A Closer Look at the Amish & Mennonite Conference Line

Did you know that Amish, Mennonites and related churches have a hotline that connects them 24 hours a day, 6.5 days a week?

Atlas Obscura looks at the story of the Amish and Mennonite Conference Line, which was founded in 2006 by a man named Gary (last name omitted in the article).

This is a dial-in hotline where you can hear speakers discuss different topics and get news updates. There have been singings broadcast over the line, and even services of certain churches. People call in from all around the country. The primary language used is Pennsylvania Dutch.

I had a chance to meet Gary some years ago, when the hotline had already been up and running for awhile. It sounds like it has grown even more since then. I called in and listened one time, on an English-language call. Topics I heard discussed included a report of an upcoming auction, weather, and the drowning death of a young boy in Indiana.

It makes perfect sense that this would be popular in Plain communities. Amish and Mennonites are sociable people to say the least. They have large families with many ties spanning time and space. The Conference Line helps people keep up to date on happenings and people’s lives across the country and beyond.

Here is how it works:

What Gary says started “as a hobby and as a service to the people” soon became his full-time job. The Line now operates 24 hours a day, 6.5 days a week (they’re closed Saturday night and Sunday morning, to encourage people to be properly rested for church on Sunday), and can connect more than 9,000 callers comfortably; more than 10,000 unique phone numbers have registered for “talk passwords”—unique PINs they key in to chat—and many more people have dialed in just to listen. The Line is “largely self-operating,” and conversation usually flows naturally and politely, though Gary or a designated moderator has had to step in on the rare occasion when a “nuisance caller” starts kicking up trouble or people begin talking over each other. In the beginning, Gary advertised the Line in The Budget, an Ohio-based newspaper with a large Amish and Mennonite readership, but knowledge has mostly spread via word of mouth since, to great effect.

Gary says that a majority of his callers are actually Old Order Mennonites. Given its Plain character, the conference line comes with a set of rules, as a woman explained when the article author dialed in:

polite, clean language; no proselytizing or “sheep stealing” (attempting to poach members of another church); and no “boy and girl visiting on the line” (basically, using the line as a way to chat before formal courtship is sanctioned). There is also no playing of musical instruments, as Amish and Mennonites believe that mastering an instrument might make the player feel a sense of personal pride, which could dissuade them from yielding to the collective body. Most importantly, she implored, “Please do not let the conference line take away from family time, Bible reading and prayer.”

It’s meant to be an upbuilding way to connect people and communities. Most Plain groups do not use the internet or use it in only limited ways. Face-to-face meetings, correspondence newspapers, letters, and phone calls retain their importance in Amish and Mennonite circles. The hotline fits into this communication package as an old-fashioned way to keep in touch and up to speed.

That said, some still think it is a waste of time. Historian Amos Hoover, however, does not:

Hoover, who is an Old Order Mennonite, believes the Conference Line is helping to ensure the survival of the Pennsylvania Dutch language, which is an essential part of Amish and Mennonite heritage. He also thinks it aids in bridging denominational divides by making it easier for Amish and Mennonites—and the many variations within those camps—to interact. After all, they have more in common than not. “This morning at three o’clock, I couldn’t sleep, and when I called in, sure enough, there was a Mennonite truck driver from Wisconsin heading towards Minneapolis, and we visited a little bit,” he said, chuckling. “I knew exactly who he was when he told me who his father was.”

Read the article in full at Atlas Obscura.

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    8 Comments

    1. Peter Donald Wedge

      Emergency phone line

      Good day
      I live in the Owen Sound area of Ontario, Canada and have many Amish
      Friends, I also spend my retirement time driving for them.
      The people here have a Emergency phone number that they are able to use anywhere in North America if they are not able to get help locally!
      I’ve received several calls for help when they been not able to find their driver who has not returned to pick them up!!
      Once I got a call from a family who were in London, Ontario at the hospital, their driver had not returned to pick them up and they had no way to get ahold of him.
      The weather was terrible ( 3 days before Christmas) and a huge snow was hitting the area.
      Having no way for them to get home,I headed into the storm, a drive that would normally take 2 1/2 hours took almost six.
      Once I picked them up, I called my brother and asked if we could stay at his house until the next day.
      Needless to say we had a wonderful time and spent the evening singing Old German Carols ( I’m not a singer)
      A long story that turned out to be a great blessing to us all, that may have been a disaster .
      All due to a phone line that connects us all in case of an Emergency !
      BLESSINGS TO YOU ALL
      And may the Peace of the LORD be with you now and always
      Peter

    2. Peter Donald Wedge
    3. Hazel

      Would it be possible to get this phone number? I would love to listen in.

    4. LGBT Amish

      Amish Conference Line

      I couldn’t help but notice this part of the full article “one of the rules is “women talking on the line should be kept to a minimum”.
      According to the article most of the conversation on the conference line is not about theological debate or how to run the church.
      It’s about day-to-day life and updates on weather and crops.
      It’s too bad that a new line of communication and community has opened up yet it has marginalized the voices of women.
      There is no reason to think that women could not benefit from being allowed to have a larger voice on this conference line.

    5. Al in Ky

      I appreciate the Conference Line and have been a regular listener for several years. The Conference Line “News Call” is in English on Mon., Wed. and Fri. evenings and in Pa. Dutch Tues., Thurs., and Sat. It is recorded so if a person is not able to listen when it is “live”, you can listen anytime you are able to dial in and listen. You can listen to that day’s “News Call” or even listen to past recordings for quite some time in the past. There are regular “hosts” for the English News Call and the Pa. Dutch News Call and they each have substitutes when the regular hosts are not available. It is interesting to listen to the regular hosts’ greetings to each person calling in, because they have gotten to know many of their regular callers just by the sound of their voices and know what area they are calling from, and many times even know the caller’s church affiliation without asking.

      Just as The Budget and Die Botschaft newspapers have regular scribes who send in news from their areas, it seems like “News Call” has regular callers who call in news from their specific areas (such as southern Michigan, northern Indiana, various communities in Lancaster, Pa. area, etc.). Such news as funerals, buggy accidents, serious illnesses, destructive natural disaster, etc., is disseminated quicker via the Conference Line “News Call” than it often is through The Budget and Die Botschaft. I think this is helpful so Plain and non-Plain friends can make contacts and offers of support sooner.

    6. Greg Keoppel

      Thanks for the English days Al. I’m a driver in Punxsutawney, Pa. Could you give me a call at your convenience, my cell 330.338.0833 for a few questions not related to this specific topic and that we don’t want to take up time & space here on Amish America.

    7. Michael Williams

      Would like to buy fruit and vegetables

      Hello my name is Michael Williams from Baltimore Maryland I would like to buy fruit and vegetables. My phone number is 443-721-8477.

    8. James doren

      Registration

      Where can one register to get a pin to chat on the Amish Mennonite chatline? Without a pin you cannot even listen.