Is It Really Possible To Become Amish?
That’s the question Kelsey Osgood asks in a longform article for the Atlas Obscura website.
Long or medium-term readers of this site know that joining the Amish has been a frequently-covered topic here, including posts on Amish converts in Maryland and Maine, or on joining the Amish later in life.
There have also been numerous reports from Anne, mother to an Amish convert in Minnesota, or our very first post on the subject back in 2007.
Osgood’s article tells the story of two experiences – the journey of one couple–Alex and Rebecca–to the more progressive, Beachy Amish church, and that of Jan Edwards, who joined the strict Swartzentruber Amish group, though later left (Jan appeared in the 2014 PBS film The Amish: Shunned).
Though there is not a lot of input from current Old Order Amish converts, it’s an interesting piece, made more so since Osgood writes it from the perspective of a religious convert (to Orthodox Judaism).
A few excerpts follow below.
First, Osgood notes how, despite many internet commenters’ (“wishful Amish”) interest in converting, actually joining the faith is unlikely for most:
Amish conversion is extremely uncommon, which makes sense: who actually wants to give up modern convenience for more than a week or so? For those who have made the leap, the lived experience of conversion deviates greatly from the fantasies moving across web pages every day; it’s harder, crueler, slower than the hopeful could imagine. It’s also not a static state–for most converts, the emergence of a perfect Amish self never truly occurs.
On the difficulty of becoming–and remaining–Amish:
Many idolize the Amish world, but few actually infiltrate it. According to the 2013 book The Amish by scholars Donald Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven Nolt, only 75 people have joined an Amish church and stayed since 1950. One researcher estimates there may be as many as between 150 to 200 converts living Plain lives today, though not all will stay Amish in the long run. It’s unlikely, in other words, that the wishful Amish writing blog posts about desperately wanting to become Plain will ever do much more than that, let alone seriously pursue conversion.
Still, an intrepid bunch of spiritual seekers manages to go the distance. There are a few “celebrities” among them, like David Luthy, a Notre Dame graduate who was on his way to join the priesthood when he decided to move to a settlement in Ontario and devote his life to documenting Amish history, or Marlene Miller, Holmes County resident and author of the memoir Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, who married her husband while he was living outside the community. Miller, who has now been Amish for almost 50 years, raised 10 children in the church, but will still twirl a baton to amuse visitors. A convert’s success can be aided by the openness of the community that he or she chooses to join, as some settlements, like those in Unity, Maine, or Oakland, Maryland, which is the oldest settlement in that state, are traditionally more welcoming to seekers who may show up there. Others, like the more established ones in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Holmes, Wayne, and Guernsey Counties, in Ohio, are less likely accept outsiders.
Edwards on the perception of Swartzentruber Amish people being aloof with outsiders:
Contrary to popular conception, she found her Swartzentruber neighbors to be very warm. “The Amish were downright friendly. Probably because they were so starved for–you know, like the old pioneers, they’d finally see somebody coming up the landing, and they’d throw open up the door. ‘Come on in!’ Even if it was a stranger, they just missed people. They just wanted to talk to somebody and exchange an idea or a thought. A howdy-do or something.”
And on the Amish as imperfectly human:
In a way, Alex has come to realize what the wishful Amish of the internet haven’t fully grasped yet: that the Amish universe and its denizens are not perfect. They don’t have a vested interest in your quality of life–spiritual, technological, or otherwise–anymore than you do in theirs. When the wishful Amish express disappointment at this–“Why don’t they seek to try to save this terrible world?” as one Internet commenter opines–they are ignoring the fact that the Plain-from-birth are not operating as full-time beacons of goodness, but as people whose “private convulsive selves,” as William James wrote, more often than not trump ideology. They’re also not spending every moment musing on the purpose of community and separatism. They’re just humans: they get tired of their lives, they skirt convention, they just want to go sledding when they should be reading. It takes someone like Alex, acutely aware of the socializing forces at work on them, enamored of and devoted to the faith they all share, a part of and yet a stranger in the community, to remind them of what they have.
You can read the article in full here.
Image credit: Anne
What an interesting article!!! I really enjoyed it. I remember reading an article one time about people lamenting the fact that they wanted to live an Amish life. The author said, “Just start doing it! Nothing says that you have to join a community to live the life-style.” That always stuck with me. Perhaps fewer people would “leave” if they tried that before they jumped-in with both feet.
I agree with Judith. It is about the community. We have been involved with the very conservative Amish Mennonites for 9 years. We see many people admiring the life style in an almost romanticized way. The Amish and Mennonites see right thru individuals almost immediately. They can see who’s serious about faith and community or who’s just curious.
The strict lifestyle is a protective way to keep false people out.
Joining isn’t easy and it’s not about going without electricity or t.v.
Its so much more than this.
"Just start doing it"
This is where I beg to differ. The essence of the Amish are community based living of lives. Whether or not they opine on their separateness, or lack of electricity or not – to live their life one must have others. One needs a farrier, someone to run the household, someone to run the dairy, or farm the fields, bale the hay, or can the fruit, or harness the horse, etc. etc. Just taking care of your horse by yourself could take an enormous amount of time. Taking care of the house by yourself takes an enormous amount of time. The very act of Worship is Community based. Huge families work hard together to create the life of the Amish Experience. They are groups of tiny communes.
The giving up of technology is somewhat deceiving – they use Smart Phones, go to libraries to go on computers, they are online. All the same as us. To eliminate the use of electricity is replaced by generators and batteries and gas/propane. They are using products we use already. They are using taxi services and they have slow moving vehicles – a slower rate, but still transportation.
Honestly, unless one is extremely addicted to television (I haven’t turned on mine for 3 years) or materialism – the switch is a non-issue. That is the shallow side of becoming Amish, in my opinion.
The real issue is community. How does one get along with others, how does one feel about socialism (because if you have the money, you will be asked to give to others who might need help), how does one obey an ordnung that may not make sense and changed from year to year, how does one fit into the community? Are you ready for the Dawdi House already? Do you have children to stay with you to run the household while you live in the Dawdi House? Can you contribute to the community – or are you a burden? Have you given to the funds for healthcare, helping others? Do you speak the language so you can communicate with the community?
Joining the Amish is entirely possible, staying with the Amish is dependent on your place and involvement in the community. The Community holds the Amish lifestyle together. I don’t believe it’s the same if one goes off by themselves and wears out of date clothes, drives a horse and buggy – yet has no one to go to Church with, no one to help them when they’re sick. etc etc. That’s actually impossible – and dare I say, a little odd. But there’s nothing wrong with it.
This is only my opinion and I am sure others might see this differently.
Judith is right...
Judith pretty much nailed it. Anyone can ditch the technology and live the amish lifestyle for a season, but very few can master the language….there were several individuals and a few families that tried to join our community in MI while I was still amish, but most of them didn’t last very long.
I and a fellow school teacher friend of mine tutored a few of the ‘outsiders wanting to join’ in the language to try to help them master it, but the PA Dutch is so hard to learn as so much of it is slang, that we didn’t get very far! … and it is a MUST to learn the language for anyone to really fit in.
I would say that the language is the biggest barrier.
The amish will not speak english just so the outsiders can fit in. Their native tongue is a very important part of their lives. Even now after being gone for 16 years, we still speak in our native dialect when we go visit our amish family. 🙂
Thanks MtnMom5 – Yes – that language barrier is a tough one. But not impossible if one has taken college, or even high school German. I found Penn. Dutch to be one of the easier languages to get a grasp on because of the German language I studied. But you are also right in that it’s not simple, the pronunciation takes a lot of getting used to and the “slang” has to just be experienced to learn it.
There is an excellent course on Youtube that is given by Professor Douglas Madenford on the language. (He was very generous to post this for free!) If one buys a dictionary or two and studies each one of his videos, one could have a reasonable conversation in Penn. Dutch in a relatively short time – if one already has a good working knowledge of German.
Here’s the link to his first video (there are many more after that)….
Even in English, the accent and phrases can be very different – in this video Prof. Madenford does the Penn. Dutch accent. (He really plays it up for the audience and has a good natured time with it.) 🙂
Thank you Judith!! Those videos are awesome!! I’m going to share them with my non-dutch speaking co-workers. 😉
you wrote: “there were several individuals and a few families that tried to join our community in MI while I was still Amish, but most of them didn’t last very long.”
Does this mean that you were a member of one of the “Michigan Churches” of the Amish?
It is said these “Michigan Churches” are an Amish affiliation, that is more open to outsiders than most other Amish.
This Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Churches) has gathered almost all information available on the internet about the “Michigan Churches”, but there are still so many questions.
How does it come that these churches are more open to outsiders? Is it mainly because of the lasting influence of Elmo Stoll and Harry Wanner?
Were are churches of this affiliation located other than in Michigan and Maine? How is it possible to get in contact with them?
Could you tell more about these churches? I would be very grateful to learn more about these churches from an insider.
Yes I was part of one of what is called the ‘Michigan amish churches’. I grew up in the Mio amish church. Harry Wanner had started a church in Leroy MI that was very open to outsiders but I have no idea if it is still going or not. I have been ‘english’ for almost 17 years now and don’t read the Budget. =)
I really don’t know who all is open to outsiders but you could stop in at an amish families place in Evart and ask around. They used to be more open than some. That may have changed though. You can find me on facebook and message me that way if you want to as I don’t always have time to check this page. I am viola bontrager on fb.
Thanks a lot and God bless you!
I’ll contact you.
I think the Evart Amish are still open to converts. I know several families that went there or are still there. Omar Miller is bishop I believe. There would be a country store owned by one of the converts, Robert Velasco. If that is of any help.
Thanks, Jeremy, for this helpful information!
To become or not to become...
I hope no one takes umbrage with me for paraphrasing the Bard (Shakespeare)! Seriously, it’s a lot of things, as I found out through many visits and what I feel was a close friendship with some old-order Amish people who have since moved elsewhere. (I don’t have the new address, and feel funny about asking their relatives for it, as it might cause some sort of consternation, seeing as how I didn’t actually end up joining).
Imagine going to a different country, not having formal language classes, and only the information your own eyes, ears and so on give you for learning it. You would have to truly “become as a child” to do so: get over the idea that making a mistake in the language is bad, pay attention to the various patterns you encounter, hope for someone kind enough to help you over some hurdles, and literally immerse yourself in it. How many adults are truly prepared to do this? Yes, there are several excellent books and even CDs to go with the books to help with some basics. Without actual practice and your inner linguist tuned in, you will probably find it quite daunting at best!
Then the question of fitting in: how DOES one do that? After a certain age, if you move to a brand new community, you will no doubt find it difficult to make friends and earn trust. The Amish are kind almost to a fault, yet we know that true friendships generally happen over time, not over night.
Culture shock is not easy in the best of times and under the most forgiving of circumstances. Again, fear of mistakes and the desire to please may work against you in that regard.
I am fortunate in the language end: I generally understand most of what is said, although my Schwäbisch-Badisch dialect is not really the same. Also, I am unwilling to “Americanize” my accent to the point of using anything but the German “R” and the clearer “L” when I speak die Muttersprache. That has brought about interesting conversations, yet I’m just stubborn enough not to modify it much! I just have to speak a little slower. Then the reaction I get is “You speak the High German!” which is not really true unless I’m talking to my dear “Adopted Aunt” from Berlin!
Anyone desiring to actually convert and become truly Amish: here is an off-the-wall suggestion: get a copy of Maria von Trapp’s wonderful book “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, and read it through. She and the family came from Austria in the late 1930s, and she writes eloquently of having to learn a new language and adapt. Read especially what she had to say about truly becoming American-it’s not just dress, customs or even learning English. It is a change to a whole new way of thinking! Yes, you will bring some of your “Englishness” into the mix, no doubt about that. Happily, that might not work against you, if you are open to learning, and realize that the Amish are now pretty American in how they learned to adapt and work inside the greater American society.
As someone above said, the Amish can generally tell the truly sincere from the simply curious. However, as someone wiser than I put it, where there is a will, there is a way.
That was a great post! I was especially interested as to how you had to adapt your language to theirs. Not easy even for the best of the polyglots. Can you share with us why you ultimately did not join? If it’s not too personal?
To Become or Not to Become - 2-
Hi Judith, I did not join for various reasons: I was finishing a degree in a field not much in demand (German teacher); I was a Church Organist and choir director, and thought I couldn’t be without my music (sadly a fallacy-in the years since then I realize it isn’t the end-all-be-all, especially since I have arthritis now and have also worshipped over time in churches that use no musical instruments! Life is sometimes a strange and wonderful thing!). I could not see myself as a farmer (not having those skills or much strength in comparison to the people I had met who do that sort of work) or even a one-room school teacher for long (if that were even possible, since it is almost always a young, unmarried lady who teaches in Amish schools). I had truly no idea what I could offer the community apart from a knowledge of German, which they already have to their liking.
These were my issues, and in retrospect, the Lord really had other plans for me. I encourage anyone who is thinking of becoming Amish to really do the self-examination including evaluation of things you cherish as well as those you are simply “used to.”
I still very much enjoy the occasional trip to the Amish Community in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and I especially love the little store that sells everything from housewares to hymnals and prayerbooks in German (I have at least one copy of nearly every German book they sell there!). It is not only like stepping back in time (they have things you might have trouble finding elsewhere in our modern society–hand beaters for eggs, lamps that use kerosene or oil, even other types of housewares I heard of from my grandmother and so forth!), the atmosphere is restful in comparison to a large store with computerized check-outs and everyone in such a hurry all the time!
I have often imagined what it would have been like had I joined and been able to adapt to the lifestyle. I might be married with grown children now, and even grandchildren! Well, perhaps I’ll write about that sort of thing some day-another of my hobbies!
I would read a book about that! It is a blessing that you were able to share a part of your life with the Amish – and it also is a blessing that the Good Shepherd led to other pastures, so to speak. I found your experience very interesting. I would definitely love to read more about it. Please write about it someday! Thank you for sharing it!
President Pappenfort Oil Company
It is not possible to be Amish in Iowa particularly in Iowa Illinois and Missouri as the Amish are persecuted to this day in all the farm areas where most are not wanted because they do not conform to the local police especially in Iowa Missouri and Illinois. Our family know many and they are very Christian. Bloomfield Iowa is a perfect example of a community of Amish at war with the Eastern part of the village. As the U.S. becomes more communist under socialist regimes it will be more and more difficult for the Amish culture to flourish. Owning land and farming is not enough to sustain the culture.
I am a little bewildered by your comment. The Amish Lifestyle is the most Socialist system on this continent. They are closer to real Socialism than any one or group of people in the United States of America, and have been for a century. They are not even Democratic Socialist – they are pure Socialists. And by the way, it’s worked out pretty well for them.
And how are they socialist?
Socialism and the Amish....
Hi Pls1721 –
If one to examine the pure origins of Socialism in Western Civilization – one would have to go all the way back to Plato and Aristotle. To understand their ideas – that there is basically a floor that a community can not fall through in order to sustain the “Good” of a community. This floor would be social security for seniors, healthcare, welfare if one is unlucky, and the basic necessities for life – a home, food, water and clothes.
The “Good” I mention is a bit more complex and I will refer you to an excellent essay about Plato’s Socialism which was written by a Yale University student and posted on Libertarianism.org (interestingly enough) – here is the url:
The Amish have also been mentioned as Socialist examples in numerous papers (too numerous to link, but you can google them) in terms of Utopian Religious Socialism – and the second most ancient form of Socialism – the Christian Socialism that was ordered by Jesus of Nazareth.
The Amish supply each other with that floor. No one is ever homeless, or hungry, or unable to pay their hospital bills, or abandoned to their own devices when they are old, every child is educated by a group fund. And the community also takes an avid interest in one’s finances as well, as Jeremy – a convert, pointed out already on this thread….
“Bringing financial issues or plans before the entire brotherhood for counsel and then submit to the advice given or the action taken, takes truly dying to self. One has to have conviction, deep conviction regarding Bible principles and has to put the Lord first.”
Overall the definition of Socialism has changed throughout history – it no longer has the same meaning as what Marx used it for. Even today, Democratic Socialism, seems to have the same basic idea as Plato and Aristotle – that there should be a floor beneath we do not fall as a society. This frees the community up for the “Good”. For the Amish, it frees them to practice a closer relationship with Christianity. It frees them to worship without worry.
The Amish definitely are socialists, in my opinion.
But we may differ in our opinions and that’s okay too. 🙂
Socialism and the Amish
Thank you for ending your post with the clarification “in my opinion” about the Amish and socialism.
We will agree to disagree. Peace.
I will base my opinion that the Amish are not socialists based on my many Amish friends and acquaintances (including a bishop and a minister) in various states and church districts.
I am already aware of the numerous writings of “strangers” attempting to take the Plain faith and put it neatly into a position paper
Also, the social items you list in paragraph 5 of your post are romanticized. The reality is is more complex (it always is).
For instance, not every child is educated through a fund. Some Amish parents elect to homeschool. Some Amish children attend public school (rare) There are Amish families that are very poor and hungry and there are Amish families that will receive permission to receive public assistance for medical needs.
A couple of years ago I was discussing the founding of a new settlement (not Maine) with one of the first of the Amish men to move there. When I asked him about the huge risk of uprooting and moving to a new place he was very matter of fact and said it’s a risk you need to be willing to take because while you will receive some help getting started “you need to be able to make it on your own”.
Anyway, thanks for your reply. Peace.
Well said, Pls1721. I will add that in our area, roughly one-third of Amish children attend public schools.
Hi Mark! Long time, no see.
Ah, but Education is the only service by the government, that we all pay taxes for, that is not only a right, but a mandatory service. Education from grades K-8 is the only government service we have outside of Social Security that is available to everyone regardless of social or financial standing. It is the most Socialist department and service in the United States government.
Judith, I literally laughed out loud. I just sat down with a cup of coffee and a FIG BAR when I read your post. 🙂
Good point on the school and social security issues. You are right. My main reason for mentioning the school issue was to point out that though attending public school might be rare or unheard of in some communities, it’s not like that every where.
I have been here. 🙂 I usually check this site out when I am at work.
Pretzels and Fig Bars
To be fair Pls1721, Judith is speaking of Christian socialism within the framework of Utopian Religious Socialism, which she mentions is the ‘second most ancient form of Socialism’, I guess after secular socialism.
On this bases, she is correct in stating that the Amish are a socialistic society. Where the individual is nurtured by that society from cradle to grave. But unlike secular socialism, Christian socialism does have strings attached, it is not a free ride.
As to the examples you provide, they are exceptions and not the norm for Amish society.
Not sure where Robert Pappenfort is getting his information from as we live in the midwest and the amish communites in Iowa, Illinois, MI and WI are very alive and flourishing. There are always some families that struggle to make ends meet just as in any culture, but they tend to help each other out so they are fine. I’ve never heard of an amish family being on the streets. Never.
I agree that farming is becoming harder and harder for them to do as it is for ANY small farmer in America. But the amish are very intrepreneurial and they will find ways to make money.
Good and solid points, Mtnmom5.
I know several people who converted from “English” to Old Order Amish but after a few years moved on to Amish Mennonite. It was a huge step but conviction came upon visiting, visiting and visiting some more. One has to truly get to know the community and like others noted, there is a language barrier. Apparently there are communities that will speak English even if it’s only for the sake of the converts. From what I’ve seen, many leave or left the Amish because they practice too many traditions rather than sticking to Bible principles. Some practices don’t really make sense, like ‘rumspringe’. So somebody interested in joining needs to dig deep into their practices and do a lot of soul searching.
Another big problem for many is submission to the brotherhood which has to happen in all plain churches, Amish, Mennonite, Brethren etc. which includes that others DO mind YOUR business and an individual has to be open and appreciative to advice, concerns, discipline. Bringing financial issues or plans before the entire brotherhood for counsel and then submit to the advice given or the action taken, takes truly dying to self. One has to have conviction, deep conviction regarding Bible principles and has to put the Lord first. That is the cornerstone in my opinion because if the heart is right, everything else will fall in place, with the Lord’s help, His grace and the brotherhood’s help.
I converted from “No God” to Amish Mennonite over a decade ago and I love my brotherhood and would not want to live any other way. Sure there are struggles (take up your cross daily), but if one truly seeks the Lord’s will, He will open and close doors, one only has to lay his/her own will/wants (flesh) aside and wait on the Lord. It has worked over and over. The peace of mind is priceless.
a real convert!
Hi Jeremy – wow! That’s a really good post from someone in the know. Thank you for posting that! I feel that “dying of self” phrase really sums up the life. It is truly a soul-felt exercise that is not easy for any non-Amish person, and yet we are called to do that in our everyday lives by Christ. You seem to have mastered the transition to Amish Mennonite where many have failed. And your peace is infectious. But yes, I believe that the Art of being Amish is about the giving up of self, handing oneself over to God and the Community, forgiving the large and the small, humbling oneself, emotionally, spiritually and even financially. I think that’s the hardest part of becoming Amish – the complete abdication of what us non-Amish have been taught to treasure – to give of oneself in a very “ME,ME,ME!” culture.
Good for you that you also found a community that fit you like a glove. Many blessings to you.
Hi Jeremy thanks for you insight and for sharing some of your story. It is wonderful that converts who leave the Amish don’t give up on a narrow path lifestyle and join a similar group like the Amish Mennonites or the Beachy Amish.
Main reason that I am responding to you is that I like the challenge to justify the Amish way of life from a biblical perspective. You mention ‘rumspringe’ as a practice that doesn’t make sense. With your indulgence I would like to dig into that.
First to establish some foundations.
The Bible instructs us to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Pro. 22:6.
This the Amish do very well with their children, raising them as if they already were church members.
Another foundation is that baptism should be a voluntarily act performed by those who believe in and have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and are willing to commit fully to the church. “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
When a child is raised as if they were a church member, subject to the same church rules as that of church members, would it be possible to call their baptism a voluntary act, or would it merely be the natural progression of being raised in a church with no alternative but the expectation to be baptized by a certain age?
A baptismal act requiring no contemplation or change in lifestyle and beliefs, a baptism not based on personal conviction, but rather performed upon reaching a certain baptismal appropriate age.
Whilst many parents would prefer baptism to be a natural age related progression, thus keeping their children in the church, this would defeat the whole purpose of one seeking the Lord, of being called out by God, of dying to self, of separating oneself from evil, when one has never been free from the church oversight to be in a position to seek out the Lord, to be called by God and so forth. Such an expected natural progression baptism, appears to be as voluntary as infant baptism.
God in His wisdom has placed within teenagers a natural desire to be inquisitive, to be rebellious, to be eager to try new things, to challenge/question their elders, parents and lifestyle.
Thus ensuring that when the teenage angst has past, choosing to be baptized will be a voluntary act that was preceded by the questioning of authority, the trying of new experiences and the contemplation of alternatives by the teenager.
Some teenagers will sadly reject God and decide to join the world, in this manner potential goats are separated from flock before they even join the flock in baptism.
Teenagers raised in churches that do not allow the freedom of rumspringe, which translates as room to spring around in, will still experience the same teenage angst, and those few who would ordinarily not join the church, will without the freedom to leave the church under the guise and freedom of rumspringe, will end up baptized. Only the most rebellious in such restrictive churches will leave. The others who long to leave, but are too emotionally weak to leave in open rebellion, will quietly smoulder away inside the church as baptized members. Church members whose longing is to be free from the church, will push for worldliness in the church. If they cannot leave to be in the world, then they will certainly try to bring the world into the church through the relaxing of church discipline and standards.
Jacob Ammon understood this, hence the institution of rumspringe, to allow the youth to experience the world so that the spiritually weak would be sifted by the world and separated from the church before baptism, thus ensuring that the church would not be pulled down from within by those members too spiritually weak to adhere to church ordnung.
And before anyone gets upset by what I have written, first consider if rumspringe as I have explained it, is one of the reasons why the Amish have resisted the intrusion of worldliness into their churches better than most other churches who don’t use the world to shift their youth before baptism.
As much as I as a parent would hate for my children to experience rumspringe, the freedom to live without censure like some unchurched person, I do acknowledge its potential for sifting out the weak. Rumspringe must be a nerve racking time period for Amish parents. It is like a secular parent allowing their teenager to frequent places of ill repute and socialize with the patrons of such places. No wonder it seems like child neglect and makes no rational sense to many not raised Amish.
Actually Dirk, Jacob Ammmon didn’t endorse rumspringa at all. He would probably turn over in his grave if he knew what all went on today in the amish world!
That is a practice that just crept in over the years and was tolerated. It is still tolerated to a large degree in most amish churches but where I grew up there was none of it. I didn’t leave the amish till I was in my thirties and I never did the rumspringa thing.
The other common misconception is that people leave the amish because they want a car, or electricity. It is sometimes for that reason that they leave, but FAR more often it is because of the religion. And the reason many do not go join the mennonites is because they have the same religion… just in a different form.
Religion is a very nasty thing. It can look so calm and peaceful on the outside but it is full of hurt, power and struggle.
Don’t get me wrong here. I LOVE my amish family. We go visit them for short periods of time as they are still our family. We were not very welcome for a few years but time heals and now we can go visit more. I love many things about our heritage – the family values, the work ethics, community… I probably miss community the most.
But I would never fit back into that system. And I feel very sorry for some of the ones being trapped inside it, that would love to do something else. The ones that love music, and sports, and art… the creative ones are often the most frustrated. And the ones that eventually leave.
haha – I just noticed I posted that last one as ‘Jacob Ammon’ … oops! I don’t know how to edit that. Dumma Deutscha! =)
Lol. sorry about that, I did question myself if Jacob Ammon did start rumspringe, or if it was already there, or if it came afterwards. But I was to hurried to research its origins.
I agree totally with you that it is religion and not only worldly desires that drive people out of the Amish faith, and also religion that prevents outsiders from entering into the Amish faith.
Personally I am of the opinion that God designed Christianity to be that way, that only those who were willing to sacrifice everything, including themselves, would be able to be part of the congregation of the Lord.
Mat 10:37 “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
We live in a world cursed by God, with people prone to lusts and sinfulness, it is expected under such circumstances that anything involving humans will be plagued by hurt, power and struggle.
The only question is, by how much does religion reduce and modify these negative influences and behaviors?
Religion can never fully eradicate these negatives, for Paul has told us that there is none that doeth only good, no, not one.
To expect a whole religion full of individuals to be at a level of goodness that not even one single individual in that religion can be at, is unrealistic.
Don’t be fooled, they are not trapped inside it. There are plenty of anti-Amish evangelist organizations out there that will provide a new start for any Amish runaway, all they have to do is open the front door, walk out and keep on walking.
They are not trapped, they are just to lazy to open the door and walk. You did it, did you not?
It all boils down to how much and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to fulfill our desires. Be it to leave the Amish or to join the Amish. Either path will require sacrifice.
I guess the fact your family speaks to you implies that you left before you were baptized?
I can not expect you to ever understand the meaning of that word or the situations. Yes they ARE trapped in many ways. It is NOT easy to walk out the door and keep walking, no matter how desperate you are.
You have to remember that family is EVERYTHING to most amish people. Walking away means to lose that. But as I said, that’s why amish discussions are so controversial.
Also – religion has always been something Jesus hated. With a passion. He is all about relationship and when you don’t understand what a relationship with Jesus is all about, you are left with religion and congregations. It’s sad but true.
Yes we were baptised into the amish church.
Jesus and Religion
I get what you are saying MtnMom5 – the Son of God came to show us The Way – and that didn’t always jive with the rules of the religion he was born into. In fact, he changed much upon the rules by which Judaism worshipped (not just by his life, death and resurrection). He changed the eye for an eye rule, “Love thine enemies”. He stopped a stoning with philosophy “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” He “broke the Sabbath”, by curing the sick, etc. etc.
But I don’t think he hated Religion. Far from it. He loved it so much he talked about it like a Rabbi. He loved it like a protective husband when he chased the money changers out of the Temple. For the most part He still followed the laws of Judaism – he just pointed out the more important laws – “Love God with all your heart and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself”.
You are right in that religion is a tricky business. It can be used for a plethora of man-made sins. And yet, religion can be the most beautiful thing in one’s life. I love my ancient, pagan-inspired religion. I love the rituals. I thank my God, I worship my God, I love my God – *through* the rituals of my religion. I honor the Martyrs of my religion by the rituals.
Ritual is (to me) a gift of my religion. Rituals are very zen-like ways of worship. Prayers, Signs of the Cross, the actual rites – are like guideposts that help me along The Way to the Carpenter’s way of thinking. Sorry, I could go on all day about how much I love Ritual, so I will stop.
But, I don’t think Jesus hates me for my Ritual, I don’t think he disapproves of my ritual, I don’t think Christ finds it useless in finding my hopeful way to Heaven. I think it makes him happy when I remember him every Sunday. I think it pleases him that I sit and listen to his Word. Religion with all that some say are mindless, stupid, useless rituals – is my path to Christ and my Father. And if that’s what it takes for this dumb mortal, then I think Jesus is quite okay with that.
Though I totally understand that you’re talking about a somewhat different religion. And a different community. And I have no immediate experience in that matter of Anabaptist religions. I’m just relating my own, personal experience with religion. 🙂
Boy, that was long. Sorry.
Mtnmom5, lets be fair here, you do not know me to know what I do or do not know, and what I will or will not understand. By all means test me and determine it for yourself.
People feel trapped in a variety of situations, family, work, relationships, religion, marriage, culture, traditions, clubs, sports, addictions, gambling, politics, whatever. And for each one that cries out that they are trapped, there is another one in the same situation who rose up, shook off their imaginary shackles and walked away from their entrapment.
No one will tell you that it is easy, as I have said, it will require sacrifice. But let no one tell you that they cannot do something because they are trapped. Rather let them admit to themselves and you, that their desire to pay the price to be free from their entrapment, is more than they are willing to pay.
Even a person in a dungeon pit chained to the wall is not ‘trapped’. They can still break free from that entrapment, the price for that freedom however may be their death.
There are those accounts in the Martyrs Mirror of people whose only acceptable path to freedom from the dungeons was through the door of death. Either to die from starvation, during torture or at the stake. They could have recanted their faith and lived, but for them, death as a martyr and not living as an apostate was freedom. And they chose freedom, not entrapment. And so can everybody else. Whatever their freedom from entrapment means to them, they can choose it.
These were the ancestors of those who now cry that they are trapped by family, religion or whatever, please that is such nonsense. They’re just not willing to die (excommunicated) to be free. So then, they must remain trapped and not cry about it. For it is their choice to remain trapped, irrespective of how or by what they became trapped in the past, what happens today or tomorrow is their choice.
What you said about religion reminds of this conversation I had with a Baptist. She told me that my religion was salvation by works and that she didn’t have to follow Christianity like I did, as she had freedom in Jesus.
I thought about it, and I realized that freedom in Jesus meant freedom from sin and not freedom from obedience to God. Any Jesus that permits his followers to disobey God under the banner of freedom, is a false jesus and not the biblical Jesus of salvation that said “not my will. but Thy will be done”.
I presume that you were excommunicated when you left the faith, so basically your family allowing you to visit with them is not strictly allowed, or is it in that fellowship? I would assume not allowed to visit until you repent and are accepted back into fellowship.
And yes before you ask, if you had a mind to ask, I do support strict shunning. Basically your family allowing you to visit with them whilst excommunicated, removes any motivation for you to repent and it also sets a bad example for others by allowing them to think lightly of the ban.
But each to their own. Your elders must do as they do, and if it is wrong, then it will lead to the assimilation of your community into the ways of the world. And if it is right, it will strengthen your community separating them from the ways of the world.
Time reveals all truths and we shall know the tree by its fruit if it is of God or if it is of the world.
The topic was is it possible to become Amish – and we’re already at shunning. Wow, that was fast.
In my opinion, shunning is the saddest thing of all about the Amish. I honestly wonder how necessary it is. Shunning used to be prevalent in the Orthodox Judaic tradition – and thankfully has fallen away in practice. I know the Amish reasoning behind shunning, but I just don’t find a Christ-based reason for it.
I can see why MtnMom5 said that many artists, musicians, etc. would have to leave their community in order to express the gifts that God Himself gave these special children – and to be shunned for it breaks my heart for them. I can not for the life me understand what is wrong with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. Such glorious music for God they composed – the greatest music of all time – for God! I am sure God LOVED it!
I honestly, in my heart of hearts, in the fathomless depths of my soul believe Christ is not okay with shunning anyone.
I am bowing out...
I am politely bowing out of this conversation. I never intended for it to become a debate about religion or anything else for that matter. I left all that some years ago when I wanted out and away from the judgement that comes from these kinds of mindsets.
I wish nothing but good on everyone, but my time is best spent elsewhere. Adios!
Probably a wise idea, Mtnmom5 — looks like this is about to go way off topic… But I want to add (before I sign off myself) that there are some very accomplished Amish artists and singers. Check out the Amish artist Andy Mast, who has had a few art shows in galleries. One of his original prints “Dream Team” recently sold at auction in our community for $10,000. Not bad for an Amish artist! He is a member in good standing incidentally.
I agree Mark!
I agree Mark, especially in Holmes County. I LOVE Holmes county… two of our kids live there amongst the amish. We call it ‘amish soup’ because there is every flavor of amish there that ever existed, I think! =)
My mom is an awesome artist and her church allows her to do many forms of paintings. She is also a HUGE fan of music but that is strictly forbidden. Thank you and take care!
Judith, I think shunning is very appropriate for this topic and should be the first thing potential converts are told about the Amish, for it will be the most traumatic and painful experience they will ever encounter whilst Amish.
I would argue that as shunning is commanded in scripture, that not only is Jesus perfectly okay with it, but He fully expects us to obey scripture and do it.
If you find an Amish community,that fits what you are looking for. Speaking German is a must.
I’m virtually certain that ‘Alex’ and ‘Rebecca’ are actually Cory Anderson, co-founder of JAPAS and webmaster of beachyam.org, and his wife Jennifer, so it was quite interesting to learn a little more about how they came to be Beachy.
Is It Really Possible To Become Amish
The answer is most assuredly a solid and definite YES.
Even the most Amish of the Amish was born as a baby ignorant of the Amish lifestyle and beliefs, with no pre-loaded Amish software in his/her head.
In the same manner that a child born into an Amish family learns to be Amish, so can a convert learn to be Amish. However, unlike a new baby born into an Amish family as an innocent blank canvass, the convert enters the Amish world with established ideas, expectations, worldly manners, desires, concepts, beliefs, passions, aversions and forbidden non-Amish experiences. All of which are worthless in the Amish world, as they are secular worldly contaminations.
The success of the convert will be based on three things, 1-their ability to successfully separate their past worldly lifestyle from their new Amish lifestyle, 2- their willingness to start humbly at the bottom and grow in knowledge in the same manner as would a new born baby.
Sadly for most converts, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak and their past worldly contaminations will pop-up uninvited and disrupt their lives in unforeseen ways. 3- the coverts ability to overcome these disruptions and stand firm in submission to their new faith, will determine who stays and who goes.
In the Amish world, children are taught to bend their will to the communities will, In the secular world, children are taught to bend the world to their will.
The convert must always bear in mind that saying of Jesus, ‘not my will, but Thy will be done’.
I agree Mark!
I agree Mark, especially in Holmes County. I LOVE Holmes county… two of our kids live there amongst the amish. We call it ‘amish soup’ because there is every flavor of amish there that ever existed, I think! =)
My mom is an awesome artist and her church allows her to do many forms of paintings. She is also a HUGE fan of music but that is strictly forbidden. Thank you and take care!
I put your reply in here, Mtnmom5 — Now I’m curious who your children are, but don’t put that in here — too public. Yes, Amish soup is a great way to describe our community! 🙂
I’m not a big music fan, but some of our children are. The big musical events (especially John Schmidt) and public concerts in Berlin on the Square draw a lot of local Amish. Last weekend there were numerous Amish groups singing at the Heritage Community Center (on US 62 between Berlin & Winesburg) and this even brought a girls’ group from PA. BUT not all the Amish groups around here will go to something like that. Judith mentioned some classical music — when Amish people DO go out for music it’s more liable to be country-gospel type. Just my two-cents.
You take care, too! 🙂
No Classical Music Love?
Only country/gospel? Oh well, they don’t know what they are missing. 🙁
As most of you know my son became Amish about thirteen years ago. He retired from public school teaching and living all of his life in a big city to living on a small farm and driving a horse and buggy. He somehow picked up the Amish German and reads and understands the High German in the Bibles and hymnals. I read him most of this post over the phone. He gave me his reactions as to why some potential converts to the Amish don’t make it.
1. They don’t do their homework. Before joining the Amish they should read all they can get their hands on about the Amish, Amish beliefs, Amish culture, etc.
2 They don’t visit enough Amish communities to find one that best matches their own convictions.
3. They have unrealistic dreams about becoming Amish. Mark said that he hates to put it this way but if you’ve never been successful in your Engish life in making friends or holding down a job just becoming Amish is not going to solve these personal issues.
4. Not taking into account the practical issues of changing to becoming Amish. A person becoming Amish should have some money saved up to make the move. It takes money to find a place to live. Takes money to buy Amish clothes. Takes money to buy a horse and buggy. Most Amish communities will try to help out in this if a person is strapped financially but it is something that needs to be taken into account. Mark knows of more than one potential convert that arrived in a community basically penniless and the community had to subsidize them until they could get on their own feet which some never did.
5. The language can be a barrier and a discouragement. It doesn’t need to be. The German can be learned. But you have to try and it’s not a snap. Mark did is and he was no “spring rooster” when he did either. He’s 63 not and joined when he was 50. He studied French in school which didn’t help him much. He just basically picked it up on his own. I can’t understand a word of it but he seems to get along quite well.
6. Mark said that he feels that a major reason that converts drop out is that they never really feel accepted. They are members, positionally in church but being totally accepted socially is another matter. Amish society is based on FAMILY. Clans really. Most socializing during the week is done among family members. Mark has been kind of unoffcially adopted by a couple of families he has been friends with for many years. Also, Mark is good about inviting families over for supper to his house. Also, he is booked weeks in advance with youth boys and school boys coming over on Friday evenings for supper and to have a sleepover. Of course Mark taught school for thirty years and has a burden for young folks.
7. Of course the convert must be in agreement with Amish beliefs. That includes the church discipline as well as excommunication and shunning. As Mark put it, the Amish don’t practice communion or foot washing because they just love a sip of wine or washing somebody else’s feet. They do it because Christ commanded it. The Amish don’t discipline erring members with excommunications or shunning because they enjoy it either. That is how the Bible says to deal with erring members so that is what they do. Mark says it is very hard on him to see someone shunned and excommunicated but he hopes this will help they see that they have erred and to repent and come back. Better to be shunned on earth and repent then to enter eternity and be shunned by God forever.
Anyway, those are some of Mark’s thoughts. He is a part of the Belle Center Amish community. He knows a lot of folks up in the Michigan communities and has visited up there numerous times including Mio, Evart, Marion, Manton, and Leroy.
This is a great post, Don! You and Mark really hit the nail on the head with this.
Thanks, Don and Mark for this information. It is very helpful in further understanding the many challenges for a non-Amish person who wants to become Amish.
Thank you for sharing. Speaking for my self it is the “Model” of community, family, and self that looks appealing. Here about converts to Amish community gives me a vicarious appreciation of someone who answers that calling.
There are traditional horse and buggy Old Order communities, that do not speak German: The Virginia Old Order Mennonite Conference and its splinter groups, the somewhat more conservative John Dan Wenger Mennonites and the group of bishop Lloyd Wenger, which formed in 2007.
All therese three group are genuine Old Order groups with a level of thechnology comparable to the more liberal Amish affliliations like Nappanee, Indiana, Arthur, Illinois, Somerset, Pennsylvania and Kalona, Iowa.
If it not for the name “Amish”, seekers can get there a fully fledged Old Order horse and buggy community, without the German language but English only.
What about theology?
When I was interning at a Mennonite Church the senior pastor got a phone call from the local hospital chaplain. He had a Jewish family in the hospital who had become interested in the life style of the local Amish community and they wanted to inquire about joining them. He wanted my pastor to meet with them and discuss Anabaptism,because he felt they had missed the point. I get the impression that most people who want to join the Amish do.
For the Amish community and plain living all flows out of their understanding of the new testament and their devotion to Jesus. It isn’t just about being plain and community as so many have suggested in this comments section. The Amish church is a Christian Church and if you don’t have that theology there will be issues.
I respect how the Amish order and live their lives. Marriage, family life, work, recreation, money, and outsiders seem to be balanced. This is richly documented by Knoll, Kraybill, & Webster to name a few
People who want to join for the lifestyle of the amish never last long. IF you want that lifestyle- no electricity, back to the land, no cars, even plainer dress, just go on and live off grid! There is a large community of off griders in the US and Canada and throughout the world. You really don’t need to “join the amish” to do that.
If however you want to join the amish church because you have studied the Bible, and prayed earnestly, you are convicted of the Dordrecht Confession and Anabaptist principles- non resistance, the two kingdoms, non conformity, church discipline, oaths, head-covering, etc. You are also convicted against the use of televisions, computers, electricity etc. for spiritual reasons. Not just because you want the heavily romanticised amish life. The list can go on. If you don’t believe these things, why would you want to join the amish? It is a lifelong commitment to the church, almost as serious as marriage. You can’t just leave when you get tired of buggies and kerosene lanterns. You are committed to the church for life. Even when you become disillusioned as a lot do when they realise the amish are just people, after all, or get tired of the amish lifestyle, and realise how hard it is Eg. Driving a buggy on the road is quite dangerous, as you see by the many buggy crash stories in the news every few weeks. Especially if you didn’t grow up around horses and don’t realise that they have a mind of their own and can be very unpredictable on roads.
The best position for joining the amish would be young, single with no children. I am not sure of this, but I think it might be easier for women as well. There are a few cases of men coming in and wanting to join, marry an amish women and then leave with her a few years later. The women has to go because she is in submission to her husband. If you are a women from the outside and marry an amish man, you could not just decide to leave because likely your husband would not want to leave his family and you must be in submission to your husband.
There is countless other things, like learning the language – it would be difficult to never understand what anybody is saying for the first few years. If you are young, you may have a better chance here.
Not to mention, it is best to go to a community that is known for welcoming seekers, Unity, Maine, Manton, Michigan, Alymer, Ontario, New Order Amish Churches, and Caneyville Christian Community (Para-Amish). You will have the best chances there. But only if you have seriously thought about it, and are convicted and feel led by God to go, for spiritual reasons (listed above), not lifestyle. That is how you join the Amish- for the right reasons.
Very well said, Kaitlyn!