How Amish Defuse Conflict By Moving

Yoder Kansas Sign

Amish people aren’t afraid to move, and do so for different reasons. One of the main reasons is in response to material progress–or “drift”, a word used by those who frown on too much change happening too quickly.

The three Amish congregations at Yoder, Kansas, are rather progressive, permitting technology use other Amish do not, such as driving tractors as part-time road vehicles.

An article in the Hutchinson News looks at a change which occurred in recent years–allowing tractors with air in tires rather than the steel-wheeled variety.

A local Beachy Amishman offers interesting insight on how those that disagreed handled the change:

“That was the last distinction the anti-air folks could hold on to,” said Nissley. When their bishop said they could have air, suddenly places like Bloomfield, Iowa, where there is a more traditional Ordnung, or set of unwritten rules that guide everyday Amish life, began to look more attractive.

“Amish, for the sake of the community and family, will agree, so it’s not disruptive,” said Nissley, a Beechy Amish. They won’t make a fuss, but will suddenly say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live in Bloomfield?”

“They choose the peaceful route,” Nissley said. They’ll choose to leave without burning bridges or placing communities at odds with each other.”

The families reportedly moved to a more conservative settlement “where tractors are not permitted; a place where all transportation, as well as field work, is done by horse and buggy” [probably without the buggy in the field, but you get the point].

Jonas Bontrager Yoder Amish
Jonas Bontrager of Yoder Hardware. Images by Lindsey Bauman/Hutchinson News

Young Center senior fellow Donald Kraybill adds:

“The people are the church, and the bishop interprets things, but most decisions are voted on by the members. Possibly some leaving didn’t agree. This migration happens all the time in various states, it’s one way of settling differences without conflict.”

“It makes it easier on everyone, the more conservative and progressive. Birds of the feather flock together, if they don’t move there can be tension and dissension.”

The remainder of the article checks in at the schoolhouse, whose teacher, Lester Bontrager, sometimes arrives by tractor “in a pinch”, and whose students use a solar-powered copy machine.

There’s also a brief look at two area businesses, Yoder Hardware Store and Anna Bontrager’s Country Variety Store, which Tom Geist gave us a glimpse of following his visit to Yoder. There are some very nice images from the settlement as well.

Freedom to move

If you think about it, it’s not surprising that peace-loving Amish have created so many settlements in North America (around 500) and continue to do so at a rapid pace.

Rather than endure conflict and strife, why not just set up a new community with like-minded families? Or join one already in progress, so to speak?

Of course it’s not as simple and easy as that sounds. But with the freedom to move and start a new life somewhere else with kindred souls, it’s no wonder there is so much variety across Amish society today.

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    13 Comments

    1. Tom Geist

      Should I stay or should I go....

      The article says that moving is one way to avoid conflicts. Before the people actually leave one would assume that the subject of why they are moving must come up. So, how do they handle the question of moving?

      I know of one Amish family told me they were looking to move but didn’t want me to tell anyone else. Turns out the place they went to check out land had a Amish Newspaper scribe that listed they came to the area to look for land, so the cat was out of the bag. OOPS!

      Tom Geist

    2. Al in Ky

      This post was interesting. There are several Amish communities I am pretty familiar with, and several times have learned of people from a specific community moving. As I try to do with all of my conversations with Amish friends, I don’t ask too many questions, but always wonder the reason for a family moving who has been in the community for quite some time. I’m pretty sure quite often it’s to avoid conflicts. With members of other Christian Churches,
      such as Baptist, Lutheran, and even Mennonite, if a member has a conflict with other members or doesn’t agree with some change in church life, and there is another church of that denomination in that community, often the member or family will just join another like-minded church. Yet, I don’t think the Amish have that choice.
      Or do they? Can an Amish church member join a church in another nearby district of the same affiliation to avoid a conflict in their present district? I’d be interested to hear what Mark of Holmes Co. has observed regarding this.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        Since the church district is set by boundaries (often roads) it is not an option to change to another district without moving there. So you can’t decide to switch districts but stay in the same home. Sometimes people do move to another location to be in a different district, but I’d say in this community moving like that is more apt to be for less crowded conditions or more conservatism. Forrest was right — a lot of effort is made to resolve issues. Moving is a last resort, in my opinion. Often if a person can’t get along in one district because of personality conflicts, he’ll find the same challenges is his new location.

    3. Forest in North Carolina

      “Can an Amish church member join a church in another nearby district of the same affiliation to avoid a conflict in their present district?”

      Probably depends on the specific conflict; if it is a conflict over church doctrine, joining another church of the same affiliation in an adjoining district is probably not an option, since the same conflict will be there at the new church. Transportation to the new church, that is, length of distance you have to travel, also would be an issue, in some cases.
      If it is some kind of personality conflict between brothers in the church, moving might be an option, although I believe the church would make every effort to resolve the issue within itself, among the brotherhood. Again, if you can’t get along with your brothers in one district, you may have the same problems elsewhere.
      Just my thoughts from a conservative Mennonite perspective… Mark can probably elaborate on it far better than I.

      1. Al in Ky

        Thanks to Mark and Forest for helpful information to further understand Amish and moving.

    4. Alice Mary

      Lonlieness vs. conflict?

      Come to think of it, the English sort of do the same thing. I know of a contentious “father/grandfather” who didn’t get along with most of his kids, so he moved to another state…then tried to get the one kid he DID get along with to move there as well. It didn’t work, and now he’s alone (and lonely) a couple of states away.

      Do most of the Amish who do this find a “welcoming” district? Do they have an idea of where they’re going before they pull up stakes?

      Alice Mary

      1. I would think most have some firsthand idea, because there’s a good chance they’d visit beforehand to at the least investigate a land purchase or arrange some other living place.

        Family can be a conduit for this as well, you might have a son or daughter or other family member in a different community which would be a possibly compelling reason to consider it if you were thinking about a move.

        They would also need to have a sense of the Ordnung of the church they would be joining, and might stay within the same affiliation or seek a higher or lower church accordingly.

    5. Jeff Baker

      Non Amish can be non-conflicting too

      I do the same with my own decisions – non-conflict and don’t burn your bridges if possible. If you do not share the same ideals/morals/lifestyle with those you live next to or near, you peacefully move. The same goes for your own children and blood relatives – once you are eighteen or so years old, you can stay around them or move on and associate with people that resonate with you.

      I teach my children that you can not and should not try to change other people. You can only change yourself.

    6. Susan

      How Amish Defuse Conflict

      We have a farm in Yoder township that had been owned by an Amish relative who moved to Marysville to avoid conflict and to live with a more strict group. But I have a cousin who just moved back to Yoder from Marysville (missing family) and it’s great to have them back. There’s three districts in the Yoder area and sometimes people “visit” other districts a lot to ease tension. One in particular is known to be more strict. But it wasn’t strict enough to cause a few to move to Marysville.

    7. Jess

      I had no idea

      This was a very interesting post, thank you! I don’t know why (and it seems dumb to say now with how much I now know), but I didn’t think Amish people moved often. I starting thinking about why they’d move a few years ago when I got Amish neighbors right next door. I don’t know much about them, but I believe my husband said they moved from WI to southern IA and then finally next door. I always wondered why! We live in central MN. On the edge of the Becker County settlement. Which I believe is growing quite quickly, that, or I’m just now more aware of the Amish around me?

      Sadly, we don’t talk much. I’d love to be their friend though! I fear that when they came over soon after moving in around 6am to use our phone to call the owner (they hadn’t closed on the house yet) and my husband asked them to not make a habit of it so early, that closed the door on friendship. However, we do exchange baked goods, waves and they helped us a bit with our first garden by bringing some manure!

      I’m not sure what affiliation is in Becker County, can anyone shed some light?

      1. Amish in Becker County, MN

        Hope you’ll be able to build a friendship there Jess. I don’t know if I’d blame your husband for being not so enthusiastic at 6 am. That’s early for a lot of us, but for instance a dairy farmer has already gotten the lead out.

        I don’t know much about Becker County other than they use the SMV triangle so would rule out Swartzentruber Amish: http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_26538987/becker-county-pickup-rear-ends-amish-buggy

        This article tells you more about the community, but you need a subscription to read in full (I did not). http://www.dl-online.com/content/amish-becker-county

        Original families came from Michigan and Wisconsin in 2007, and had grown to 2 districts as of 2013, which suggests you may be right that they are growing fairly rapidly.

        1. Jess

          Thank you

          Thank you Erik, for the information!

    8. Pami Perry

      Amish in OREGON state

      At one time there were Amish people living in OR, state but they moved out of OR state.
      Now word has it that Amish people are thinking of moving back to OR state in Linn county.