Lancaster County Amish churches decided to suspend worship services over a month ago. How will they resume them again?
We find an outline of a plan in this article in the Mennonite World Review. The article is not just about the Amish. It gives a good overview on how various Plain Anabaptist churches have responded to the coronavirus situation (hat tip to Al in KY).
The churches covered are Old Order Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, and Bruderhof. It’s an interesting look at some other Anabaptist groups that we occasionally cover, but don’t go into great depth on here.
As for the Amish, the article closes with a list of recommendations from Lancaster County Amish leaders on how to start holding church service again:
In Lancaster County, Pa., Amish leaders have outlined how they will start to worship together with five recommendations:
1. Only members of the congregation should attend the worship service. No visiting between district congregations.
2. If any member of a family is sick, the whole family should remain at home.
3. The meal, called the Gmeh esse, provided by the host family for the whole church, will be canceled.
4. Worship services will not be held in the hosting family’s home but in a machine shed, barn or outside if the weather permits.
5. No hand shaking.
These are obviously not “airtight” rules, but seem sensible.
They are limiting visiting between districts, restricting personal contact by canceling the church meal and handshakes, and advising families with ill members to remain at home.
Moving worship services to more spacious areas or even outside as we move into warmer weather still may not mean adhering to six feet of social distancing.
But it would seem better than sitting packed in a cramped basement. Perhaps households could sit together, with some distancing maintained between families.
There is no recommendation on using masks or other PPE here. Perhaps most importantly, nor is there an emphasis on the high-risk groups (elderly and those with underlying conditions) which make up the vast majority of COVID-19 fatalities.
When will church restart?
When will these Amish churches restart service? Pennsylvania is scheduled to begin a three-phase reopening process on May 8th (articles no longer online).
That aside, religious gatherings are exempt from restrictions in the state anyway. In keeping with the Amish way of doing things, it sounds like the decision will be left up to the individual congregations:
An Amish leader told to me, “We have tried to take what the government and medical people tell us seriously. But we can only encourage and offer our advice. Our people will then need to decide case by case in this struggle against a deadly disease.”
If you view this world as the only thing there is, then you will do all you can to protect your life in it. But if you view this as temporary, as you hopefully pass through on the way to a better place, that can change how you see things.
Some argue that certain Amish churches take that idea to an extreme. But those churches generally in the “mainstream”, like the Lancaster Amish, seem to try to balance concerns for both physical and spiritual well-being.
Regardless of the particular group, church service is very important for the Amish in living out their religious faith. For those Amish not currently holding church, it will need to restart in some form sooner or later.
How soon will that be? And will the guidelines outlined here prove effective enough?