Indiana Amish Leaders Meet, Will Continue Church; Bishop: “Don’t let fear rule you”

Amish in Holmes County and Lancaster County have closed their schools. Holmes County churches were suspended Sunday. That appears to be the case going forward with Lancaster-related settlements as well.

Meanwhile in northern Indiana, children remained in school this week. And now following a meeting of bishops, church will continue as well. From The Goshen News:

On Friday night, the bishops in a tri-county area of the Amish community had a meeting to discuss COVID-19 and their response to it.

Bishop Marvin Kauffman, of District 67-2, said they will abide by what the government mandates. People should stay home and limit gatherings such as funerals and weddings, he said. The bishop explained that people who are not closely related to a person who died or to the bride and groom should stay home.

Amish buggies in Elkhart County, Saturday. Photo: Sheila Selman/The Goshen News

On church:

Church is a different manner for now. On Sunday, the district had church as usual. There are 26 families in the district. They meet in each other’s homes for church, Kauffman explained.

“We’re not inviting other districts,” he said. “We’re encouraging people who are sick to stay home.”

Kauffman said the Amish districts will respect what the government mandates and each district will decide what they want to do, “but the church is the most important thing.”

Why are they not suspending services?

Kauffman said it’s important to go to church to “hear God’s word, be encouraged and be led in the right direction.” It’s also good to encourage younger people, he added. “It’s a body of Christ.”

Kauffman said that it’s in times like these that the church needs to be together more than ever. “The church is about getting together and God’s word.”

Finally, the bishop cautions against fear:

As for himself, Kauffman said, “I’m not afraid of the coronavirus.” He knows he can get it and possibly die from it. “But it’s God’s way of taking me out of it and I’m not scared at all,” he said.

What the bishop, who was making cabinets in his workshop Saturday, said he is concerned about is the world’s response to the virus — the fear.

“Stay calm and if one of us dies from it, it’s God’s plan,” he said. “It’s the trying of our faith to see what we’re really made of.”

I find these different responses to the coronavirus issue worth noting.

Northern Indiana is arguably the most progressive of the “Big Three” Amish communities.

But as of now, they have placed the fewest restrictions on their formal gathering venues (church-related events and school).

Bishop Kauffman closes with a message for everyone:

“Stay calm and don’t let fear rule you. Fear comes from the devil, not God. God always takes care of his people. Even through tribulation, God is always there and ever present. That’s where the strength is in getting us through.”

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    1. Cheri

      Lancaster area...

      I just spoke with one of my Amish friends in Narvon, PA (they are Old Order Amish) and their Bishop has postponed church for two weeks. She is under the assumption that there are 5 cases of Coronavirus in Lancaster County (I’m not in PA, so am not sure if her information is accurate), but they are definitely heeding the warning from the Government. It was nice to hear that she was actually very aware of the risks and how the virus is spread. As I am writing this, I’m also thinking that how each community responds is likely in correlation to how many cases they have and their proximity to higher density areas.

      1. I think there might be something to what you wrote: “As I am writing this, I’m also thinking that how each community responds is likely in correlation to how many cases they have and their proximity to higher density areas.”

        But mainly I think this virus will remain kind of an abstract thing especially for a people who are not getting constant headlines and watching scary Youtube clips – until someone they know gets a serious case and multiple cases start appearing in the community. Good on them for thinking outside of their own circles now and taking some reasonable action before that is a reality.

    2. John Keim

      Fear or no fear

      I really don’t that this virus whether you’re fearful of it or not. If you get infected, it will treat you the same either way.

      Also, I believe that your congregation is so fragile that it can’t go without one or two of church, then perhaps Bishop Kauffman might want to do some self introspection. All it takes is one person in that group to be infected, and I’ve been to plenty of Amish churches in my lifetime as a youngster, so I know it would relatively easy to spread the virus to the whole congregation. I wonder how his god would view the Bishop that purposely led his congregation into unknown danger, just to serve his own selfish ego?

      1. I think you’re attributing a lot to this bishop that I have trouble finding in his words by blaming it on his ego. Unless maybe you know this particular bishop. His words sound like words of conviction…but sure, maybe there is ego underneath that. I wouldn’t be able to judge that.

        I do appreciate the overall idea of “don’t let fear rule you.” That can become its own sort of infection.

        But I’d agree it’s probably not ideal if the goal is to prevent it potentially spreading. I’d say have the older folks self-quarantine but with the dawdihaus and how social the Amish are, I’m skeptical that it would work as well in Amish communities as maybe in an English society of small families and single people that can sit home and self-isolate watching Netflix all day.

        I expect this approach will probably change if/when an Amish community suffers a serious outbreak. The article says the decision is left up to each church (and how much of that actual decision resides with the congregation vs. influential ministry I suppose also will vary by church).

    3. maryann sullivan

      "Good for you"

      Maybe they could hold service out doors and stay 6 feet apart, and use good hand washing. I feel it’s never wrong to put Jesus first, but remember, we are the temple of God and He wants us to be healthy as we can. So serve God but also use good health principles & love one another.

    4. Lorna Klotzbach

      Continuing Church

      I respect the bishop for continuing church with the restrictions of not inviting other districts to attend, and for having sick people stay home. I’ve been surprised at the quickness and ease with which “English” churches have closed their doors, without even exploring other possibilities for continuing on with their worship of God and their encouragement of the family of God. It seems to me that they have given up too easily–what about meeting outside in a pavilion or a barn or a warehouse? Or, on a hillside as Jesus did? The good thing is that many are using technology to broadcast their services, which is a very good use of the technology. I was just astonished that so many congregations simply folded up at the first sign of difficulty, responding in fear and isolation, and then, trying to mitigate the fear and isolation with all sorts of things besides the Word of God and worship! (My congregation continued to meet with about 1/5 of its normal attendees, and broadcast the service with a cell phone out to our rural community and far beyond.) In New York State, liquor stores are considered to be “essential,” and are open, but the churches that host the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are closed. This is not the “Church triumphant.” I respect the Amish who will continue on with church for worship, instruction and encouragement of the faithful, without succumbing to fear…and, while also respecting secular authorities’ cautions about other gatherings. This is the “Church triumphant.”

      1. Cheri



        Just a couple of comments… the liquor stores are considered essential because if alcoholic’s are unable to access liquor, they can die (literally) and that would also overwhelm hospitals. A friend of mine is in AA and though the churches where they have their meetings are closed, they are having meetings via skype.

        With regards to churches/congregations still meeting – even with 1/5th of the attendees, that would mean, potentially, exposing many to this virus…even if someone is not sick, they can have the virus and spread it to someone else. I’m not sure what state you are in, but in some of harder hit states, it would not be advisable to have so many people still group together.

        Personally, I was glad to see that my friends in PA who are Old School Amish have taken the steps they have (postpone church and youth groups for a couple of weeks) as it shows that they are being responsible citizens and aren’t so stubborn that they won’t abide by some guidelines – esp. when it comes to a national pandemic.

    5. Kayla

      Buggy In?

      Wonder if they’ve considered a buggy drive in worship like other non-Amish churches have with vehicles? To me, that’s a simple solution. That way, churches can still go on, just park 6 feet from each other and stay in your buggy and cap services at 30 minutes. I can see both sides of the situation. Have faith and go to church or stay home and be cautious. Regardless, this is an easily spread disease and it pays no homage to any special person. To me, you can still have faith and still be cautious. For example, a good example (possibly smarter example?) of faith would be to have faith that IF I got that virus that I would survive instead of saying I have faith so I will go to church and be in close contact with someone who may have the virus, but have faith I won’t contract it even though they coughed on me….? I kind of feel like that’s testing the Lord, which I feel is wrong. He is not a magician.

      1. Interesting idea! While it would be pretty uncomfortable to sit in a cramped buggy for 3 hours, an abbreviated service would be easier. I don’t know who would take the step to decide what gets cut out or shortened in something with as much tradition and religious meaning as the Amish church service. However I like this thinking outside the box:)

        I think the actions here are more bold than the response in some other communities. I do wonder how much the church membership supports this, i.e., how reflective of the church body this bishop’s approach is. Perhaps it is.

        The individual decision has been left up to individual churches. There are around 200 Amish churches in the Elkhart-Lagrange settlement (adding in nearby Nappanee boosts that number by close to 50). I have not gotten info yet on how many have decided one way vs. the other.

    6. Stephanie Berkey

      True Kayla, part of faith is doing our part. At the same time it’s believing God is over all and will bless us eventually, whatever happens. If we do suffer, he will turn it for good as long as we do all we can, and repent if we fail. An eyeopening video on why and how this disease is so contagious and deadly is:

      Coronavirus Every Contagious Disease in 2000s
      posted on youtube by Abacaba March 19, 2020

    7. Stephanie Berkey

      An eyeopening video comparing the rapid spread of Coronavirus with other plagues and epidemics is, Coronavirus & Every Contagious Disease in 2000s posted on youtube by Abacaba on the 19th of March 2020:

      1. Stephanie Berkey

        20,000 deaths projected in the video were hit only two days after it predicted it (projection shown at 3:57 in the video). Hopefully we are slowing it by social distancing as encouraged.

        1. Stephanie Berkey

          The tricky part is many people are carriers without any symptoms. You can be a carrier and infect others without knowing it.

    8. Advertising in Amish newspapers to spread word about COVID-19

      “We’ve always had great communication with the Amish Bishops” said Melanie Sizemore, public information officer for the Elkhart County Health Department. She said they’re also working with methods they’ve never used before.“We are also in the process of doing some advertising in their newspapers, like the Die Blatt.”

    9. Mary

      Indiana Leaders Meet Will Continue Church

      Let me just give you a heads up. I think more Amish churches in Northern IN did not meet for church than what did. Some people did not quite understand the true concern of this virus.THings are very shut down here.

      1. Thanks for the heads-up Mary. This is what I was wondering when I read that individual churches would decide for themselves.

        The bishop quoted sounded convinced that holding church was the right idea at this time. Sounds like it was quite different in many other churches.

        Would you know if any significant number of churches are still meeting as of this weekend, or is it mostly all suspended now?

        1. Mary

          Good Morning, I really think MOST churches are not gathering. There might be a few that will, due to some select issues that go with youngfolks getting baptized (a few times back, that is)and then they need to have communion before they get married. The wedding would be soon. It would still be attended accordingly.
          We have our governors rules and are taught to respect that.

          1. I see Mary, thanks. I was surprised by a story in the news yesterday where the Amish in California Township in Branch County, MI supposedly agreed to postpone all weddings until after the coronavirus pandemic ends (not sure how they will define that). It seems like you can only put off people’s baptisms, weddings, etc. for so long.

            I think people in general society will only tolerate some of the stricter rules that have been put in place in some places for a limited time, before they start going out and gathering and doing more “normal” activities anyway.

            At some point people will get tired of it, and of course those who aren’t able to work at all due to closures are in a bad situation. But hopefully the peak of this thing is only a couple weeks away anyway.

    10. Testing clinics in N. Indiana

      Two clinics have opened for testing in northern Indiana Amish areas, in Millersburg and Nappanee:

      ‘”It was identified that Nappanee and Millerburg in the Amish areas are in need of testing, and they are unable to get easy access via their current form of transportation to one of the current sites,” said Ginny Schackow.

      To that end, two new mobile sites were opened– one in Millersburg and one in Nappanee.

      The Nappanee and Millersburg sites only will be doing things slightly differently to help out.

      “They are going to be doing screening as well as testing on site, in a lot of the other sites that we’ve had, individuals have had to have a physicians note up front and have kind of a prescription for the test,” said Weirick.
      The hope is that word of these two new locations will reach many in the Amish community.

      As of now, Elkhart County is close to establishing pop-up clinics at 13 locations in the county.’