Amish Questions Answered – Part 3
You’ll find guide dogs, schools, Amish visiting other churches, and more in the latest batch of questions:
Al in KY: What is the present status of farming as the primary source of income for Amish, especially among the more progressive Amish? Do they lament having to be employed off the farm and do they hope that some day there once again will be more Amish farmers?
The general trend is that farming has been on the decline especially in the larger, more-established communities. The smaller and newer settlements are where you are more likely to see higher percentages of farmers. Of the three largest communities Lancaster County remains strongest in agriculture, though Amish farmers of all sorts (dairy, produce, etc) are a minority.
More progressive Amish have fewer Ordnung restrictions on occupations. So while factory work may be frowned upon in Swartzentruber groups, Amish in northern Indiana or Geauga County, Ohio have entered these jobs in large numbers, with agriculture declining at the same time.
I am sure some Amish would rather be farming than working the line in an RV plant. Farming is still idealized by many as the best place to raise a family.
Kelly Irvin: I’m working on a novel and I want to make sure I get a couple of story threads correct. Would Amish folks attend a wedding for non-Amish friends? In a church?
Some Amish may feel comfortable attending a wedding or church services of another group. The risk is that attendance may be seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with the Amish church (which in some cases it may very well be). As a result this may be more likely to occur when Amish are away from home communities.
Wanting to repay the favor of church attendance, I once invited an Amish friend to the local Catholic church. The response was a firm “no”. I have brought Amish friends along to Mass, though they were far from their home settlement.
Ed: How do Amish select a new area for settlement? Are potential settlement areas studied and those with specific characteristics sought out? Or is more or less a few families go and try living in an area, and if they have a success at it more people come to join them?
I did a post a few months back looking at some of the main factors taken into consideration: 8 factors of new Amish settlement. Those include local legal climate, growing conditions, and proximity to other Amish.
A new area may be located purposefully or by chance. According to what I was told, Lancaster settlers to Indiana in the early-mid 90s were apparently traveling across the Midwest, and a corner of Indiana they passed through simply appealed to them as a nice place to live. Now there are 4 or 5 church districts there.
Amish publications such as the Budget and Diary help spread the word about new communities. The Budget in particular has long been a source of Amish communication on new settlements, with updates and notices of potential settlements sparking correspondence and debate.
New settlements are often started by a few families with the hopes that more will join. In other cases whole extended families or a group of families from an established area may give a new community a larger base and better chance to survive.
Kelly Irvin: The other question is do they do anything different in terms of education and/or training for their children with special needs such as Down Syndrome or other mental challenges.
Amish have paid increased attention to special education in recent times, with special classrooms and discussion on how best to teach children with mental challenges and learning disabilities. Karen Johnson-Weiner’s Train Up a Child is a good source for more info on this topic.
Ellie: Do you think any Amish person would ever use any type of assistance animal for a disability, such as a guide dog?
Interesting question Ellie, it’s not something I’ve ever seen–or thought about before, for that matter. My first thought was that I wouldn’t think Amish churches would find much objectionable about assistance animals, in principle.
On the other hand, some might. Guide dogs enable independence, particularly for people living alone. Guide dogs help blind people navigate unknown environments, often in busy urban settings.
Amish just aren’t that mobile to begin with, with more of their time spent in the familiar confines of the home and farm, static environments which can become familiar and navigable even if you cannot see.
Additionally, someone who is Amish and blind is highly likely going to be living with family who will be able to help with mobility and other issues (for that matter it’s just rare that Amish would live alone). Amish stress the importance of community and aiding one another.
So one reason we don’t see a lot of Amish guide dogs is that there probably isn’t quite the same need based on how Amish culture operates.
If anyone does know of Amish using assistance animals it would be interesting to hear about it.
Mary: Can anyone tell us about the Yoder, Kansas Amish area? How big is it, are there Amish businesses? Is it tourist friendly?
Mary, I have never visited the Yoder settlement, but can tell you it is not very big (though it’s the largest Kansas Amishcommunity–3 districts, I’d guesstimate around 80-100 households). I would expect there to be a fair number of Amish businesses.
There is also the annual Heritage Day event put on by the Yoder community, which apparently includes Amish buggy races. Most Amish in both Kansas and Oklahoma also tend to be more technologically progressive than the average. I’m sure a local can do better than this, maybe there are readers familiar with the Yoder/Haven area that wouldn’t mind sharing?
Jessica: What do the Amish children study in school, especially the older grades? Would they study history and culture studies? What levels of math for the 8th grade students?
I used to think that Amish schooling must be pretty uniform. There are some elements all Amish schools have in common, but there are some substantial differences across the spectrum. Again I’ll point to Karen Johnson-Weiner’s Train Up a Child for more.
Karen explains that the curricula in Amish schools differs based on the group and what they are trying to achieve. Some are trying to prepare their scholars for a world in which they will be factory workers or business owners with a lot of necessary interaction with English people and the English language. That will naturally influence the nature of the school. More traditional schools have different goals and will be more limited.
The particular orientation of a community will affect the type of books used, what they are taught, and the types of teachers they have. The Swartzentruber schools for instance do not teach history, though you’ll find history and geography in most other schools.
There wouldn’t be a class called “Culture Studies”, though I imagine you could hit that topic when talking about other countries in the context of geography (On a couple of occasions I have given a guest talk in Amish schools on Poland, for instance). Math is seen as being among the most fundamental and practical subjects, thus you will see it even in the lowest schools.
If you’ve got questions, share them at the Amish question thread.
I have a question Erik on shunning.....
Good morning everyone and a really good post Erik with some great questions being answered. I have a question myself regarding shunning, since i know a little about it i was wondering how far this is really taken, and can the severity differ depending on the church district. So what I’m asking is how far can an Amish family who is involved in shunning really take this, and can they communicate with the person who’s being shunned in certain circumstances? Richard
Richard you are right it can vary. Shunning is controversial because it seems cruel and when abused I am sure it can be (and some probably see it as cruel done “properly” or improperly regardless). There are probably lots of different experiences people have had, but generally, Amish do communicate with and can help the person who is being shunned but do not accept aid from that person.
I don’t think it’s a very enjoyable experience generally speaking (for both sides), even when it’s done out of love. But Amish take their baptismal promises seriously. There’s an interview with an Amishman on this site on the topic, here is the first paragraph of his answer:
“First of all I believe the name “shunning” itself is a misnomer. Shunning makes you think of avoidance or ostracizing when in reality only some forms of interaction are restrained. “Shunning” as practiced today could perhaps be best described as a ritualistic reminder of having gone astray and having broken your commitment to the Lord Jesus and the body of believers you made your commitment and baptismal promise with. Notice I said ‘with’ as opposed to ‘to’.”
Regarding the question about whether some Amish wish they could farm again: I actually see very little of this among many Lancaster Co Amish. Rather the sentiment among some is that ‘who would want to farm?’ Now I know that this does not hold true with everyone, but there are definitely good reasons for those working at jobs to feel this way.
One reason is the very cyclic nature of milk prices. Dairy farming is largely dependent on a milk check and when that check is regulated by gov. pricing it can get to be tough living.
Farming is also an expensive start-up when considering land costs. And for many families with a handful of boys it is not realistic for the dad to be able to help all his sons buy a farm, especially not in Lancaster Co. The Amish in Lanc Co are also not nearly as agreeable to moving to new settlements as say, the Old Order Mennonites. So you have these choices: stay in Lanc, and A get a job, or B hope to get the family farm, if there even is one, or C buy 40 acres for a million dollars.
One other big reason for avoiding farming is for some insane reason the technology allowed on the family farm is much more tightly regulated than the things allowed for a construction business. I know of a man who quit farming largely due to this reason. His children were growing up and he had little help on the farm, but to hire someone to harvest his crops with a big ole machine was verboten. Combine that with the fact that a family side business was where the real money came from anyway…
I have a question Erik about spending sundays....
First of all I admire your site. I won’t idealize the Amish but can certainly learn something from them. My question is ‘Do the Amish, Mennonites work on Sunday?’ They go to church of course but do they spent the remainder of their sunday as a kind of sabbath?
Hi Klaas, thanks, and no they do not work on Sundays outside of necessary tasks like milking and caring for animals. After church Sunday is spent visiting others or resting at home. On off Sundays (the Sunday when their district does not have church), Amish may have devotions, visit another church (for instance if a family member is holding church in another district) or go visiting.
Thanks for you quick answer Erik on the shunning question......
Thanks from getting back to my question Erik, and shunning must be one of the hardest things an Amish family would have to do. Richard
A lot of more good information, Erik. I am really enjoying
this series of “Amish Questions Answered”.
I was interested in your comments on the development of new
Amish settlements. I am trying to keep track of new Amish
settlements starting in Ky., and I find The Budget very helpful.
In each issue I try to read the letters from all of the Kentucky
scribes, and in the midst of all of the other news, a new
settlement will be mentioned here and there. I also enjoy the issues of The Budget every late Dec. and early Jan., because many of the scribes will give “year end vital statistics” of their settlement and if you wish to, you can keep track of which settlements are growing and which are declining.
Me too Al, thanks. Do you know about how many Kentucky scribes are writing in the Budget now?
If my count is correct, there are at least 51 scribes (Amish
and Mennonite) now regularly sending in news (letters) to
The Budget. The two newest Amish communities that I’ve read about
are Hawesville, Ky., and Gravel Switch, Ky. I occasionally
read of small groups of Amish from outside of Kentucky visiting
Ky. for the purpose of “land speculation”, so I would think we
will see more new Amish communities developing in Ky. in the
In my response, Erik, I should have said “… at least 51 Kentucky
scribes…”. I wonder how many Budget scribes there are in
all? I would think at least 500. I think I remember reading in
an issue of The Budget last year, that there is a waiting list
for new scribes to send in news, since The Budget does not
want to get any larger in size than it is now.
Thanks for this update Al. The Budget must remain “economical” with the # of scribes it allows. Otherwise it will go over-Budget. Har-har. I will stop now.
What happened to "Ask an Amishman"
Erik, what happened to the “Ask an Amishman” series of posts you were doing?
Ask a (new) Amishman?
That was a few years back and was contingent on my friend’s time for answering questions, which was quite limited (and also internet access which has been cut back since). Would enjoy continuing it, maybe I need to float the idea back at him or someone else…some of his input has filtered into other posts in the meanwhile.
And while we’re at it, why don’t I just say that if there are any other Amish reading this that might want to consider a regular or semi-regular feature like that, you’re invited to drop me an email: