Ask an Amishman: Accepting Outsiders

John Stoltzfus touches on a few topics in answering today’s broad question: Amish-English friendship, converting, and divorce.

How hard is it to become accepted into the Amish community? 

John:

Being accepted as a friend or accepted as a convert?

I feel that most of the Plain Community is very open to outside “English” friendship. Years ago (late 1960’s), a lady stopped at my parents and asked for a glass of water.  That glass of water overflowed with friends to this day. She was a tourist from Connecticut and for many years after that she would bring her family for a week stay.  She then introduced her friends.

Through that one lady, my parents have had friends from all over the USA.  With all those, there ended up a few very favorites that continued to visit every year for a long time. In the early 1970’s there was one family that we would visit every Memorial Day weekend, and every Labor Day they would spend their time with us.  This continued til they moved into our area in 1977. Not all couples would do what my parents did, however it was a great experience for us, which I think is why I look at people as people, not Black, White, Jew, Mennonite…..etc.

Being accepted as a convert, is entirely up to the convert.  What I mean by that is, you need to accept the rules/Ordnung of the church district that you are trying to convert to. It really doesn’t matter who it is, you accept the Church, the Church accepts you.

In other words there are “no” divorces in the Amish Church, because the person or couple would be excommunicated before the divorce would happen.  If there would be a chance that the Church wouldn’t know about it til after the fact, at the first opportunity there would be excommunication.  Therefore you would be disconnected from the Church which makes your membership void.

 ——

John Stoltzfus is a father of five and member of a Pennsylvania Old Order Amish community. John works in product design for a local farm supply company. In his spare time he creates computer-generated art.

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    15 Comments

    1. Naomi Wilson

      Challenges

      I wonder if the most difficult aspect of joining an Amish church might be the “human” side of things. It seems like if one was truly convicted and ready, then the ordnung might be quite easy, even liberating, to accept. Difficulties might arise in “fitting in” to a group of people that has shared a strong bond that goes back generations, and also in learning the language and mastering some of the smaller details like, for a woman, sewing the clothes exactly right, if perhaps community members were not wanting to go out of their way to help someone make that transition.

      My husband and I have been discussing this a fair bit lately. He would be concerned that crossing over into an almost foreign culture would be the challenge, even for someone who is strongly convicted on matters of faith, and accustomed to a plain lifestyle. I would be delighted if others with experience would weigh in on this. I know Lance has addressed this before in comments on other posts.

    2. I do have to correct John on one thing here. I know of a divorced Amish lady. She is my mom. My father left the church when I was in fourth grade. Years later he filed for divorce. She didn’t sign the papers but after two years the divorce is granted regardless.

      I don’t fault John though for this oversight. It is extremely rare, and mostly happens when one partner leaves the church and the other remains a member.

      1. Different types of divorce?

        I think John may have been talking about the “conventional” sort of divorce, though there is a type of divorce, (is it called “no-fault”?) where one party basically has little say in it (can you tell I’m not a divorce lawyer).

        These have happened among Amish, not common, though I know of one or two. Maybe different Amish groups treat this differently, I do not know, but I don’t see the basis for faulting someone when the divorce action is entirely on the initiative of the other party, so it seems sensible to treat it this way.

        That divorced person may remain a church member as it sounds like happened in your case Rachel, but remarriage wouldn’t be accepted while the other party is alive. Sounds like a difficult situation your family went through.

      2. Rachel

        My view did not include the unwilling person, the Plain Community victim, the person filing for the divorce could initially be a member of the Church only if it’s hidden, however after it’s known in the Church then that person would be excummunicated and wouldn’t be a member of the Old Order Amish, unless he would recant and take up membership again, then he wouldn’t be divorced anymore..

        I also knew a lady that was divorced by her husband, however the difference was, she didn’t want it to happen, she was the victim, however he didn’t remain in the Church.. I wouldn’t have classed her as divorced, however I guess she would have been, never thought about it that way..

        The only few that I would know of, haven’t filed for a divorce till they were gone for a year or more, so therefore they wouldn’t have been a member of the Amish Church.

        Does that make sense. This is kind of like “If a tree falls in the forest and there are no humans in the area, does it still make a sound..” 🙂

      3. Asking an Amishman: accepting outsiders

        I am not an Amish woman. But I am an outsider who was welcomed into a Mennonite Community. I understand there are big differences between these two communities, but there are many similarities. It wasn’t a culture shock to me, because I welcomed the traditional living, the simple attire, the strict Bible based belief system, and the closeness of the people.
        But I am divorced.This has thrown a monkey wrench into my dream to share a relationship with a Mennonite man who could be the Head of my household and be a Christian leader to me and any family we would have.This, I was sure was my destiny. But, because it is in the Bible that this can never happen, this has shattered my plans. But, the Mennonite Community HAS accepted me and would allow me to live as a permanently single woman. I am not sure about the Amish Community though. P. Carter

    3. Rachel

      But would the church allow her to remarry??
      Perhaps they consider her still married since in God’s eyes she is married until a spouse dies? (The Lord never mentioned the two year rule :))

    4. stephanie

      My family converted to the Beachy Amish Mennonite church. A bit different than Old order Amish to say the least but tons of “rules” and Old order friend of mine and I were comparing our church standards and while ours was 4a pages long. Hers was only 2! Anyhow, I see so many people wanted “the plain life” and the “long to join the plain churches” those people will never last. Just liking the outdoors and working hard wont cut it. You have to be prepared to have every aspect of your personal ans private life open for scrutiny. Which is good (we think) it is accountability. But if you are very independent or do not do well with authority or like your individuality I would say a plain church is not for you. The language is also an issue but we have learned fairly quickly mostly due to the patience and kindness of our church and our Amish friends around us.using

    5. Don Curtis

      Amish acceptance

      I guess I forgot to say that Mark has known folks who came to the Amish who were accepted positioally but were not accepted socially. Sometimes the seekers had personality problems that made it hard to like them. Who wants to invite a person over for supper and listen to the person complain the whole evening? Or some who expected othes to invite them all the time but never extended an invitation, themselves. Others had a hard time adjusting to the Amish work ethic and were considered kind of lazy. They went from job to job that the Amish found for them. Never found one they liked. Others came to the Amish for the wrong reasons or with unrealistic expectations and became disillusioned. Some weren’t willing to learn the Deitsch and felt excluded. All of these were, at one time, members in good standing in the Amish church. But, were they accepted, totally? That’s hard to answer.

    6. Erin

      It was neat to read about John’s English friends while growing up. I really liked how he sees people as people not a label or a color.

      Don, it’s always great to hear Mark’s perspective as it is Anne’s. I think your story about his birthday party and bookshelves is a true testament to his acceptance in to the culture. It sounds like he’s been a great community member and somewhat of a counselor/mentor to the young men in his district.

    7. Anne

      Becoming Amish

      Sorry I could not weigh in sooner. Busy and sick for way too long now!

      Today I’m home due to this massive snow we are getting, we have no power (another Amish holiday,ha,ha!) so have a moment to write. Our son was warmly embraced by the group he joined, but they did not make it easy on him. A few examples of how it worked for him:
      1. Language: they refused to speak English around him , though a friend often tried to do a quick translation. He said the children were the most help. He made flash cards for everything and worked on learning the language every spare moment.
      2. Living arrangement: he was able to live in a small cabin on the land of a family. In exchange he worked very hard for them. He was not able to make extra money for himself, not much anyway.
      3. Basic provision: he also had to do his own cooking, cleaning, etc. When he decided to make the commitment to join/convert, he was expected to live even more on his own. Meaning that in addition to the orher basics, he had to prepare his land for farming and start a business. He used all his savings to buy a small property and began the hard work of making it useful.

      Yes, he was immediately considered to be on the same level as any other family. He benefitted from his share of workdays like others. Now and then a family would gift him with a loaf of bread or some eggs. These were especially welcome gifts. Now that he is married life seems SO much easier for him! He has a sweet wife to take on so many of the chores he previously had to do by himself. I think converting to the Amish is probably one of the most difficult paths anyone can choose. Ed had no family of his own within the community to lean on during this time. We are so grateful for his sweet little Ruth! Her help and companionship has made all the difference.

      1. Erin

        I was waiting for you to weigh in, Anne! It sounds like Ed really was dedicated and determined to learn the language, culture, and religion with little help. I was wondering how he learned PA Dutch as learning a language as an adult is so much more difficult than learning it as a child. That’s great that the children in his community were willing to help him out. It sounds like things were a little harder when he was single. So glad he was able to find a wonderful wife to grow along with and raise their children together. I’m sure he is a terrific husband and can appreciate all the household chores that Ruth and he now share.

    8. Don I saw Mark firsthand interacting with younger folks, when we were invited over for a dinner during my visit. I could tell they really appreciate him.

    9. Kathy Rowe

      I have met some very nice Amish in my many visits to Holmes County, Ohio. Granted, some are more outgoing than others, just like us “Englishers.” Have always been treated nice by those I have come in contact with. Have become friends with a couple families and enjoy visiting with them when I am in the area.

    10. Sadie

      I wonder, Anne, if those around your son would speak only Dietsch because it is supposed to be easier to learn a language that you’re “immersed” in. At least that is what I’ve always heard from people who either have done so, or would like to do so (usually with languages like Spanish or French, though!).
      Maybe they thought that if he was going to “make it”, Ed would need to learn to understand the language, without relying on an interpreter or having English spoken, and maybe that was a quicker way of doing so! I’m not sure!

    11. Bernadette Ward

      Re; Information about joining the Amish life

      My question this evening is this: If a person wants to join the Amish life, but they were divorced in the 70’s. But then they changed religions to be happier and start a whole new life. But they feel like something is still missing in their life; where deep down in their heart they feel they could live the Amish life very well. plus they could see themselves dressing like the Amish and working with them and going to church. Would they be excepted into this Amish life as a convert? But would it be better to visit with a family first before actually making a final decision?

      And if a person wanted to live with a family: How would we know who we could stay with for 1 week or 2 weeks possibly? Do you have a list of families that we could write to? And could someone pick us up either at the Bus station or Airport? Or would that be our responsibility to find our way to their home?

      Thank you for your time!
      Talk to you later on!
      I will be looking forward to your answers.