Do Amish Bishops Make All The Rules?

A viewer writes/asks: “My understanding is that the church bishop makes decisions on what is and isn’t allowed for their community.”

I’ve found this is a common belief: the bishops are “in charge”, and in some cases wield heavy hands on their flocks. It fits with certain perceptions of the Amish as an insular, conservative religious community to have a dominant figure at the center, in essence controlling the church.

But how much truth is there to the idea that “the bishops make all the rules”? And for that matter, how does change happen in Amish churches?

So I asked Ben Riehl to comment on this. Ben responds in this video, explaining how it works in his community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Ben also goes beyond his community’s borders, contrasting that example with communities in the Midwest, like Holmes County, Ohio.

So that noted, keep in mind that what Ben says here may not reflect how things go in certain other, “less-dynamic” communities, where bishops hold more sway, where there are fewer economic pressures driving change, and change in general happens more slowly.

Lancaster County is different than Holmes County, as Ben explains, and it is also different in significant ways from a one-district Swartzentruber or Swiss Amish settlement well off the beaten path somewhere.

As Ben describes things here, you get the impression that church leadership in his community does less to drive or halt change, and more to guide it. Arguably no other Amish settlement has the same level of economic pressure as does the Lancaster County community. So while being the best-known, and largest Amish community, in certain ways it’s different than many or most others.

As you’ll see at the start, I ask Ben to talk about how change enters the church “officially.” Ben explains why “officially” might not be the best term (at least in the case of Lancaster County), and why. Runtime: 5:22.

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