COVID-19: Amish Schools Close; Church & Weddings Continue [UPDATED]

Amish schools in Lancaster County have been closed, but church continues on a regular schedule, as do weddings. That’s from a report in Lancaster Online concerning Amish response to the coronavirus.  Here’s their summary of the situation:

One-room Amish schoolhouses across Lancaster County are closed for the week, yet scores of Amish wedding goers Tuesday filled a big tent on a farm near New Holland.

The Amish two days earlier crowded into homes for lengthy worship services followed by communal meals, as is their practice. But hosts had hand sanitizer available, and those with cold symptoms stayed home.

Members of the Amish community are aware of the coronavirus and, like many others in Lancaster County, are starting to take precautions. But with no known local cases yet, they are not overly concerned, according to over a dozen who spoke with reporters Tuesday.

With the exception of closing schools, their routines are little changed.

The article quotes several Amish people on their thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. One woman says that while church services are not being canceled, things could change: “Next week could be a different story. Nobody really knows how to quite handle it.”

Weddings are tough to reschedule and are “likely to go on.” The photo below is from a wedding that took place yesterday near New Holland.

Photo by Suzette Wenger/Lancaster Online

About another wedding, a store clerk said that “I know (the bride) tried to keep the guests to a minimum.”

It sounds like businesses are open, but may be slow, at least according to one anecdotal report from Country Housewares Store.

Amish choice to close

It sounds like the school closing was an Amish decision: “The Amish said they closed their schools for the week more out of respect for the government and the wider public than out of a health concern.”

Pennsylvania’s governor ordered all PA schools K-12 to close statewide Monday, while private schools were “encouraged to close.” So the Amish are going along with this encouragement from the state government.

Dan recently asked if Amish would comply if they were ordered to close schools by the government. I replied that for the most part I didn’t think it would be a big issue. This example shows that Amish, at least in this large community, are willing to go along with it.

However one detail in the above comment stands out – “for the week.”

That suggests that next week they may re-evaluate the situation. Maybe not, but the statement has wiggle room in it. Not sure if that was intentional or not.

Other States

How are other Amish communities’ schools affected by the COVID-19 situation?

In Ohio, public and private schools were closed by the governor’s order on Monday, for three weeks.

In addition to the many traditional Amish schools, the Holmes County community has a significant number of Amish children attending the local public school system. Schools in Geauga County were delivered letters on this several days before the closure.

Other states with significant Amish populations have also shut down schools statewide. They include Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. Some of the orders appear to cover private schools, while others do not.

In Indiana, roughly 200 districts have closed down schools while about 70 remain open. One which has shut down would be in the Nappanee area (Wa-Nee Schools). Northern Indiana, like Holmes County, has a significant number of Amish children attending public schools.

Whether Amish schools are affected by the above statewide shutdown orders is not immediately clear, though in the cases of orders covering private schools, we can guess that the Amish are affected.

Though as I said in my comment to Dan, I’d be surprised if many Amish protest against closing schools if told or recommended to do so. In Lancaster County’s case at least, encouragement was enough.

UPDATED March 20: Church closings; Fasting Days and family worship

I got some comments on the situation from an Amish friend in Holmes County, regarding church services. This is what he shared with me yesterday:

“The situation has changed, though, with so many local businesses closed AND the Amish schools. With Sunday fast approaching, there has been discussion about how to handle church services, with some feeling they should be called off while others feel it’s ridiculous to do so. If our district does have church, I think we will skip it.”

And today:

“There is no word here yet about Sunday church, but in phone conversations with Amish friends in parts of Ont. and Allen Co., IN, regarding canceling tours, I heard church services ARE canceled in their communities and a “Fasting Day” planned instead. I am assuming church will be canceled here. Or regular Old Order churches, at any rate. I assume most if not all families will have a quiet family worship at home as is typical for non-church Sundays and Fast Days.”

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    1. A reader's comment on Amish school compliance & looking out for our neighbors

      A reader passes on the following comment on Amish complying with closure recommendations. He relays the good point that one motivation for complying is to maintain recognition with the state government (and by extension generally maintaining the privilege of having their own parochial schools). On that topic, this school guidelines booklet reflects how Amish take that matter seriously:

      He also shares some ideas on being a good neighbor and friend. Oxford, PA is in Chester County, and the Amish in that area would technically be a part of the Lancaster settlement.

      Here’s the reader’s comment in full.
      I went to visit my Amish friends in Oxford, PA yesterday. My friend Henry, who serves on the school board for his local region, told me that the head of the PA State Amish School Board will make the announcement either late today or tomorrow about possible closures for next week.

      They are trying to work closely with the State Board of Education to make sure they are in compliance. They do not want to lose the official recognition the Amish schools presently have by the PA State Government. Henry told me their forefathers in PA fought for the right to have independent schools and some Amish even went to jail for passively resisting government orders to send their children to public schools.

      One of the biggest concerns among the Amish about the closures is that their children do not have the ability to do distant learning like the children in the “English” community. In speaking with Henry, it seems that the word has traveled quickly among the Amish community in Oxford and nearby Lancaster about the Coronavirus.

      Many of the Oxford area Amish belong to a co-op that auctions off produce weekly ( and the news spreads quickly from the Amish who attend, back to their family, neighbors and those who shop in little Amish markets like Walnut Brook Foods on Crowl Toot Road right outside of Oxford, PA.

      Maybe you could encourage your members who live in Amish areas to check out tiny Amish family run market like Walnut Brook Foods and others like it in every Amish community. Not only will people get to know their Amish neighbors, but they can buy all the product used by the Amish at incredibly fair prices. Most people are not aware that these markets are open to the general public, as well as the Amish and it really helps to support the local Amish communities.

      Although the Amish normally use herbal remedies, I did take some over-the-counter medications to Henry since he and his wife have six children. I brought them Advil for pain relieve & fever, as well as some pediatric medications for colds, coughs and fever.

      It is important to look out for our Amish friends and neighbors in case this situation gets worse. They do not have access to the resources we have. Henry and his neighbors have a communal telephone across the road from his farm in case of emergencies or to do business. I made sure Henry had my phone number in case he needed me. Perhaps you could encourage your readers to do likewise. We all have to come together in these crazy times.

      Thank you for all you are doing to build bridges of understanding between the Amish and “English: communities.

    2. Brenda V Rollins

      Learning about the Amish

      I appreciate this opportunity to learn more about the Amish people and their values and concerns. Thanks!

    3. An OLD English Friend & Neighbor

      Seniors over 60 YO most vulnerable to Covid 19

      Hello to all Amish friends and neighbors. First, thank you for closing your schools. We need to “hide” from the virus, so we don’t want to be a good neighbor to it, do we. Hand sanitizers when/if applied properly work as a second choice. What if: not enough “thief oil” was used in the spray you are using? First choice is a 20 second proper hand wash with hot water, soap and drying with (paper) towels works best. Not to be smart, do you have hot water, soap and towels for hand washing at any Amish school? But, you do have outhouses used by the children (and adults), correct?

      It is well documented folks over 60 years old are not faring well against the Covid 19 virus, they are most at risk for death, even more so if they have health problems, like diabetes, Heart & vascular disease, high blood pressure, asthma and many more diseases. It is common knowledge that as the body ages it just can’t fight disease like a young body does. Not to be smart, what is the average age range of most of your English drivers? That’s correct, over 60 years old. The same age that’s most vulnerable to disease like the Covid 19 Virus.

      It’s also a 2-way street. We English have to stop congregating by holding large events. The Gordonville Mud Sale is one of the largest in the area. It was held Mar. 14th. 2020. If there were Covid 19 infected carriers at that Mud Sale. We should see a spike Mar. 28th or 2 weeks after the 14th. Chester & Delaware Counties are seeing tremendous additions to people infected with Covid 19 NOW! Is this due to the Gordonville Mud Sale? We don’t know, maybe! For example Chester County had 17 cases 1 week ago (3/19). Today 1 week later (3/26) there are 84 cases! a 4 fold increase! Del. Co. 16 people infected, today 1 week later 156 infected = a 10 fold increase! We are infecting each other by social closeness, we need to stay home more! The quicker we do this the quicker this pandemic will burn itself out!

      We love our Amish friends and neighbors. We’d love them more if we’re allowed to live longer… You won’t lose school recognition for doing what is the right thing to do. If you do, move over because I’ll be in the same jail cell with you! By the way, Walnut Creek Foods in Oxford. I’m afraid of their sticky buns… Anything that good has to be evil:-). So take care my friend, whoever you are. We are “sheltering in place”. This is a fancy English way of saying, we are staying in our house away from others. We are surviving by eating all those yummy canned goods our Amish friends and neighbors gave us in the Fall. We go outside to get some vitamin D, but we don’t get anywhere near to others.

      I’ll end with some news you can use… All American workers and adults will be receiving a check for $1,200.00 to help compensate for losses due to the Covid 19 virus. This includes the Amish!