What if, instead of simply getting up, dressing in your Sunday best and driving to church, church came to you?
What if your home was flooded with 150 people for a three-hour service followed by a couple of hours of eating and visiting? This would be the picture once a year if you were Amish.
Your other church Sundays would be spent as one of the visitors, usually at neighbors’ homes no more than a short walk or buggy ride away.
In nearly all instances, Amish hold church in their homes, in large rooms or basements, or in a separate building on the property, such as in a workshop which has been cleared of tools and equipment.
And preparing for 150 church guests is no small chore. A recent article gives a look at church prep in a New York Swartzentruber Amish community:
Preparation for church services starts at least a week in advance, because the Amish want their homes in peak shape. Windows, walls and furniture get scrubbed. Pies and bread are baked a couple of days ahead of time, with women sometimes recruiting help from their Amish neighbors or family members.
While mothers and daughters focus on getting the house in order, boys and fathers do outside work such as cleaning out barns and picking up in the yard.
“We have to get the barn ready for all of the horses that will be here,” Mr. Hershberger said.
With 22 families in their church district, the Hershbergers prepare by baking 15 loaves of bread, 60 moon-pie cookies and several pies. Before the services, living room furniture is pushed aside for long wooden benches that get transported from home to home.
Girls often wash and braid their hair on Saturdays. On church days, females wear white capes over their dresses while males wear clothes set aside for Sundays: white shirts, dark-colored vest, pants and jacket. Married women wear white caps while girls and unmarried women wear black caps.
Other things we might add about how the Amish hold church:
- With roughly 26 church Sundays in a year, and Amish church districts typically 25-35 households in size, most families would expect to have church about once per year, or a little less.
- However, in some cases families will hold church more than once in a calendar year. This occurs in the case of small church districts–particularly in a fledgling settlement. For instance, if you are in a new community of just 3 or 5 households, you’ll be holding church a lot more often than in a mature settlement. Of course, you’ll have fewer visitors to prepare for.
- Additionally, single people might not be expected to hold church, or those with small spaces as in the case of rentors, or old folks.
- As noted above, getting a home in tip-top shape is important. Besides the natural desire to make one’s home presentable for guests, those who study the Amish have described a regulatory function: “As the Gmay is welcomed into each family’s home, the congregation has an annual opportunity to appraise a family’s compliance with Ordnung expectations for home furnishings and appliances. Thus, each household is, in a real sense, open for inspection once a year” (The Amish, Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, Nolt; p. 78).
- This does not account for other large hosting occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or youth singings.
Bringing church into the home, rather than going to a separate ceremonial building, is a fundamentally different experience than what most of us are accustomed to.
It’s an arrangement with both practical, and spiritual, implications. As the authors of The Amish observe, “Meeting in a home reinforces the fact that Amish religion is embedded in the material texture of daily life” (p. 78).
You might also like:
How Amish prepare their homes for church
Like this topic — very interesting. I think having the church services in the home, really makes one “closer” to others and to God. Can’t really explain it…….also it keeps one busy in keeping things “nice/neat/clean” too. Someone else might have a better answer for this one.
That’s right, figuratively and literally closer Sharon. Those basements and shops are normally packed pretty tight. I’ve also noticed seating for church meals is tight too. I think a lot of hungry stomachs want to get in on the first seating (there are often 2 seatings).
I like the idea of church in homes. That was the original way Christians met for worship and fellowship. The Amish live out the original intention of church and fellowship. Wish there were more Amish or Mennonite in Florida.
How Amish prepare homes for church
Agree with Debbie H. — on wishing there were more Amish & Mennonites in FLorida…I think we could all learn from some of their practical and family oriented “ways”. I think somehow, a lot of folks are so caught up in “daily” hectic lives, that they overlook the true meaning of worship and fellowship/friendship.
It’s a small thing, but I was a bit curious about the hair *braiding* on Saturdays?
Lucie, good observation…young Amish girls wear braids in some cases, though I’m not sure they would in such a traditional community as this. Possibly this is referring to putting up the hair in some other way.
Nice article Eric. What I found interesting is that in the couple of Amish homes weve been in they had planned for the church service when they built their homes. One had rooms connected by large doors that could be swung open on church days, and the other had actually put in a building used for church when they had it and buggies the rest of the time. I really liked the idea. In some ways it reminds me of the grand homes that had a chapel built into them.
Kevin that is a pretty common design; in one home I visit, the farmhouse is split in two with a parlor room in between the two households’ kitchens. The doors on each side to the parlor fold out and create one long room stretching from one kitchen sink to the other kitchen.
The last Amish place I stayed in, I slept in a specially built large room on the second floor over an area where the family sorts tobacco in winter. The room is used for church services, there is also an apartment up there.
I just wonder what the Amish who are having the church service get rid of (or hide) so the bishop declares they are compliant? Maybe a bottle of perfume, a hair bow or a fiction book?
church at Ed's house
Hi Everyone, so glad to have a chance to weigh in. We just took a lovely family trip with our three (Ed, Ruth, and baby Jonathan) and maybe sometime I can tell you more about that. Our little family is in a small community, so they indeed have this responsibilty more frequently. There are about a dozen families now in Fertile, MN, but one thing that helps, is the weather: when it’s really nasty out, they have to cancel church. Can’t imagine doing all that work the week before, only to wake up Sunday morning to a blizzard and no one coming! They can’t exactly check their cell phones for a forecast to see what’s coming, ha, ha.
One thing it’s also interesting to note is that there is a weekly delivery of benches and sometimes tables. They are loaded up on a big wagon and transported from home to home, depending on who’s hosting that week. Very organized, very efficient.
Anne, great to hear from you. I was just wondering the other day about Ed and co. Those are no doubt nasty blizzards. Hope you’ll share some more with us.
As my friends and I know, one way to be sure you clean your house is planning a party or other family function. I’d rather not have the “event”, as I’m the only one who’d clean, and it’s getting physically more difficult. Not an option with most Amish, although once a year isn’t bad!
I, like MaryAnn Pepe, am also curious to know what gets hidden from the Bishop before the service, and what happens if things are “found”—is there a confrontation that day, or later? I never considered this “nosey” aspect of having a church service at home! Talk about stress!
It’s not that there is an inspection on church Sunday where the place is searched, but if it’s known that someone say has an unsanctioned piece of technology for instance, that person would be apt to get a visit from the ministry.
I enjoyed this posting and the accompanying article about the New York Swartz. Amish preparing for church. I’m wondering if the Swartz. Amish transport their church benches in a different manner than more progressive Amish. One day this summer when I was visiting with some conservative Amish friends in their yard, I saw two of their sons back up a hayrack to a living room window and begin loading some boards onto the hayrack. I asked the parents if they were doing a building project and were loading leftover boards. The mother said, “Oh no, we had church here last Sunday and are just loading the benches to take to our neighbors who will have church next.” Several times I’ve seen other Amish loading church benches into nicely painted church bench wagons, but never had seen any Amish loading benches onto an open hayrack.
There is a hugh movement today among Christians to met in homes. I live in the lancaster PA area. Lancaster has many house churches.
The Mennonite Church I am a member of has a very small building. We do not plan on building larger or moving to a larger building. We seem to grow very quickly. So we plant more churches and we have every small group met one Sunday of the month in a home in the city.
Church in Mark's Community
I asked Mark about how they did church in his community. They have church in the homes, as well. Each district has a bench wagon (bonk voah in Pennsylvania Dutch). In the wagon are all of the benches, extenders (the bench legs fit into the extenders to make a table), hymnals, plus the Bibles and prayer books for the ministers. Also in the bench wagaon are all of the trays, glasses, cups, silverware, plastic bowls, etc. for the noon meal. Mark says the noon meal is always the same at every home: peanut butter spread, a stack of bread, three kinds of pickles (sweet, dill, and pickled beets), a plate of cold cuts, and a plate of sliced cheese. In Mark’s community the singles living alone do not hold church at their home. They try to schedule church so that those who do not have a large home can hold church out in the barn or buggy shed. Most of the Amish in Mark’s community who do have large enough homes have church in walk-in basements.
Church in Mark's Community
I forgot to include that those holding church outside in buggy sheds or barns are schduled for during the warm months. A couple of weeks ago Mark was at a funeral in the community in a large equipment shed that had heat. There were around 600 for the funeral.
Mark said that in a lot of the homes where church is in the basement, there are large nails hammered into the floor joists, especially near the entrance. This is where the men hang their hats. The women often tie their bonnets on the large laundry drying racks. There are usually several tables to lay the coats and wraps on. Mark said it can be quite a search to find your own black coat among a pile of other all black coats on a table.
What about taking a bright-colored clothespin and attaching it to one sleeve when setting the coat in the pile? Or something like it? Thanks as always Don for relaying these accounts from Mark.
Church in our home
Great article! We are Christians who live in Arizona, and we hold church in our home every Sunday. we’ve been meeting this way for about 3 years now. We just simply gather for a time of singing songs, studying the bible, and snacking on some goodies. My wife and I scramble every Saturday night to get the house in order. Fortunately though, no one is inspecting us, at least not as far as we know of. Haha.. Thanks for sharing this story!
Very interesting Dave, thanks for sharing. It sounds like the homes’ appearance and order are important to you even though it sounds like it is just your immediate family together on Sundays?
No. We have about 30 people or so that gather with us on Sunday’s. About 9 other families. We do another house gathering on Tuesday evenings which consist of 3 families, and then another family that joins us via skype from time to time. We love it. It’s an intimate time of fellowshipping. Very basic, very simple, no frills. 🙂
I just remembered a couple more interesting Amish church experiences from last summer. I stopped by an Amish produce farm
in a conservative Amish settlement early (6:30 a.m) one Wed. morning. The family was all dressed up and the house was all set to have church. They told me that there had been a funeral out of state the past weekend and most of their fellow church members in their district were still gone when church Sunday was scheduled. So they just decided they’d cancel the Sunday service and have it the following Wednesday. Another Wed. morning I went to a produce farm in a Swartzentruber settlement and they also were going to have church on a weekday. That time the reason was that an Amish minister from out of state, who was a friend of many in the district, had come to visit and they decided they would have church on a weekday instead of Sunday because they wanted to include that minister in their service and he would be gone by Sunday. I think these are good examples at how Amish are flexible in some things, and not as rigid as some people think they are. Kind of like how Amish accept some technology, after discerning how it will affect the community.
Very interesting Al. That is what you call flexible. Had not heard of this before.
Take it outside
This is a great article and very informative about Amish Church services, thank you, Erik and those who have replied.
I have a quick question, in the summer months, do the Amish hold church services in the outdoors, or is it a strictly indoor gathering?
Shom, slow getting back to your question here, wanted to double check about this and when this happens (the answer is yes). This happens when there is not enough room, or if clearing space is problematic, say in a shop with a lot of equipment.
More of a summertime thing as you can imagine, they are held under large tents. I’ve seen these out before but never been a guest at such a service.
The folks who are presently hosting church in Mark’s district also hosted the Thanksgiving dinner for all of the wife’s side of the family in the community. They kindly invited Mark for Thanksgiving and his father. That’s me! I offered to pick Mark up but he wanted to come with the horse and buggy so that he could leave when he wanted to. I find that now that I’m 91 it tires me out to be in large crowds like that. I don’t know how many people were there, I would guess 50 or 60. Dinner surely was good. Turkey and all of the trimmings. Vats of mashed potatoes. I never saw stainless steel pans that big before. Mark says they are common in Amish households. They sang a hymns and then had prayer before dinner. After dinner there was silent prayer and some poems read. I left for home soon after that. Mark stayed for the afternoon. He told me that they sang hymns for an hour or so. Some of the school age and little children went outside to play with a few of the men. Mark said he helped play some board games. Supper was around 7:00 or so. Mark stayed for a supper of homemade pizza and relish trays. Mark said he left soon after supper but that most of the youth went to a nearby barnloft to play volleyball. I was safe at home with Fritzi by about 2:00 PM but I surely enjoyed the time I spent with Mark’s friends.
Lucky you, D.C.! I’ll bet it was all “delish” and the company delightful. What a nice way to spend Thanksgiving.
It seemed a little unusual that they’d have pizza for supper(I certainly know they make & eat pizza, it just seemed an “unconventional” choice on Thanksgiving). Did they have a “traditional” turkey dinner earlier that day, and was EVERYTHING eaten (no leftovers to nibble) thus the need to feed the masses something else (pizza)? Or was pizza the planned dish for suppertime? I’m just curious (one year, I made enchiladas for Thanksgiving, so who am I to judge?)
It’s always a treat to hear from you & Mark.
Hi Alice Mary
Well, I wish I could answer your question. I wasn’t there after 2:00 PM or so. From what I could see the turkey and mashed potatoes had really gone down. I doubt it there was enough to feed 50 or 60, again. It would be my guess that the pizzas were already planned for a light supper after that heavy dinner. I don’t know how many pies I counted on the table. There had to have been at least 10. I saw pecan, cherry, pumpkin, custard, apple, and some I couldn’t identify.
I live in Lancaster County, Pa and find this afascinating. Is church held on the same Sundays for all Amish in the area or does it vary according to church gatherings? Thanks
we used to have bible studies here in house in ny and used to have them in the living room which was large enough for 30 people didnt have any church services since im not amish