Are These “True” Amish? Posing For A Group Photo…

Stories of Amish and Mennonite people doing outreach projects pop up often in the news. This one caught my eye for a couple of reasons.

One is the place where they did the work. But the main reason has to do with how they commemorated the experience.

Fixing up a “Deaf Camp”

The Amish and Mennonites in this story helped repair what’s called in the article a “deaf camp” in Colorado – known by its formal name as the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. From the Aspen Daily News story:

About 40 volunteers organized through the West Slope Mennonite Fellowship and an Amish organization called Restore Our Community Colorado gathered to perform the repairs from May 28-30. Most of the volunteers came from three Amish communities near Westcliffe, Colorado.

“It’s fun to see the Amish go to work because regardless of their age, they all pitch in,” said Aaron “Beuford” Aeschliman, a Carbondale resident and assistant chair for the Rocky Mountain unit of the Mennonite Disaster Service. “It’s fun to see how motivated and hard-working they are.”

Amish boy and men fixing a roof
Image: Katrina Toews/Aspen Daily News

That’s a nice quote and is something that stands out in any Amish work project. I recently saw this in a youth group frolic. Mid-teenaged Amish boys cutting up fallen trees for firewood with chain saws. Work events are social events, and Amish young and old go at it – and also have fun.

The camp, which “provides outdoor and recreational experiences for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, often children” was founded in 1967. It apparently fell into disrepair under previous management.

So it will take some more work to get it up to speed. But this makes for a nice start and three cheers for another great example of helping out the community.

Amish Group Photo

So the main thing that got me going with this post was how the Amish here commemorated their work project.

While the Aspen Daily News article notes that “The Amish communities involved in the work could not be reached for comment,” they were able to get a photo of some of the Amish volunteers, here in a mixed group:

A mostly Amish group of volunteer workers leaning on a fence with forest in background
Some from the group pose for a photo. Image: Katrina Toews/Aspen Daily News

Everyone posing and smiling. But wait…Amish people don’t do that, right?

Well, nowadays especially, it seems a growing number of Amish people are okay with it. I went into that a bit more here.

The people here, as the article notes, are from three Amish communities in the Westcliffe, Colorado area. Several years ago, I visited two of the three that I believe they are talking about – Westcliffe, and another not too far away at Hillside.

My impression of the Westcliffe group was that they looked to be pretty progressive. I made a video in a furniture store in this community which will give you a feel for it. So people from this group posing for a photo doesn’t exactly surprise me.

In the end we can add this to the list of examples of how Amish views on photography vary more than most people think.

The “True” Amish?

Coincidentally, I had a nice talk with someone today who works in what we might call the “Amish media” space. She shared that in her experience, many non-Amish people only want to consume the more romanticized version of the Amish.

They’re disappointed with the reality of today’s Amish lifestyle in the more progressive places – the homes that don’t look plain enough, Amish people doing anything internet-related – and not so interested in that version of the Amish.

It’s something I have noticed as well. You often get this direct feedback through social media.

Post something that doesn’t mesh with what someone’s view of the “true” Amish is, and you’re apt to hear about it.

People will confidently proclaim that a group or person isn’t Amish – when they most certainly are. Just a more progressive bent.

Amish buggies in black, white, and yellow lined up in a row
Three more examples of “true” Amish. Belleville, Pennsylvania. Photo: Jerry in PA

So the variety of horse-and-buggy Amish groups been a common theme of this website over the years, and it continues today.

“Amish” includes everything from the plainest Swartzentruber communities, to the most progressive business-centric Amish people who, in practice, only use buggies on church Sundays.

Only one may be the “true” Amish to the outsider with rigid conceptions of who the Amish are. But the other is as well, whether people like it or not.

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    10 Comments

    1. Tracy L Stout Powers

      Old Order vs Progressive

      How do the Old Order Amish feel about the more progressive Amish? So they consider them to be Amish? So they “turn their nose up” at them?

      1. Erik Wesner

        Good question. The more conservative Amish might consider them “too fast” or similar to Mennonites. Those are the kinds of things you might hear from the plainer Amish folks. They may be seen as examples of what can happen if you allow too much change. It can also go the other way where the more progressive people look down on the plainest Amish.

        Some of the more progressive Amish may even feel more in common with rural non-Amish people in the area than their plainest neighbors. The best example of this is probably in the Holmes County, Ohio community where you have the most variety of any settlement.

        That said, it’s not like they are hostile to one another and those depictions describe the more negative responses. The different groups come together and cooperate as well.

        *Just one note: “Old Order” is more a general term for essentially horse-and-buggy Amish. Even though it sounds like it should mean the most traditional Amish, in its broadest definition it would include the more progressive Amish too. “Plainest” or “most traditional/conservative” or even “lowest” (as opposed to “high” Amish) would be terms used to describe these Amish on the more traditional, change-averse end.

        1. Robert

          NY Amish

          Any information about the Amish in the Watertown NY Area?

      2. Central Virginian

        non-judgmental

        In general Amish and Mennonite doctrine and culture discourage looking down on others, condemning others, being prideful of their own life vs. over others; based on their understanding of Biblical Christianity.

    2. Thanks!

      Erik, as usual, I appreciate you showing a mixture or cross-section of the Amish in their various communities, and in your quest to not stereotype people.

      1. Erik Wesner

        That’s appreciated Jim!

    3. Amish volunteers

      Eric, its true, your responses to these questions of Amish do and Amish don’t are informative and accurate. You are perhaps the only non-Amish authority worth reading. Those ex-Amish on social media, who so blatantly describe and define boundaries (they escaped) do so to a discredit. They only reveal their insecurities and self-centered ideas. Thanks for your uncanny and honest dialoging. Amish persons (whatever brand) are in constant motion (to progression, stand firm or back to restrictive) boundaries. From my life perspective of a 15 yr old Amish youth in Indiana to a now 78 yr Mennonite activist in Mississippi, I would surmise the less time you spend on this topic the better! Consider the topic of Amish volunteering (as you just did) worthy of more coverage. You have (unknowingly and best kept secret) Amish readers who respect your answers BUT who would raise you to greater level of authority if you featured voluntary and disaster sharing stories of them. By all means avoid Bible interpretation and avoidance (shunning) answers. These issues are personal, in various formats, and not for public sharing. Its okay to mess with pies, puppies, places BUT let the spiritual (progression or repression) be dealt elsewhere.
      Over the past eight years, a unique Amish Work Week(s) schedule of IN, OH and PA young adults have brought continued restoration and repairs of homes to rural Mississippi. This experience portrays the true nature of younger Amish in service, an acceptance by the older generation (this is their mission work) and a positive awareness by non-Amish recipients. Even now, the ACTS organization (Northern IN Amish affiliate of MDS) has completed the building of six new homes, plans for a dozen more in tornado ravished Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Larry Miller

      1. Central Virginian

        Service

        Service to those in need is a huge part of the Amish and especially Mennonite way of life; how they shine their lights to the world.

      2. Roger Garnsey

        Well Said

        I believe that your response to be good, wise and thoughtful.

    4. Ramona

      Amish

      I think non amish tend to forget that a amish is way of life and religion
      Amish are people like all other
      There are bad and good
      Rapists thieves drinkers smokers .
      This may not reported as much or be as prevalent because of their faith. But they are still people 1st