church service for funerals in my area, but never a Sunday church service. The service was a bout 2 hours long and seen pretty similar to what you describe in your article. At one point during the service everyone in one motion hit the floor on their knees bowing in prayer as the preacher spoke. I too, kneeled in prayer as if I knew. It was a very moving service with several different preachers. Simply put, very awesome experience although for a sad occasion….
Meals after Gma
I posted on my blog about Amish Gma (Gmaay), which is their word for church. I know there are many different orders, settlement, and way of conducting church.
With my Swartzentruber SIL & other “sons”, they’ve often related stories. Mosie said his upstate NY settlement had 3-4 hr services! When I asked him what he’d so for such a long time, he said he’d get a 15-minute break to go use the outhouse. “But I always stayed out longer,” he said.
“Cause I was smoking with the other boys.”
Our SIL’s Amish father is a bishop. We’ve had interesting discussions when visiting their farm. My SIL told us that every time the preacher stood up to preach, heads went down. And when the preacher sat down, heads went up.
For the Swartzentruber Gma, everything is in High German.
The meal afterwards consisted of the SAME FOODS to avoid competition among the women. Mosie said he hated the little red things – beets. 🙂
We have been at Swartzentruber church & weddings and it was VERY different from what we are used to. We noticed the people seeming to avoid eye contact with the ministers and the ministers giving very dry and very High-German sermons.
We are used to much more variety in our church lunch, but I know they are always served the same thing. I guess it just goes to show there is variety, right?
You’re right there Mark – variety among the Amish. Seems like every day I’m explaining that fact to an inquisitive person.
May I ask, which church do you attend in Holmes Co? I’m down in Knox County. There are mostly OOA and Swartzies around us. However, at our local Farmer’s Market I met a New New Order Amish (that was a new one on me, pardon the pun).
What you observed about the ministers giving dry sermons parallels with what our Swartzie “sons” have related to us. One told me that the ministers memorize the sermon – and since it’s in High German the minister doesn’t even know what he’s preaching.
We are “Old Order.” I guess to be really correct, most of the Amish in our community would be called Old Order, but since we belong to the biggest or main group (with 140 districts in this part of Ohio), most people just call us “Old Order” and it’s the other groups who have names. The Old Order in Knox Co. are actually Dan Gmay or Andy Weaver people. Your Swartz. relatives would probably call us “Soud Leut.”
Don’t want to be disagreeable…but aren’t churches in your fellowship in Holmes County called ‘the south churches’? I hear (and personally use) this designation on a regular basis.
Soud Gmay = South Church in English
Soud Leut = South people in English
We’d use the first more for the church, as in the South Church allows power lawn mowers, the second to talk about a group of people.
Haha! I thought you were joking and intentionally misspelled ‘sound.’ I’ve never seen the Germans word for ‘south’ (Süd) rendered ‘soud.’ But I have hardly ever seen PA German in written form either.
In Pinecraft settlement I believe they meet in a church building. I always wondered if I could just show up there for service. I know they won’t throw me out, but wondered if anyone would speak to me or make me welcome.
attending your local Amish "gmay"
To Debbie H. and others who would like to attend an Amish service: I live in Sarasota (on the water in a sailboat for the last year and a half) and attend the Amish church in Pinecraft at times. As Debbie noted, they do have a church building, although this time of year (Jan. through March) there are so many snow-birds present they also hold one or two Amish churches in homes in the Pinecraft area. The houses are small and I would not recommend attending in a private home in Pinecraft, because it is usually composed of people who know each other from up north. The church building however, seats probably 150 and is where you could attend. Of course, they will most likely have the entire service in a dutch dialect (depends on which minister from up north that will be preaching) and will read in high German from the Bible. Don’t expect anyone to translate in the room, as it disrupts the service to have someone speaking besides the minister. It would be best if you arrive at least 20 minutes before church commences (starts at 9:00 am, lasts till 11:30 or so) so that you could introduce yourself to some of the women who are arriving by bicycle outside the church–they will suggest where you might sit, and the location of the rest rooms ( no outhouse here!). And if you live here year around like I do, then attending after April will be a lot more pleasant–there are only about 20 or 30 full time members at Pinecraft, and they will spend more time visiting with you before and after the service, and may invite you to eat with them either at the church if they are holding a pot-luck meal once a month, or in their homes for a Sunday afternoon visit. And when you meet an Amish person while shopping etc., you may always use that occasion to bring up your desire to visit their church service, and ask if you would be welcome and what to bring (nothing–reading your own Bible sometimes makes the Amish minister feel like he is being checked out on his ability to read the scriptures–most members simply sit and listen to him). And for an even more “spiritual” experience and in English (please don’t censor me, Erik! lol) there is a Beachy Amish church on Honore between Bahia Vista and Fruitville that meets at 9:30 am with an hour of sunday school and then an hour of church, and you will feel very welcome there–we even had some sailors stop in a few weeks ago wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts who stayed for the service, although the members dress much like the Amish. While the men speak during sunday school, the woman are asked to remain silent (I Cor. 14:33 I believe). The singing is fantastic, as the children of John Overholt and his widow attend this congregation, John is the person who arranged and even wrote many of the songs in the Christian Hymnary. Hope this helps.
the church's name
I forgot to put in the name of the Beachy Amish church–it is “Sunnyside”, located only about two miles east of Pinecraft, Fl.
And lest someone from Pinecraft chastise me, I omitted to list the Tourist church, located a few blocks west of the Amish church building, along Bahia Vista a few blocks west of the traffic light in “downtown” Pinecraft at Kaufman and Bahia Vista. The eponymous Tourist church (I always wanted to use that word! lol) seats probably over 200, has a service in English, and is somewhat non-denominational/conservative Menn./Amish and that’s kind of my opinion, I don’t know how they represent themselves. But you would feel very welcome there, and I don’t know what time their services start, probably 9:30. And there are many more “liberal” Mennonite churches in the Sarasota Fl. area, which I shall omit at this time.
Fly on the wall
Like Debbie, I wondered the same thing. But being the person I am (not wanting to draw attention to my obvious “difference”), I wish I could be a fly on the wall in order to experience an Amish church service…or two (for comparison), and not have to deal with people wondering who I was (they could just swat me away!).
I’ve enjoyed all the comments here, and stories of Gmay experiences by others, both Amish and English (or Yankee, as I hear we’re referred to in Ohio).
I also thought of my own (yes, RCC) church experiences with long services. I always dreaded the gospel on Palm Sunday, as we had to stand for the whole thing, and it ran 15-20 min. (or more, depending on the priest). 🙁
At least we get to sit for most of church! 🙂 When I hear someone call an non-Amish person a Yankee, I figure they are from Geauga County. I’ve never heard it used in Holmes Co. (unless talking about the Civil War) but I hear it from Geauga people and often wondered where it came from. Does anyone know?
A theory on Geauga Amish use of "Yankee"
Mark, your question jogged something in my brain, I recalled that Saloma Furlong addressed this somewhere, but couldn’t find it anywhere online or in my email.
So I dropped her a note and she replied with one idea, which came via Stephen Scott. From Saloma:
My theory came from the late Steve Scott. He thought it was because New Englanders settled that part of Ohio, so they were quite literally “Yankees.” And when someone leaves, they were “yanked over.”
I think Steve is right about this theory. The timing would have been so that the Amish and the New Englanders were settling there simultaneously. Until I left the Amish, I didn’t know that other Amish didn’t use that term.
Interesting. Thanks for checking it out, Erik. Somehow that got me thinking about the label “English” for non-Amish. I don’t know how it is in other areas, but we really don’t use the word “English” a lot and I almost get the idea non-Amish visitors are almost disappointed we don’t use it like they have read or heard.
When we are taking PA Deitch, we call non-Amish people “Hoche leut” or “high people” and someone who leaves the Amish is “hoch ganga” or “went high.” I wonder if Geauga people use “Yankee” when they are talking PA Deitch?
No, Mark, we also used “hoche Leit” or sometimes “englische Leit” in our own language. Only when we were talking in English did we use “Yankee.”
Amish vs. Yankees on the B-ball court
There is apparently an Amish vs. Yankee basketball game held annually in Geauga County, hosted by the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities and associates.
It’s apparently been going on for 35 years now(!) First I’ve heard of it.
From the story:
Each year, teams constructed of employees and volunteers at the GCBDD and the Amish Community of Geauga County who are passionate about serving individuals with developmental disabilities come together for two basketball games. The proceeds from these games are always used to benefit individuals with developmental disabilities.
“These games are always a fun, competitive way to raise funds that we can use to support additional programming and services for the individuals of Geauga County with developmental disabilities,” explains Superintendent Don Rice. “Although it is a friendly game, both teams do their best to win, provide a good show and earn bragging rights for the year.
I know of an Amish church that asked a plain-dressed visitor to stand up in the middle of singing to be patted down (right in front of the entire congregation) by one of the men so as to be sure the visitor wasn’t carrying a gun or other type of weapon.
see above comment
Alice Mary: If you wish to attend a church where you will not draw as much attention to yourself, I suggest finding a conservative Mennonite church–they are more familiar with having visitors from all walks of life, and you will understand the service as it is in English.
I had to smile at the part mentioning people falling asleep. We have a couple of people in our church that fall asleep every service and it’s only a traditional baptist hour and a half long service. I can only imagine how many would during a three hour sermon 🙂
I have attended Sunday morning services among the New Order Amish of holmes county, sounds very much the same way. I was told later on back at the home of the family I was staying with that they were surprised I didnt take a nap! Although he said if I would have he would have just let me sleep cause he’s sure it was difficult to stay awake, although it wasnt too bad as he was passing me notes in english so I was at least on the same subject as the ministers. I also stayed with them the entire week prior to the service so I had met some of the ministers already and some parts were in english because they knew I would be there. This family usually only has coffee for breakfast on Sunday morning to help stay awake, but for that week the wife made it every morning because I am a coffee drinker. But probably the thing that kept me awake the most was I didnt want to fall off the bench!
I have also been to services at Old Order and conservative mennonite churches, and also Old Order and New Order Holmes County Amish, Old Order and conservative Mennonite weddings. I have seen similarities with all of these different groups, but perhaps the most important thing is to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”, which does leave room for SCRIPTUAL differences!
I am a little curious about this calendar, I have never heard of it before (if it is posted somewhere, I missed it). I have a few questions about it. Since it sounds like the calendar is something that each Amish minister has and can refer to it, is there some sort of committee that compiles the calendar? Or does the Bishop from each district select the Biblical texts and informs the publishers of the calendar? I am a little surprised to learn that the Amish practice “prepared” sermons. The denomination in which I belong to (Apostolic Christian Church of America) does not have prepared sermons. The minister just opens up the Bible and reads from where their eyes fall. There are some execptions for this such as certian holidays and weddings and a few other occassions.
The lectionary that I am familiar with extends (I believe) over a three-year period. This is from a mainline Protestant denomination. Do the Amish have their own lectionary? It would surprise me if they were involved in anything “ecumenical” but maybe that’s another misconception of mine.
Carol, I too am curious as to who sets the list of readings for Amish churches, and what principles are involved in the selection, and whether each community sets its own lectionary or if there is one shared more broadly.
The three-year lectionary you are familiar with, or Common Lectionary as it is often called, was adapted by the Consultation on Common Texts composed of representatives from many different denominations, and is directly based on the three-year lectionary developed by the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II. (Before that, the Catholic Church used a one-year cycle, which was not able to include as much variety of readings.) Of course the Common Lectionary is not identical to the Catholic lectionary, but that was its starting point, and they are alike in far more places than they are different. Their organizing principle is to focus on a different Gospel each year (with Mark and John put together in a single year) and choosing an Old Testament reading to go with each Gospel passage, with an additional New Testament reading from Acts, the Epistles, or Revelation, chosen to go with the Gospel on special days but simply reading an entire book in course during Ordinary Time. A relevant Psalm is chosen for after the Old Testament reading.
I have used the Common Lectionary a time or two in ecumenical contexts, and as a Catholic I found I felt very “at home” with it. I realize that this in itself may make some groups uncomfortable with using it; the “Catholic connection” might feel too strong. I would be very surprised if any Anabaptist groups used it, but don’t claim to know for certain.
However, the Common Lectionary is certainly not the only way of planning readings ahead of time on a long-term basis. Many Christians find that there is much to be said for having some kind of lectionary. For one thing, it tends to expose people more reliably to the breadth of the Bible by keeping preachers from dwelling on “favorite” familiar passages. (There are few more efficient ways of getting into a rut than to be “spontaneous” all the time.) It also allows people other than the preacher to look ahead to the readings they are about to hear in church when they do their own Bible study during the week, or to easily recall what readings were preached upon so that they can study them more closely the week after. I have heard of some ministers in churches that do not have a formal lectionary scheduling their texts several months or a year at time, such as going through particular books of the Bible from beginning to end, or exploring a particular theme by doing texts related to it every week for a period of time.
It would be nice to hear what the procedure has been for the Amish to set their readings.
You have me wondering now. I never gave it much thought and I have no idea how the readings are determined but now I am wondering myself. 🙂 I have a copy of the “Schrift & Lieder” here at work and it says “Holmes County and Vicinity.” I am just guessing here, but maybe smaller communities don’t have such a book. I’m guessing in smaller communities or the very conservative, the ministers have a list they go by but it would hardly be necessary to go to the expense & effort to print it. At any Amish church service I’ve been to the Bishop will announce where church is to be in two weeks and what scriptures will be read. In our area the only reason we really need a copy of this is when we are planning to visit other districts or wondering what songs to practice.
See what I mean about comments by others sometimes lead to learning more about our own culture? 🙂
I'm glad we were online the same time, Mark!
It was nice “crossing comments” with you!
I’m very grateful to Erik for creating this space where people of different backgrounds (mostly but not all non-Amish) can share thoughts springing from our varied experiences of interactions with and observations of and just plain curiosity about the Amish way of life. I think the interaction is at its best when it gets us thinking not only about the Amish, but about about ourselves.
So Mark, what I’m understanding from your comments agrees with what I recall from seeing the “scriptures of the week” (sorry, I don’t know the proper term) printed out somewhere: The scriptures for one congregation / community isn’t necessarily the same scriptures that another group will be using the same Sunday. Do I understand that correctly?
Yes, you understand correctly.
Our anabaptist church, “Apostolic Christian Church” of america has many similarities. Known locally as “Swiss” Most of our earliest converts were Amish or Mennonite( early 1800s). We have an 1.5 hour forenoon worship then 1 hour lunch, families take turns providing lunch, then 1.5 afternoon worship. Sometimes if there is alot of visitors we will sing again at 3pm and have a supper a 4pm. Unpaid ministers preach with no prepared sermon and Bible is opened and read where it falls. One old test and one new test. We have seperate seating men and women and sing acapella. Women covered. All members greet with a Holy kiss men/men women/women. As a church spoke deitch until WW2, some still do. Bigger churches also have midweek worship Wed evening. Smaller churches, like ours do not but we can listen in speaker phone to a larger church which we do, or we get together to sing, mostly in summer. We baptize by full immersion and practice the ban on non-repentent erring members(according to scripture).
Thanks Eric for all the hard work, i read often but rarely comment!, Also will send you an email when i have time to make a post on the neighbor Byler group, did help one family cut wood last week. Super busy on the farm at home here!
Apostolic Christian Church
Thanks, VT anabaptist, your comment was very interesting to read. I have seen the Apostolic churches listed on diagrams of related Anabaptist churches, but didn’t know anything else about them. Are they scattered here and there, or clustered together in a certain region of the country?
VT and Impromptu Preaching
VT is usually an abbreviation for Vermont, but I don’t think there any Froelich Apostolic Christians in Vermont. So what does VT mean here?
It appears to me that preaching in your denomination is not only extemporaneous(without notes), but also impromptu (without prior planning or outline). This style of preaching was also characteristic of early Quaker preaching.
For the “lowdown” on the Apostolic Christians, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostolic_Christian_Church I am not aware of any sociological/anthropological studies of this tradition. Do you know of any?
One of our children sold reference books from door to door in rural Illinois, for the Southwestern Book Company. The Apostolics were his best customers! No TV, I guess!
I had understood that the Apostolics originated as an Anabaptist splinter movement from the Swiss Reformed Church. Right or wrong?
I’m also interested in what the “VT” stands for. And I would be interested in attending a service. Are there any congregations in Western Mass?
I have honestly never heard of this denomination. Thank you for writing this description.
In the Amish community where I grew up, the ministers would read scripture and German prayers before going to church. But their sermons were not planned or prepared.
Super, Adam, always glad to see you pop up in the comments every now and again. Drop me an email anytime, and happy farming!
Most of our churches are in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois but have 90+ churches nation wide. Yes VT is for Vermont, we have a small satelite church here for about 8 years, 8 or so families so far, home church being Rockville CT, we have 350 or so members there.
Where in Vermont? I lived in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and I’m just south of the Vermont border now.
A book called “marching to Zion” tells our church history.
The VT church is in Clarendon VT just south of Rutland, we meet in a rented grange hall until we get more families up here. The Rockville church is just south of the Mass line in Ellington CT. No churches in Mass, other close ones are Lancaster Pa, and Crogan NY.
A. C. Tid Bits
Bill, you are correct. Samuel Frohelich was a minister within the Swiss Reformed church and then left it. I believe that VT anabaptist meant to say Philadelphia Pa. instead of Lacaster Pa, because to my knowledge there are no congregations in Lancaster. Unless one has recently been started. I’ve always wondered why a congregation has never been started there. Just a few more facts about our denomination. Male members are clean shaven. German maybe spoken among the older generations, but it is not taught nor spoken on the pulpit. However, German is still used in the German Apostolic Christian Church. As far as technolgoy goes there are no limitations on its use. There are no restrictions on the use of televisions or on the internet. However, there are cautions about there use. Makeup, jewelry (watches are allowed) and shorts are discouraged as well as pants for women. Other than this there is no subscribed garb. Many male members wear dark conventional suits with dark ties and a white shirt to church.
Schrift & Lieder
I know it may be a little out dated, but I would still like to learn more about how the texts are selected. Is there a committee that selects the texts or do the bishops select them?
Schrift & Lieder
I know it may be a little out dated, but I would still like to learn more about the Schrift & Lieder.
5 Things You See at an Amish Church Service
Escoge entre distintos modelos de reloj de pared.
The Amish with whom I am true friends rather than mere acquaintances are very conservative Troyer Amish. They make certain to distinguish themselves from Swartzentruber Amish, but many outsiders do not. They serve the same meal after every church service, I think, so that competition or finances do not become an issue. They serve a bean soup which is thickened with homemade bread, pickles, peanut butter “church spread,” and store bought bread and butter. For dessert, they all serve the moon pies filled with an apple filling that resembles apple butter. Each family must make and can enough for their turn at church each year. Children eat from their own little bowls, but all of the women eat soup from the same bowl and men eat their soup from the same bowl. I mean, that the men and women eat their soup from communal bowls, of which there are more than one each bc of the size of the crowd.