Amish SUV?

Traveling through Amish settlements you may notice something like this:

amish suv
Not an Amish SUV. A church wagon waits outside a home near Dover, Delaware

That’s not a Plain people hauler, nor the caboose of some sort of horse-drawn train.  This bulky vehicle is a church wagon, and you’ll see them throughout Amish America.

Each Amish church district will have its own wagon, used to transport benches from one location to the next.

The benches are mainly used as seating for the twice-monthly Amish church service.  Benches are set up in two groups of facing rows, one for men and one for women, wherever church is being held (basement, shop, or sometimes barn of the hosting family).

After the service concludes, they will be re-arranged in the same space for the fellowship meal.  Church benches are typically built to be fit together to form an impromptu table.  This simple innovative design cuts down on the need to lug around bulky tables.

big valley amish church wagon
Church wagon in Amish-heavy Big Valley, Pennsylvania

Along with benches the church wagon will contain the song books used at Sunday service, each marked with the district’s initials–for instance, UMP for “Upper Middle Pequea”.

(On that note, Amish are big on initialing their personal items–everything from tupperware to board games to clothing–and you would be too if 30 other people in the room happened to be wearing your hat).

You can tell who’s about to have church (or just had it) by the presence of the church wagon outside the home.

And it probably goes without saying, but to move one of these bulky wagons takes more than your average buggy-ready Standard Bred.  A pair of powerful draft horses are usually enough for the job.

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    19 Comments

    1. Al in Ky.

      I think Amish districts borrow each other’s benches
      also — like for large weddings or funerals when
      there are several hundred people present. They
      may do it for other large community events, also.
      When I attended the Truck Patch Connection produce
      meeting at the Crab Orchard, Ky. Auction Barn last fall, there were over 500 people present and all of the seating was on church benches. I noticed the different styles of church wagons used in your pictures. Do different districts or different Amish affiliations ever have different styles of benches?

    2. One of my old lady friends thought the bench wagon is an Amish hearse. She had passed one in our neighborhood and wondereed who died?

    3. Tom Burger

      I have seen them used in Lancaster county to supply benches and tables for youth gatherings.

    4. While we don’t often have to move pews, the Anglican churches here readily lend out folding chairs and tables to church members for family gatherings, or to other churches as needed. We also occasionally have to haul hymnals and prayer books around for big weddings and funerals. All the chairs and tables arr marked the way you decribe – with the church name or intials. Most of us here mark our tupperware or casserole dishes with sharpies. When I’ve made my next set of clericals, I intend to embroider my name in them – good cloaks in particular get “borrowed”!

    5. Are the benches collapsible? It seems that only a few of the backless benches could fit in the buggies.

    6. Alice Aber

      I have also seen open wagons used. Awesome pictures Erik! Thanks for sharing.

      Blessings, Alice

    7. DRG they are collapsible,the legs flip down and tuck in.

      Al I believe that would be the case. I am not sure that all designs can be converted into tables.

      Katie quite funny. Would be a large body!

    8. Mrs. Miller

      Just sat on church benches yesterday as we had a large family gathering in Uncle Calvin’s shop. And YES my Tupperware containers were emblazened with my husband’s initials 🙂 And I always get back my dishes.
      Keep up the good work with your articles!

    9. Well done Mrs. Miller–I imagine un-emblazened Tupperware would tend to grow legs 🙂

      Alice, Michelle-thanks! I just shoot enough, and get lucky once in awhile.

    10. Tom good to note, they would be used for other occasions as well.

      Magdalena I guess the more folks around the more important to have the old initials on there no matter the church. I mentioned in a previous post I recently played the hit game Settlers of Catan while at my Amish friends’ place. It was a borrowed game; the back of each board piece was initialed. Takes some work but much better chance of getting your game back intact.

    11. Marilyn in New York

      I am not Amish, but I have my initials on my Tupperware also. I write them in with a black pen so the Tupperware won’t disappear at the pot luck suppers we have in our apartment building. I learned the hard way that you have those initials on any Tupperware or any kind of dishes that you bring food over in. Funny though they only disappear if you have something good inside of them. If you have stuff like pickels or onions-they stay-only the ones with good food leave. LOL
      Marilyn

    12. Mona

      These are great pictures Erik…..give us more :)I was just wondering, why don’t they put backs on the benches to make them more comfortable???? I remember reading somewhere that their services are like about 3 hrs. long !!!!!! I don’t think I could sit that long especially with no back for support……just sayin……….. 🙂

    13. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Erik, what a wonderful story, I wondered how the church wagons worked.
      I wonder though, sometime in the future, could you include a picture of the benches set up as a bench and then a picture of the bench transformed into a table? I’d like to see the before and after of it, maybe even the in between of the process, if you and your Amish sources could…
      Keep up the great work, by the way.

    14. Why no backs on Amish church benches?

      Mona good question, one reason there are no backs on the benches is because they are trying to keep things Plain and simple; backs on benches would begin to resemble modern church pews. Additionally it would add weight and make them more unwieldy to transport. However if you sit in the back row (I’ve lucked out a couple of times) you do get to lean against the wall of the shop or room you are in 🙂

      Shom if I can get some shots sometime I’ll be happy to post them. I don’t bring the camera around church though so it may be more difficult than these though.

      Marilyn so on the tupperware the lesson here is either initial them or only bring pickels and onions and broccoli!

    15. Mrs. Miller

      Mona asked about the benches not having backs – chairs ARE provided for the elderly who attend church. Sitting on the benches is something that is learned at a very early age, as it being quiet and still. So sitting for 3-4 hours is accepted. While I do squirm a little, it’s not too bad. I feel it seems to keep you focused on where you are and WHY you are there 🙂

      As Erik mentioned if you are at the back, which is where visitors sit, you might get a wall or something to lean on!

    16. Terry Berger

      Hey folks,
      They had several sets of the benches you’re describing at the Gordonville mud sale last year. They were made of hickory, collapsable, and the seller even had some arrainged as a table. They looked pretty nifty. I didn’t see any at the sale this year. I spent many Sunday mornings sitting on such benches. You just sort of get used to it after a while.

      Terry

    17. Thank you Mrs. Miller for catching that. Also, the broken-legged might get a more comfy seat as well, even a couch as I remember once being the case.

      You mention the squirming; I have always been impressed by the children, some quite young. Quiet and pretty well-behaved. They often lay their heads on dads or dawdi’s lap for a break.

    18. Ellen

      Foldable bench

      I recently bought a 12 ft bench that was decribed as being from an Ohio Amish meetinghouse( 1880’s). It has 3 sets of legs that fold, they said to make it easy to store when not in use. I happened upon your comments when I was researching to make sure it actually was Amish before selling it. It was also painted a beige, which I’m not sure would have been the original color. Any help would be appreciated!!!