People living in the Geauga County Amish community area have contacted Cleveland’s FOX8 news channel with reports of Amish “gathering for church and parties,” presumably violating the state’s stay-at-home order.

Ohio’s stay-at-home order, prohibiting gatherings above 10 people, was issued March 22, to last from March 23 to April 6. Last week it was extended to last until May 1.

Several have sent in photos of Amish to the station.

This first photo appears to be a group of people walking alongside a buggy.

The second photo shows what looks like a gathering of youth playing volleyball:

A third photo shows Amish people walking down the road:

A fourth photo aired by the station shows what looks to be a few Amish standing outside a drive-thru bank teller, presumably picking up some cash.

That photo seems irrelevant for reasons stated below, so I’m not going to post it here.

So are these three photos evidence of Amish violating the order?

To me the second photo is the only one which seems clear evidence of breaking the order. The first could be suggestive of people arriving to a gathering.

There are exceptions in the order for a range of activities including getting necessary supplies, “outdoor activity,” and taking care of others. Amish pictured in the first and third photos could arguably be doing a number of those things.

The fourth photo of Amish at the bank does not seem to fit this complaint, as getting money seems clearly within the “necessary supplies and services” exception. I would suspect it is the work of an overzealous “citizen informer.”

That doesn’t mean that residents haven’t witnessed or noticed signs suggesting large gatherings, however.

It should also be noted that many individual Amish families, with their large numbers of children, exceed 10 people in size.

However the order also states that “Nothing in this Order prohibits the gathering of members of a household or residence.” That’s the exception that presumably keeps Amish family dinners legal for now.

A bishop’s comments

Officials have been meeting with Amish leaders to inform them of the latest requirements.

The Geauga County Health Commissioner reported that an Amish bishop said that “five churches had closed,” and confusingly that “they are putting signs on other churches as well.”

Since Amish in this community don’t use physical church buildings, and like most Amish, they meet in members’ homes or outbuildings for Sunday service, that comment doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps he was speaking of other denominations’ churches. That’s all I can come up with. But if so, the comment was randomly inserted without any such context.

Also, another question – if only five churches “had closed” (which is also strange language to describe Amish congregations, but let’s leave that aside), that would still leave around 130 more church districts in this community whose status is unclear, at least as reported by the bishop.

Communication with the Geauga Amish

Are Amish here generally ignoring the state’s orders regarding gatherings and stay-at-home restrictions?

It’s a bit fuzzy what is going on here. It turns out officials have been meeting with Amish in this community to keep them informed, dating back to at least mid-March.

For instance, the second such meeting took place back on March 17, when medical representatives spoke with about 50 people from the Amish safety committee.

At that meeting the representatives recommended suspending church for two months at least, and keeping gatherings below 50:

It wasn’t the first they had heard about COVID-19, said the Amish safety committee member.

“We’d been hearing from drivers and customers and watching the newspapers,” he said in a phone conversation March 19. “We’re not back in the woods.”

Williams-Reid, a family medical doctor, and Muir, UH – Geauga’s liaison for the Amish community, gave their audience directions on how to cope with the new directives and keep their families safe.

“We’re trying our best to keep this from spreading,” Wengerd said.

Wengerd said most people at the meeting agreed if a family member becomes ill, the family should self-quarantine, but as of Thursday, church meetings would continue.

Meanwhile, the Amish schools have been closed and family members are taking on the responsibility of making sure the school-aged children keep up with their studies, he said.

If Amish families need to isolate, they can be sure friends and neighbors will help wherever they can.

“We’ll all pitch in. That’s our tradition,” Wengerd said.

Maybe there is disagreement, or simple laxity, within the community as to adhering to the stipulations of the order. The Geauga Amish community is comprised of two large affiliations, one more conservative than the other.

In any case, it appears that when it comes to gatherings, at least some Amish in this community have not been following the state government’s order. On the other hand, Amish schools in the county have been closed.

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