National Geographic Amish specials–another look

Since I’ve been back in the US I’ve finally had a chance to watch the National Geographic Amish specials (on ex-Amish, and Amish courtship and marriage) in full.

You may recall a couple of posts on these last fall: Leaving the Amish and Amish dating.  I didn’t comment too much at the time, having only seen the short excerpts available online.

Leaving other issues aside, I found the “Amish Out of the Order” episode the more interesting of the two.  However it seems clear that many in the ex-Amish group featured here have their axes to grind.

Amish Out of the Order

Mose Gingerich is the “star” of this episode, and leader of the Columbia, Missouri ex-Amish community.  I have never met Mose, but I have to say I like him–he seems a warm person who really fits the role he has taken on.  He seems to be acting in good faith, and has apparently offered a lot of support to many individuals who’ve left their Amish communities.

But I have to disagree with Mose on a couple of points–one in particular is when he says that pretty much all Amish communities are the same.  I think the people featured in this show have mostly gone through a more “extreme” experience in their departure from the Amish.

For instance, Mose and one of the youth don’t seem too welcome when they pay visits to their Amish homes.  But the way leavers are treated–and the experience an individual has growing up Amish–can vary based on the affiliation, community, and of course family.

As an example, last summer I had a long talk with Holmes County Amish friends, unmarried youth in their late teens-to-mid-20s.  Of the Holmes County settlement’s four main affiliations, these youth belong to the largest, the mainstream Old Order group.  However, they live near the large Swartzentruber population in the northern part of the settlement and have frequent contact with them.

They described how when Swartzentruber youth decide to leave their communities, it is often in the middle of the night, without telling anyone.  It was obvious by how they talked about this behavior that they considered this unusual. For that matter, they tended to consider Swartzentruber youth behavior extreme.  A lane behind the boys’ home was frequently used for Swartzentruber parties.  One Sunday morning they rode by a youth with a keg of beer sitting outside of his buggy, a remnant of the previous night’s festivities.

I share this as an example of how experiences can differ.  Essentially, these Old Order boys–themselves members of a “singing” youth group–found a pattern among Swartzentruber youth behavior, and it was obvious by their descriptions that they did not approve.  Swartzentruber youth behavior was “wild” for them.

Why that might be, is another question altogether.  But different people experience an Amish upbringing in different ways–sometimes remarkably differently.  We’d expect their reactions, and opinions about Amish life, to be affected by their upbringing.

In “Out of the Order”, viewers follow along with one of the ex-Amish youth to Wisconsin to witness a similar situation, as another youth runs away in the middle of the night to travel to the Columbia ex-Amish community.  I’m not sure that these are Swartzentruber communities, but the Wisconsin and Missouri communities profiled in this documentary seem to be among the more conservative ones from what I can tell.

That issue aside, I found the show itself compelling as a document of one particular ex-Amish group’s experience.  They demonstrate how some Amish-raised individuals adapt to life outside of Amish society.  The people in this show try to recreate something of community–one aspect that most still seem to appreciate about their Amish upbringing.

I would not generalize to all Amish from this though.  However, I imagine that’s probably what many viewers have done.

If you’d like to view it, here is the “Amish Out of the Order” excerpt clip (videos now unavailable):

Amish at the Altar

As for the second episode, “Amish at the Altar”, I’ll just say outright–I feel they could have chopped this by 2/3 and made it a 20 minute show and not really lost much.

This episode features three couples–a young engaged Kansas Amish couple, a Beachy Amish couple, and an already-married, former Amish couple living at the Columbia, Missouri ex-Amish settlement (the same as profiled in “Out of the Order”).

Starting from the ex-Amish couple, I didn’t find their plans to renew their vows in pseudo-Amish style very compelling or particularly educational in terms of learning about an Amish wedding.

This section of the show revolves around the pair planning their renewal ceremony so that ex-Amish friends could attend.  The couple wears Amish garb, and have a Beachy Amish preacher do the vows in what looks to be a gazebo-like structure.  I’m sure it was a beautiful event, but I’m not sure how much it added to viewers’ understanding of Amish practice.

The second 1/3 of the show centered on a Beachy Amish “simulated” wedding service.  The Beachy couple they feature sort of fits the mold as they look almost Amish, but this portion of the program also leaves something to be desired.  We follow the hand-holding couple throughout the program but don’t actually hear much from them, as they mainly serve as a backdrop to the narrator’s commentary.

For the service itself they are joined by friends wearing what looks like mostly Amish-style garb.  The groom’s short-cropped haircut is not Amish though, and neither are the modern hairstyles of their friends, nor the public hand-holding.  The wedding scene takes place in what looks to be a Beachy meetinghouse.  There only seem to be about eight individuals present.

I’m criticizing here, though I think the producers probably did the best they could with what they had to work with.  It’s going to be hard to film a bona fide Amish wedding.  That said, I found the remaining 1/3 of the show remarkable.

This portion of the program features on-camera interviews with a Garnett, Kansas Amish couple, and also their soon-to-be-married son and his fiancee.  This bit of the show as worth the price of admission alone.  This is obviously a fairly progressive community in one sense, in that they are consenting to be interviewed on camera in their home for a national program.  Laverne Keim, the father here, is very warm, likable, and funny–a great “catch” to put up on screen.

In another sense, this group is quite conservative when it comes to their children’s dating behavior.  Laverne makes it very clear that premarital sex is not tolerated.   I don’t think this is technically a New Order Amish group, but they seem to share some practices and cultural mores in common with the New Order.

We can see the problem the producers have, though–at a certain point in their wedding preparations, the young couple is advised to stop being filmed, and thus ends the on-camera coverage, well before the wedding.  However the descriptions the two couples give of Amish values and the wedding ceremony itself are illuminating and valuable.

Here is the “Amish at the Altar” clip:

It’s interesting that these two episodes seem to rely on the experiences and input of two “opposite” ends of Amish society–the ex-Amish who have presumably left mostly conservative communities, and the progressive Garnett Amish group (and I guess you could include the Beachy Amish here as well).

In the latter case, however, though this is a progressive group, much of what they share–such as the general description of the wedding itself, and even beliefs about clean courtship–could apply to many Amish.

Well, those are my takes.  I’m curious what you think.

And if you haven’t seen these and would like to, National Geographic continues to air them periodically.  The next showing is Wednesday, March 9th, at 8pm EST.

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    1. Monica

      I know someone who was approached by that documentary team repeatedly because they were desperate for an actual authentic Amish wedding to film. They were finally told, look, that’s just NOT going to happen! Looks like they did the best with what they had, but using the different extremes and simulating the experience may be confusing for viewers who aren’t aware of Amish wedding customs.

    2. Alice Aber

      Greetings Erik,

      I have not seen these yet. I do have a question though. At any point in either film do they make it clear that all Amish are not alike? Truthfully, I am one of those ignorant people who before coming to Amish America thought Amish was Amish, all were the same.

      I never knew there was Old Order and New Order. I would think if not clarified these two videos could serve to confuse people even more. I am sure I am not the only one in the world who did not know there was a difference.

      Blessings, Alice

    3. That’s a good question Alice. I would need to watch them in full again, but there is a lot of using the description “the Amish” applied broadly.

      From what I recall they may allude or mention at some point that there are different groups, but the tone and presentation does not really emphasize diversity or push the idea that experiences might differ. Glad you brought up the point.

    4. Monica well put, and I think I should re-emphasize I found parts of both documentaries interesting and informative.

      From a television standpoint, they were really up against a challenge to bring an Amish wedding to a TV viewership. What they actually did manage was more than I’d have expected.

    5. Dena

      We don’t expect everything to be the same in non-Amish homes but often the media portray things from just the standpoint they want to push! Pretty narrow of NG to just present one side. I’m sure there are kids who leave and are able to interact with family and friends without any problem once the disappointment of their leaving has faded, and on the other hand, there are those who would leave families/communities who are less forgiving even if those leaving haven’t been baptized yet.

    6. I watched both, Erik, and I completely agree with your take on it. Much not very compelling, particularly the couple planning to renew their vows. The wife did all the talking, and it began to feel like one of the endless reality shows that have proliferated on television. The family from Garnett was much more ‘real’ in a way, and I thorougly enjoyed that part of the show.

      I also found that the narrative skimmed the surface of Amish life, stating as fact things that may be true of some communities and families but certainly not all, or even most.

      I understand that Mose Gingerich was one of the Amish teens in the short-lived Amish in the City reality series, which I find interesting.


    7. Dana

      I kind of not trust TV even NG documentary, maybe it’s me but TV tend to be rather not real, so how much truth is in that kind of program. After all it’s just a TV show right?

    8. Kate

      I very much agree Erik. The Out of the Order one may be true to some communities but certainly not all and I think they should’ve mentioned that. Another thing I found interesting is that they never make documentaries about happy Amish that are content being Amish and staying that way…just the discontent ones and normally they find the worst of the worst. I know a few ex-Amish that are great Christians and are very connected with their families who don’t drink, party etc. why didn’t they choose to interview them. Maybe it comes down to how “interesting” they can make the show…I don’t know.

      The wedding one was pretty…intersting, coming from someone who has been to an Amish wedding. I do agree that there were great points and that they did a great job with what they had which was indeed little. I found it funny that the ex-Amish couple invited those people by hand the day before the wedding, what Amish community is that done?! Most Amish invite 300+ people and sometimes up to 3 months before 🙂 Maybe their church would be the exception though?

      Enough of my rambling 🙂 Erik have you been to an Amish wedding yet? Oh, and I wanted to tell you I’ve posted my churches “Ordnung” for clothing on my blog (it’s written out) and plan to do more later too. http://www.journeytoamish.blogspot.com I figured that might interest you and others here. God bless, Kate

    9. Forest

      I have to say I seldom watch TV shows about the Amish ( or much else, for that matter) The attempts to sensationalize annoy me. Young people who stay with the Amish in spite of the temptations of the world just don’t make as “gripping” a tv show, I guess…

      I also have a problem with ex-Amish who spin a heart rending story about how mistreated they were during their life in the Amish community and then leave and proceed to cash in on their experiences by writing books or going on the lecture circuit.

      I am saddened by folks who leave and then have no contact with any church after they leave, which makes me belive they did not leave over religious issues.

      Just my 2 cents

    10. Chelsea

      I feel awful that Mose thinks he will most likely not go to Heaven for his decision to leave the Amish. I know some Amish groups will use that in order to keep members in the Church, but I do not agree with that. Someone told me once God is not going to ask you what denomination you are when you die, but rather did you follow His word.

      Kate — I think the reason tv producers have not done a show on the “happy Amish” is because if they are happy to be Amish they are still Amish and thus would not allow themselves to be filmed (for the majority of the Amish Churches). People who have left the Amish tend to have something that they were not happy about and if they are not happy about more things then it makes for a better tv rating for the show than someone who is simply not happy with one part of the Amish Church.


    11. Michelle V from FL

      Hi All – Not to be too gossipy; I recently read an article about Mose who is now Moses and a use car salesman ! These shows were mostly “his” as in he came uo with the themes and found or knew the people involved. Very interesting stuff, don’t remember where I read it so just google his name and it will come up. I liked the series and hope there are more to follow. I always like to research the half-truths, “cheese”, and embellishments- that’s what makes it TV and gives us something to talk about.
      PS I loved Laverene(?) future Daughter-in-Law dresses!

    12. Michelle V from FL

      UGH! I’ve been down and out with all this pollen here in central FL. Sorry for the misspellings and grammer 🙁
      Take Care,

    13. Richard

      Looks like Lancaster county is starting to have their mud sales starting this month.I was not sure what a mud sale was either, Mud sales, named for the condition of the thawing early spring ground, are major fundraisers for the volunteer fire companies in traditionally Amish communities. They sell quilts and Amish made crafts, and im sure baked goods as well.I think ill need to check atleast one of these out very soon. good night Folks. Richard.Pennsylvania

    14. Mona

      Nice article written, you do good work….I also agree with what Alice Aber said, I did not know that either….
      Maybe on your next trip, you could plan to video a true Amish wedding ……contact National Geographic and let them know what you do for a living and you’d like to tell the true story of an Amish wedding……who knows they make take you up on the idea……just sayin………………. 🙂
      Still working on my question for you……LOL

    15. Daniel Endy

      This was interesting. Have you seen devil’s playground? thoughts?


    16. Nice discussion here, I am about to go airborne to Poland, but hope to share some thoughts once I land!

    17. Just having a chance to get to some of your comments here.

      Marta–now that you mention it it did have kind of a reality show feel to it. Though the ex-Amish couple married in Amish garb they were apparently quick to discard it after the ceremony which seemed fitting.

      Mose Gingerich was in Amish in the City, though his hair had grown a bit at the time this was shot–kind of difficult to recognize!

      Dana–that’s a good point, TV shows have to keep viewers watching and as in the case of a lot of reality shows or documentaries if drama does not occur naturally then it has to come from somewhere.

    18. Kate–I don’t know how you could do all the out-of-state invites by hand, anyway!

      Michelle–I did see that article as well, the construction industry must be getting hit in Missouri too. Mose looked different with the short cut.

      Dan–I have seen Devil’s Playground–interesting enough, but could probably make similar comments as here (representative of a specific group, etc). The story of how it was made is nearly equally interesting, there’s more on that in a book called Amish and the Media.

    19. Timothy Baldridge

      Amish are not alike

      I actually live fairly close to the towns the youth visited in the Ex. Amish episode. Growing up we lived in some of the more remote, conservative Amish communities. I’m not Amish, but growing up, about every other house on our state road was Amish, and my father considers the local Amish to be some of his better friends.

      All that to say, yes, the WI community of Amish are very conservative. They have mentioned that overall WI is considered one of the most conservative, and that those dissatisfied with the modernization of the Amish lives have moved away from PA or IN, to WI for this very reason.

      I have never heard of or seen a shunned Amish, but it does happen, I’m sure. Over all it varies drastically from community to community. The groups of Amish are ruled by the elders, so depending on the views of those men, the rules may drift slightly. The Amish around us use gas powered arc welders to do metal repair, and use solar powered fence chargers to keep their cows from getting loose. But on the other hand they refuse to use an electric powered blender connected to a gas generator.

      Very interesting people that’s for sure.

    20. Patti

      You're NOT going to hell....

      Being Amish has nothing to do with going to heaven or hell. It has to do with your faith in Jesus Christ and your relationship with Him. It broke my heart when Mose said he’s probably going to hell. He needs to seek God on his own and find the truth—God will guide him. Read the Word prayerfully and God will guide you. He’s a merciful God Mose—not a task master. With much love from a once lapsed Christian. Jesus doesn’t turn anyone away.

    21. joanna cronrath

      amish puppy mills

      i just read how the amish pull the heads back of the puppies and ram metal objects down their throat to damage their vocal chords so they can’t bark. disgusting. i read an article in a newsweek magazine that said if you see a large garage, two car, there aren’t any cars in there! ammon zimmerman, of kutztown, pa had a given time to de-flea a large amount of puppies and when the vet came back to check on the pups ammon said he shot all of them! i have really lost my respect for the amish community!

      1. Joanna,

        1. Ammon Zimmerman is not Amish. Check again.

        2. Yes, puppy mills are bad. This is a post about leaving the Amish, and Amish marriage.

        There are a number of posts on this blog about puppy mills. Those posts can be found here: https://amishamerica.com/index.php?submit.x=0&submit.y=0&s=puppy+mills

        1. joanna cronrath

          Thanks Erik. The zimmermans are Old Order Mennonite and I watched the program with Mose helping those that wished to leave the Amish. I held the Amish and Mennonites to such high standards that I guess I’m shocked by the puppy mill mentality.

    22. Brenda

      Nat Geo special

      Joanna, it’s interesting that you say, “I have really lost my respect for the amish community!” Since “adopting” a former-Amish who is shunned by his family, being “aunt” to dozens more, and now having a former-Amish son-in-law, I’ve been on a vertical learning curve.
      Now first off, my exposure is to the Swartzentruber sect (one of the most legalistic, punitive sects) so what I share here & elsewhere may not apply in all orders. I usually give that disclaimer. However, since sharing some of my personal experiences/knowledge of the Amish & former-Amish, I’ve been ruthlessly criticized by a Christian writer of Amish fiction, her literary agent, and the Christian publisher. Guess they didn’t like to hear some of the ugly truths hidden behind the image. Often well-meaning people find it more comfortable (and profitable for publishers) to focus only on the best qualities of the Amish culture.
      One reason I appreciate Erik and this forum is that he doesn’t censure (as far as I know) remarks. After all, USA is a free country and everyone has a right to free thought & speech.
      There are many facets, layers to the Amish culture and more than 15 identified sects so I think it’s an integrity issue to print a fair and balanced portrait of the Amish than most of the Amish books on the market.
      If you want to learn a bit more about Amish, you could read Ira Wagler’s recently released, Growing Up Amish. I bought my copy at WalMart.

      1. joanna cronrath

        learning more

        thank you for your comment. i will say that “unfortunately” i lived only a few miles from the Zimmerman puppy mill and never knew the atrocity that went on there. i believe i’m mad at myself for not being aware sooner! when i lived in kutztown it was all about “quilts and fresh produce”. i know they take the bible verse about having dominion over all the beasts but i believe anyone who tortures defenseless animals is the real beast! it’s surprising to me that a group that shuns the outside influences has gotten involved in a money making deal like this.

    23. Brenda

      Hey Timothy, just a clarification. Among the Swartzentruber the leadership is: Preachers, Deacon, Bishop. Most communities will have preachers, then 1 deacon who is the rule “enforcer” and a Bishop who is voted in by a casting of lots. The man selected as Bishop cannot refuse the job and it is his until death.

      Mose update:
      Patti, you’ll be pleased to know this. Mose accompanied the Nat Geo production crew this summer & came to Ohio, where he went to a small Bible study at my friend’s home.
      Mose did accept Jesus Christ that day for his salvation. He spent quite a bit of time with Joe Keim, founder of a mission to Amish people. You can see pics of Mose in a restaurant with Joe.

    24. Ada Car

      Comment on National Geographic show

      I loved watching this. It seems that those who leave are mostly the young??? I do not see any that left after the age of 40. The older who leave are they rarer?

      Also there were so many young ex-Amish that needed to be able to get some collage to get better jobs. But they are stuck in working to earn to survive. Are there any programs to help them out there? I went to the show site to offer this idea but found no place to send it so I will post it here. Since most are in the State of Missouri, couldn’t they apply at the Collage of the Ozarks which is Christian, lets kids work their way through collage at the dairy, ranch, farm and mill and accepts kids who in particular have parents / family who did not graduate collage and can not afford collage. This should be a good place for them to go Maybe the collage it’s self would consider helping them with the GED they need since the collage is (I heard) starting a new high school. These kids are hard workers who already know farm and ranch work so they could work for their GED and work their way through collage. Then they stand a better chance at a better job or at least the choice.

    25. Ada Car


      What are your thoughts on my last comment? Does Mose read these?

      1. Mose Gingerich interview

        Hi Ada, thanks for your questions–I believe young and unmarried or just a few years married is the most common time to leave the Amish.

        I’m not sure if Mose reads these comments or not, but I will be posting an interview I just did with Mose tomorrow on the site. He talks about the experience of ex-Amish, a little about the Columbia community, making the Amish: Out of Order series and other issues. I think you will find it interesting.

        1. catherine brittingham

          update on mose's interview

          mose is only human, whats in his heart is only what matters. he has bitter memories of being amish, but us english have painful memories of this modern world too. day by day we all fight our demons, religious leaders can lead us down the right path or the wrong one. some people are not so bright and can easily be led like sheep to the slaughter. christians can sit in church till they die, but fall asleep during the sermons. i know jesus christ roamed the earth and died to save us. i beleive in love, forgivess and common courtesy to the human race. i think thats what he was all about. the pope and preachers are not the god head. what they do is preach the truth as they interpert it!!! its up to the indivudual to be inspired by it. mose don’t be so hard on yourself, it is what it is! dn’t let it stop you from being a great leader.

          1. Reaching out

            I have watched this series and can see just how much in error both the Amish and those denominations trying to win them over to their faith are.
            Is there any way I can reach the star of this show, or even any Amish people to befriend?
            Ps Phil.

    26. Ada Car

      Thank You Erik

      I will be reading you post then so thank you for the heads up. I wanted to let you know though I did find a place to contact Mose and left him info on the school. Also I went to 3 of the Amish stores durring the past 3 weeks each time I took a load to the new property we will be living at. They were very friendly and used to “English” customers. One gentleman said they sold goods at the Battlefield Mall Farmers market in Springfield. I especially loved the bakery and the Hebal store and will become a frequent customer.