Leaving the Amish of Parke County, Indiana

Amish Parke County Indiana
Welcome to Parke County

Amish began moving from Lancaster to Parke County, Indiana in 1991.  Today there are six Amish church districts in the vicinity of county seat Rockville.

Along with a similar group in Wayne County, the Parke County Amish are unlike others in Indiana.  Here you’ll find the Lancaster grey buggy and plenty of Stoltzfuses, Kings and Fishers, all signs of the “Pennsylvania presence” in Indiana.

I visited this community some years back when I was first learning about the Amish. The Parke County community certainly “felt” different than ones I had visited in southern Indiana and Illinois (my books did not do nearly as well here!).  It was an early lesson in Amish diversity.  Though there are some differences with the home community, the Parke County Amish remain aligned with Lancaster.

Amish Construction Crew Parke Co Indiana
Amish crew near Rockville, “Covered Bridge Capital of the World”

A local station has filmed a pair of videos on the Fishers, a family who have left the Parke County Amish.  “The church would not tolerate us anymore and so they put us out and that’s why we are not Amish, although to you, it’d be hard to see the difference,”  says Levi Fisher.

One difference I think you will notice has to do with the facial hair worn by the men.   Another has to do with their religious disposition and worldview, which would be hard to describe as traditionally “Amish”.  In the second video clip, the news crew visits a prison to speak with Elam Fisher, currently serving a six-month term.  His crime?  Driving a car without a license (he was caught twice).  “We don’t need a driver’s license. We don’t need a registration. It’s not meant to be that way,” explains Levi.

I’m not sure how instructive this is on the Amish faith, though it does illustrate what can happen when an individual family leaves the Amish to forge a different spiritual path.  What things do you notice here that are atypical for Amish? (videos now unavailable)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Parke Co. Amish sign: Jimmy Emerson/flickr; Amish building crew: Robin Monks/flickr

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    29 Comments

    1. Stephanie Rollins

      head coverings

      Why are the women not wearing head coverings?

      1. No head cover

        Concerning the Amish, women might go with no head coverings when at home. But since this family doesn’t seem to consider itself Amish anymore (though as Levi says, they may still look that way to some), and does a number of other unorthodox things, it does not really surprise.

    2. Micheal McEvoy

      Beards

      It looks like the beard style includes the moustache. While this may seem like a minor issue, it can be a big deal.
      What many people do not understand, including many Amish, is that historically the moustache was only worn by soldiers. And in the 15th-18th centuries that meant mercenaries.
      The moustache was so attached to the warrior cult that when Cromwell finally conquered Ireland he issued and edict that any Irishman seen wearing a moustache was to be executed on the spot.

      While I can understand the use of motor vehicles, I do not understand the insistence that they don’t need a drivers license.

      1. Michael you’re right that the mustache not really a minor detail.

        The insistence on no license might be “not of this world” thinking taken to an extreme?

    3. Rich Stevick

      Couldn't find the interview & pics

      I went to the WTHITV.com website as instructed at the end of the second video but could not find the purported full interview, plus photos. If anybody has a clue, let me know: rstevick@messiah.edu

      1. Rich here is the full interview with Elam Fisher from prison:

        http://www.wthitv.com/generic/news/Living-the-Amish-Life#.UJLj72ceq4I

    4. Lucie

      Raising a hand in church would be unusual, I would think.

    5. Valerie

      Probably been influenced

      Honestly, seeing the hand raised & seeing the lack of headcovering tells me they’ve been influenced by evangelica/charismatic Christians perhaps.
      Even in the home, if a woman prays, she normally will wear a headcovering (I normally do in my home). I think someone may have told them the modern Protestant version of headcovering & why she didn’t need one anymore-I’m guessing.

      There are a handful of Old Order Amish that have mustaches.
      Nelson who posts on here at times belonged to a community that required them.

      The driving without a license! That really bugs me-that is breaking the law-there are consequences for that and it is unbiblical to make your own laws.

      1. Valerie what you mention on the mustaches is interesting…I’ve heard of other plain groups or “spin off” communities wearing them, but never bona fide Old Order Amish. You don’t happen to know which community is being referred to?

        1. Nelson was with the Maine group that was originally an “Elmo Stoll” congregation. I dont know if they wear a mustache, but I can imagine that possibility since the Cookeville churches were willing to do things like use English in church meetings (the Maine church does so, even now.) I dont know if Caneyville, Ky does or not, but some of Elmo’s sons are there as well as in Maine.
          Another Plain group that uses the mustache is the Scottsville, KY Mennonites. This group has roots in both Old Order Mennonites and some Amish out of Berne, IN. Some of the Berne people had taken up cars, electric, etc, then “turned the clock backward” and went even more plain and simple living than the Old Orders generally are.
          And then the Lobelville, TN churches would use the mustache.
          All these are sort of “spin-offs” from the mainline Old Order. No one really knows why the tradition of shaving the mustache got started. Some say it was in reaction to French militarism, since Napoleon only allowed his officers to wear a mustache (but no beard). But that story has no actual historical proof to it (I asked Leroy Beachy about it …)
          My suspicion is that, because it was a popular European beard style in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and then it hit the US in the early 1800s, the Amish and German Baptists sort of accepted it when they began to react against the ‘progressives’, and then when the styles moved on they “stuck to the old ways.” The second wave of Amish immigrants from Europe was in the 1800s, and about 3000 came over compared to 300 in the 1700s. This second wave tended to be a bit more “liberal” than the first wave (like a few brought their organ with them). 🙂
          If you look at photographs from the 1840s to 1860s, a big majority of men in the US wore the chinstrap beard, the most famous being ol’ honest Abe Lincoln himself. Check out his “Amish” beard. 🙂

        2. Valerie

          Mustaches & Amish

          I Know the Smyrna & Unity Amish require mustaches.
          One Maine group at least is Swartzentruber, they would not.
          I think there’s 4 groups now, I believe PC is correct about ties to Stoll. Smyrna & Unity are definitely Old Order-very conservative.

          I always thought it was because of the military that the Amish wouldn’t wear mustaches. Not sure why some groups decided to start other than I heard a former Amish turn Charity say “If it grows there, it should show there”.

          1. Valerie

            Whoops

            I meant Smyrna & Unity MAINE Amish wear mustaches. Forgot to say their state. Joan in Unity could attest to that as she is a driver for them. Where’s Joan when you need her, 🙂

    6. Names and driver's licenses

      “Elam” “Levi” and “Fisher” are all very common Amish names. I wonder how many Fishers there are in Lancaster County, PA alone. I have an Amish friend named Elam Fisher who lives in PA. He does not drive a car and is definitely not in prison!
      As for driver’s licenses – those are absolutely necessary. Drivers are required to demonstrate their driving skills to get one. There is way too much potential harm from incompetent drivers to eliminate that requirement. And the fees help to build the roads.

    7. I live right beside Parke County, and I have done a lot of business with the Amish there. Elam and Fisher are very popular names.

      A friend of mine that knows many of the Amish there quite well told me this summer that there is a lot of internal turmoil in that Amish community.

    8. Lattice

      Hmmm. Freedom gone amuck? Remember when the leper fell down before Jesus and at his request Jesus healed him? What did Jesus say after that? Essentially, “follow the laws”…go to the priest with your sacrifice, etc. And what did Jesus say when asked whether His followers should pay taxes? Essentially, “follow the laws”…give to Caesar his due, etc.

      I believe that the freedom that we have in Christ is freedom from sin and death. And that’s all. I know Jesus (sort of) pushed the limits on Sabbath behavior, and a few other expectations, but his purpose was to show the Pharisees that their thinking was not in the spirit of love…to break their hearts, so to speak. We do good to follow the man made laws, as long as they are not in direct conflict with God’s.

    9. Julie Turner

      Maybe not Amish but also not Biblical

      These people may have been excommunicated, but they seem to want to follow Jesus. But they seem a bit one eyes about things.
      One problem is that as Christians we are told to follow the laws of the land, which these people by there own admission don’t do. The Bible speaks of a woman having her head covered, whch they do not do either.

    10. If you watch the video on the link, Elam explains his reason for not getting a license … fear of the mark of the beast.
      He doesnt mention it, but I would get the feeling that he would agree with obeying the laws of the land. He is under the impression that legally he can drive without a license, it’s just that the law enforcement isnt fully aware of that so far. 🙂
      In Lebanon County, PA, I am told there is a group (non-Amish background)of people that live by the Mosaic Laws (to a degree). They are also of the mindset of their right to drive without licenses, vehicle registrations, etc. The local law enforcement leaves them alone pretty much. But one story goes like this …
      One of them was pulled over and asked to show his license. He was dressed sort of like the Amish, and so he told the officer, “The Amish don’t need a driver license.”
      The officer was a bit wiser than that and told him, “The Amish also don’t drive.”
      (I dont know the outcome.) 🙂
      While I disagree with Elam’s interpretation of civil law (there is a group of people out there that say those things, and like the group in Berks County, seem to get by without licenses. They call themselves “Sovereign Citizens”, essentially a one-man nation 🙂 ), I guess I sort of took a liking to him in the video. No malice or revengeful attitude, just taking it all in stride, seeing himself as blazing a new trail that others in the future will appreciate.
      His new “Pentecostal”-type faith comes shining through … healings, “led by the Spirit”, etc.

      1. I found him quite likable as well. I guess that doesn’t get you out of jail time though…I had the same impression too, that he thought you didn’t *really* need a license. Sounds like he thought he was correct on a technicality or something.

        Nice anecdote about the licenseless driver. Sounds like the one about Amish not having to pay to get on the PA turnpike 🙂

    11. Romans 13

      Driving without license – Apparently they don’t understand Paul’s writings on Government, can you imagine the confusion without them.

      It’s more about – Self

      Follow them for another 10 years and see where they end up.

    12. Annmarie

      I thought he was very likable as well. If I had to use an adjective..humbleness came across to me. I think he really has deep convictions that obtaining the license will lead to something “bad” in the future. I am not saying he is right , but that is how he truly feels. He relates it to the Amish father who went to jail so that the future Amish kids could be educated in their own schools even though what was going on in public schools was not that bad at the time. All these years later there might be some truth to how he felt. My kids go to public school and I am not speaking ill of them…just that if you do not raise your kids to stay on the right path, they might fall prey to temptation. As innocent as Amish are you might understand their need to remain separate as a way to preserve their traditions and beliefs.

    13. Don Curtis

      Mark and Lancaster County Amish

      Well, my son Mark was to Lancaster Countym, PA last weekend to attend the CAM (Christian Aid Ministries) Open House. There were 13 of them on the van load. Some stayed in a hotel. Mark and three others stayed with an Old Order Amish family. Mark had learned to know the son of the family at a Single Men’s Retreat a couple of years ago. Mark said he had a great time and was impressed with how friendly and welcoming the Lancaster County Amish were. He went to church with them. He said the service was very similar to Belle Center’s church except the hymn tunes were a little different. Mark said he was asked to give “zeugnis.” It’s some kind of like testifying or reflection over the preaching I guess. I’m just glad our church doesn’t ask that of the members. Mark said that his Lancaster County friends told him that there is a bus that regularly runs from Lancaster County, PA out to Wayne, IN and Parke County, IN. AS far as the Elam Fisher thing I read Mark the artiel about this. He said he can sum it up in two words PRIDE AND DISOBEDIENCE. Mark said he was really tickled because none of the Lancaster County folks knew he came from the “outside” and didn’t detect that he had an accent when he spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. The Belle Center folks all claim that he has an accent when he talks Dutch. But the PA folks who had never met him didn’t detect it until he told them he had come from the Outside. I think this about made Mark’s day. I know that he as tried very hard to learn the Dutch and speaks it fluently.

      1. Well, I wish I had known he was at the CAM meeting. I was there Sat. evening. I would have tried to find him (among the 2800 people there …).

        1. Don Curtis

          Mark at CAM

          I asked my son, Mark, if he was at the CAM Open House on Saturday evening. He said that he wasn’t so I guess you wouldn’t have run into him, anyway. He said that his group went Friday evening to see some slides of the ministries. Then they went Saturday morning and afternoon to hear some speakers. But, he and the others that were spending the night in the Amish home stayed the evening with them in fellowship.

    14. Valerie

      That's Great Don!

      I’m trying not to covet Mark’s experience. It’s wonderful too that they support CAM. They do great work!

      Regarding the dialects of the different Amish areas, it’s so funny to me. I listen to online messages in Ephrata PA church that has alot of former Amish-they will give their zeugnis after the sermons, and THEY sound like they have English, as in UK accents a little, to me, my friends from Indiana, sound completely different & ones from IL completely different too-i find it so interesting.

    15. Linda

      The things I noticed that are not typical of Amish are Baptism in Jesus only, the woman’s head uncovered, a print-material dress on the daughter, driving a vehicle, and maybe the electric kitchen stove and the zipper on the boy’s jacket. Levi did emphasize that they are not Amish anymore. It seems Pennsylvanians are apt to say carriage instead of buggy, so I thought it was interesting to see a sign on the vehicle, “Private Carriage.”

      The green, pull-down window roller shades looked Amish to me. I am glad to see them reading the Bible and smiling. The tame cow was sure patient to be milked outside of a barn, just standing in the pasture without a stanchion.

      When I read the print version, a few words I had not understood in the video helped me realize that Levi is an uncle to the children. The woman Mary and the children belong to Elam.
      http://www.wthitv.com/dpp/news/local/amish-culture-and-breaking-free-part-1
      http://www.wthitv.com/dpp/news/local/amish-culture-and-breaking-free-part-2

    16. Katrina

      Driver's License and Amish

      Eric,
      Just out of curiousity, are Amish required to have some sort of license to drive a horse and buggy on public roads? Several months ago, you had an article on whether Amish children should be allowed to drive horses and buggies.

    17. Lattice

      Well, you didn’t ask me, but I will respond, nonetheless. Drivers’ licenses are issued by each state’s DMV (Dept. of MOTOR Vehicles). The horse and buggy is not a motor vehicle, so none required… Motorcycle – yes; Bicycle – no.

      For some reason I think there are some special rules regarding interstates which disallow traveling by anything that is not a motor vehicle. Anybody know if that’s correct or not?

      1. jan

        How about an Amish girl riding a moped on a state highway? Legal? And do the Amish in Parke County Indiana pay property taxes on their homes and out buildings?

    18. Traveling interstates

      It is true Lattice – only motorized vehicles are allowed on interstates: no bicycles, pedestrians, horses, just motor vehicles.