Jim Cates: Anne’s Sermon

Serving the Amish author Jim Cates today shares the story of an Amish woman named Anne, and a special, unexpected exchange they shared during a visit at a rehabilitation facility.


They Shall Speak in Unknown Tongues

Both Amish and African-American sermons offer the congregant a message focused on God. Both also ask for a witness. Beyond these similarities, they don’t just drift apart. They separate at the speed of light. And yet I have had the privilege of hearing an Amish woman give a rousing version of an African-American sermon. Initially it may sound silly, but it remains a spiritual moment that I carry deep in my heart.

The Amish are well-known for caring for their own, but there are times when a disability requires more complex health management than can be provided by the family. And so a young Amish woman I will call “Anne” was confined for a time to a rehabilitation facility before returning to her home community. I met her there in my role as a psychologist. Despite the physical struggles she endured, she was determined to be physically independent (as the holes in her walls attested, as she attempted to leave her wheelchair and walk), and resilient in spirit. Styling herself “The Woodshop Artist,” she painted breathtaking landscapes. All portrayed a serenity that contrasted with the harsh realities of her life.

On this particular afternoon, I was making rounds and found Anne in her room, awaiting my arrival. She stood patiently behind her wheelchair, an unusual position since standing for prolonged periods was painful. Still, she was a woman on a mission.

“Sit down,” she said, and I did as instructed. “Now” she said, “I am going to preach.” This was unusual as well, for in the time I had known her she had taken the appropriate role of an Amish woman. And yet, preach she did.

We began with her instruction that we say the Lord’s Prayer in unison. As she warmed to her topic, I became “Brother Jim,” and she became “Sister Anne.” She spoke to me of the love of Jesus, and the importance of allowing him into my heart. She spoke of his sacrifice on the cross, and the need to remember that we are given a gift as his children. And she spoke of the terrible burden of sin with which we all are afflicted, and that is removed by his blood. As she warmed to her topic she developed a rhythm and cadence that belied English as a second language. Voice raised (door closed and roommate thankfully away), she did not speak as much as roll through the message of salvation.

Still, that was not all. Repeatedly, as her sermon moved forward, she would ask in a loud voice, “Can I get a witness?” I quickly realized that was my prompt to reply “Amen.” I should point out that I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and now attend the United Church of Christ. We feel awkward and obvious if someone raises their hand in praise, much less speaks out in the service. Sitting with a woman in Amish dress intoning a rousing version of an African-American sermon? Overall, this was not an auspicious way to increase the comfort level for her congregation of one.

I should also digress and explain what had occurred. Anne’s family dutifully arranged to either return her to their home community for Amish church on biweekly Sundays, or on the alternate weeks visited Sunday morning and conducted an abbreviated version of an Amish service with her. However, on Sunday evenings, a pastor from the local African Methodist-Episcopal church offered a service for those residents who wished to attend. His style was unabashedly flamboyant, and Anne had been enthralled by his sermons. After hearing him, she had decided to test this evangelical fervor on me.

And as her sermon wound down, she was clearly exhausted. We prayed to close the “service,” and I helped her back into her wheelchair. “What did you think?” she asked, tired eyes nevertheless alight.

What did I think? There was no easy answer to that question. As she had been preaching, I had thought of the saying “One light, many windows.” I had also thought, much more practically, of the reaction of her family or clergy to this evangelical bent. And in a prayerful moment of consideration, I had the inspiration to say “Anne, I think God is awesome.”

She smiled at me, and said “I think so too.”

Anne left a few weeks afterward, to continue her treatments and rehabilitation at home. Although we talked each week, she did not again preach to me, and I believe she had the foresight not to try to evangelize her family. And yet that moment in which she spoke of God’s love and gave the salvation message was important for her, in ways that I may never understand. I am just thankful I was there to hear it. Amen, Anne. Amen.


Jim Cates is the author of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals.

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    22 Comments

    1. Andy

      I absolutely LOVED this story

      This was really beautiful Jim, I would like to hear Amish Anne give an African American sermon with all of my heart!

    2. Linda

      Thank you for the story, Jim. Amen!

    3. T. Miller

      With all due respect, something just doesn’t sound right about this story. It doesn’t seem to have the ring of truth about it. I can’t get “a witness”. Is this a fantasy in somebody’s mind?

    4. Jim Cates

      Truth is Oh So Much Stranger Than Fiction

      Sometimes, in scuffing up the details so that the stories remain as anonymous as possible, I may leave things askew. Beyond that, this one occurred just as it’s told. There is a wealth of “back story” that fleshes out Anne’s presence in the facility, etc., that might lend greater credence to what happened and why, but also paints a more vivid portrait of who she is, and takes away that anonymity.

    5. Carolyn B

      I enjoyed reading this post. As one who was raised Evangelical then converted to Roman Catholicism, I understand your hesitancy to be a vocal “witness”. Your Anne must have received a powerful anointing and a word of knowledge from the evening services. Hope her recovery is smooth and swift.

      1. Jim Cates

        Anne's Recovery

        Sad to say, I’ve actually lost touch with “Anne” over time. However, I do know she returned to her home settlement and was doing well after her stay in rehabilitation.

    6. Margaret

      I LOVED this post! As a woman in ministry, I was especially blessed by her boldness. Thanks for sharing this memory with us!

    7. Terry from Wisconsin

      Anne's sermon

      Jim, Thank you for sharing Anne’s message!

      Years ago a pastor of our United Methodist Church had a sermon titled,”The sermons you have heard in your life.” He said to the congregation; When you look back on your life and the volume of sermons that you have heard, the number is going to be high. Some will go over your head, or through your ears, but there will always be a select few that will be stuck in your head. True.

      Personally one of those sermons that is stuck in my head, is the one on worry. It wasn’t enough that we had that sermon that Sunday, it was to be continued the next Sunday! (His text was from Matthew 6:25-34) Well, around this time our oldest son Eric who was in the US Army, shipped out to Iraq. People asked, Do you worry about him? My answer was no, and I told them why. Then out comes the two sermons on worry and how it is best to NOT do it! (Later on Eric went to Afghanistan) Again, thanks to that sermon I knew that Eric was under God’s thumb. Being thankful to God for His love and protection, we again were able to welcome our son home!

      The 2nd chapter:
      Currently our youngest son is in the US Air Force and has been to So Korea and Jordan. So, here we go again, and that same sermon still applies!

      Jim, when I read your post on Anne I said to myself that you possess one of those unforgettable sermons that will be forever with you as well! If you’re ever at a loss for a conversation topic, you can always pull it out of your memory again and again! 🙂

      Thankful to God for His love and blessings,

      Terry

    8. Nicholas

      :D

      What a neat experience! I am glad that “Anne” found a receptive “congregation!” I enjoyed hearing this, and would second the hesitancy to get vocal! My favorite part was Jim Cates’ response to Anne’s question. It is a response with which I wholeheartedly agree!
      Thanks for the work you have done to serve others, Jim Cates!

    9. Min. T. Miller

      Not convinced.

      I re-read this story to see if I’m missing something. I feel stronger now than before that this is pure fiction, but it’s a good story. As an Anabaptist preacher of Amish heritage this simply does not have the ring of truth about it, and I am a charismatic. I simply can’t get a “witness”. Nice story though.

    10. Jim Cates

      Not convinced?

      I may regret this, Minister Miller, but my curiosity gets the better of me. You are determined to label the truth as fiction because…? The issue of an Amish woman breaking character and preaching? Her modeling from an African-American minister? I can’t delve too deeply in order to keep her anonymity, but it fascinates me when people stubbornly insist on a viewpoint that flies in the face of fact.

      1. Andy

        Im curious as well Jim

        I wonder exactly the same thing as Jim. I have seen God do so much that is wonderful and unexpected that this story really Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. It sea rather rude to imply Jim is not being truthful based on a guess. I could see this going against a lot of formal expectations, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

      2. Min. T. Miller

        Still not convinced.

        I shared this article with several old orders and conservatives, seriously committed Christians, and not one has a “witness”. It sounds too much like the fictional books written about our people, but claimed to be true or based on fact. Sometimes these writers end up getting shunned by the old order community. Just a kindly suggestion, use lots of wisdom and be very careful when telling this story to old orders, unless you can provide documented proof. It could be bad for business. Nonetheless, truth or fiction, it was a well written story and interesting. I wish you well.

      3. Min. T. Miller

        With all due respect the old orders and conservatives I’ve spoken with say we’d need to see some proof before this story can be accepted as fact, some documentation. It has nothing to do with women preaching or African-Americans. It seems odd you would ask that. You probably know there are African-Americans in the various conservative Anabaptist orders. They are equal brethren. Women are highly regarded and respected in the Amish and conservative communities. True, they are not (according to the Scriptures)preachers or Bishops but their influence and spiritual depth are an important part of the community, and recognized with thanksgiving.

    11. Jim Cates

      Still not convinced - and never will be, I'm sure

      I appreciate the fact you shared it with friends. I have learned over the years not to worry when I share stories that some find unsettling. I do believe we both worship a Savior who shared stories that were terribly unsettling to many of the people who heard them, and the world is so much better because of it. As I scroll back through the comments I see, among others, a woman in ministry who responded. I reach out, not just to the Old Orders, but to a wide range of Christians. In so doing, the beauty and the gift of certain experiences will resonate with some more than others. Any comment that is thoughtful and desires to provoke growth is welcome. I wish you well too.

      1. Min. T. Miller

        He spoke in parables (fiction), too.

        Thanks for your replies. They are appreciated. Yes, our dear Saviour told some pretty unsettling stories. He frequently spoke in parables (fiction) in order to make a point. Indeed, some of these fiction parables were full length stories. There is likely something to be learned from the parable you shared with us, too, so it must not be disregarded. No doubt there is something worthwhile to be learned. Have a good day and may your life always be fruitful.

        1. Jim Cates

          He Spoke in Parables (Fiction) Too - Reply

          This verbal exchange makes me anxious to meet you in person some time and talk. I’ll be at the Plain People conference in June. Don’t know if you will be there or not, but if so, would love to have a conversation with you. In the meantime, take care!

    12. Andy

      Jim....

      Jim, about half of the members of the Fredericksburg Amish Mennonite Church where I am a member are African Americans. One day we were gong to sing for a man who was sick. It was after Church on Sunday. I too have been exposed to the African American expression of worship and song. I thought it would be considerate to sing a song that they all knew and felt comfortable and familiar with. So I suggested the song and lead in the singing. The song was “Oh happy day”. Here we were, a Plain dressed group of Amish Mennonites singing Black Gospel! It was a very happy moment for me to see the African American brothers and sisters included in such a manner and the other members willing to be inclusive.
      I want to share another little story. Once many years ago, upon returning from a Mission trip and before I joined the Church, our Mission team stopped into a Beachy Amish Church. We went to Church, and afterward shared a fellowship meal. We were invited home to two different homes. Half of our team visited a few hours and decided it was time to head home on the final leg of our journey. We left to go pick up the rest of the team at the home they were invited to. When we arrived, it was only an elderly lady. Her husband had been there but was called to help someone. As we said our goodbyes, she said she wanted to ask a question. “of course” we said. She asked have ever you ever received the baptism of the Holy Ghost? Well, I was very surprised! One of the boys on our team said no and asked what she was talking about. She explained and she told him that he really needed this Baptism in the Holy Spirit to live a victorious life. These were not teachings of any Amish or Mennonite that I ever met in my life. She proceeded to lay hands on the boy and one lady that was with us and pray over them. The boy actually began speaking in tounges. Now this is not my gift, but it is in the Bible and I saw it with my own eyes. The lady explained that she met someone who explained all this to her and had prayed for her and she has been doing it for others ever since.
      Of course there are more than one thing in this story that run counter to Amish or Mennonite teachings and practice, but the fact is that it happened. I think at times it is wise to remember that God is indeed in control and we are His vessels.
      The lady who prayed is named Annie, the two people she prayed for are David Newell and Mary Ann Lewis.

      1. Min. T. Miller

        Wow! That's a powerful testimony.

        Andy, that was a powerful testimony. The ring of Truth was loud and clear. I have met numerous Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites who have had the very experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as you described, including several ministers and some bishops.

        1. Andy

          Thats encouraging!

          I would love to meet anyone or hear from anyone who has had this experience just to fellowship with them, I have not had the privilege among our Churches to meet anyone other than Annie yet, but I have always thought it must be happening, just because God never changes, He is the same today, yesterday and forever! Very encouraging to hear this!

      2. Jim Cates

        Andy's Experience

        Your experience is intriguing to me, in part because of the integration of your church. In the community where I am located, churches are still generally segregated, at least in part because of the differences in the tradition of the service. Granted, we have a few people who cross the color line in any church, but they are the exception and not the norm. It means a lot to hear about your journey.

    13. Andy

      It is truly a blessing

      Jim it sounds silly to most people but I actually prayed for this, that the Holy Spirit would bring in an equal slice of our community. God is not a respecter of persons and He suffered so all people might have life. JESUS DID THAT! So He gives us His burden for the lost and we are co laborers together with Him. His grace has proven to be sufficient and I am deeply thankful to the Lord. It is a privilege to fellowship with you and the other folks on AA as well! Thank you and I love you all!