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Notes from an Ohio Amish funeral

Amish cemetery

I attended the funeral of an Old Order Amish man while in the Holmes County settlement over the weekend.  A few observations:

  • Around 200 attendees, mostly Amish, with all four major affiliations represented:  Old Order, New Order, Andy Weaver (aka ‘Dan church’) and Swartzentruber.
  • There were only a handful of non-Amish present–mainly consisting of a few plain Mennonites.
  • The Amish funeral takes place in the home, shop or often a barn, as they can be quite large.  Although customs vary between groups, it typically resembles a church service, with two preachers, one of whom delivers a sermon of around 20 minutes with the second lasting around an hour.
  • Differed from a church service in that there was no opening singing, and only one song was sung at the close, mainly by a small group of men.
  • Before the funeral began, men and boys proceeded to greet each other by walking around a circle and shaking hands and then taking their places at the end of the circle, forming an ever-increasing ring (as is done before church service on Sunday).
  • The mood in the circle was surprisingly festive, with a good bit of visiting, smiling and laughing going on.  One of the Amish men whom I drove to the occasion said he was quite looking forward to it, reflecting the function of the event as a social occasion as well as one in which to pay respects to the deceased.
  • At the end of the funeral, attendees filed past for a final brief viewing.  Few tears were shed;  an Amish father raised his five-year-old boy up by the arms for a look into the coffin.
  • The service was followed by a meal, served ‘cafeteria-style’, which allowed more people to be fed, more quickly.  This apparently is the customary way to do it, as funerals typically have from 300 to 500 attendants and even up to 1000 (This one was on the small side).

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    16 Comments

    1. Interesting. Are they always so lighthearted? I also have a general question for you that I am not sure I’ve ever seen you address. When you are in the communities, like now, do you dress to fit in?

      1. kate

        kate

        Interesting….we attended a wake this weekend in Ohio. The family was certainly not lighthearted. Very somber occasion and alot of tears. As far as dressing when we attended, we just wore our Sunday best as did other English visitors.

    2. Emily

      Would you maybe, at some time, talk a little about the Andy Weaver Amish, or say where to find more info? I’ve heard the name of the group in many books, but am not sure what sets them apart.

    3. Emily

      Thank you! That’s a help. It’s hard for me sometimes to keep all the different subgroups straight, particularly the ones that aren’t (as far as I know) around here (Iowa). Old Order, New Order, Beachy, even Swartzentruber: I’ve got you covered. Andy Weaver? Not so much.

    4. What do Amish do before and after a funeral?

      Part of the casual nature of the gathering time before the funeral just reflected the fact that it is a social event to some degree, like other Amish gatherings such as church, weddings, etc. The gentleman was older and had an illness and so that may have made a difference as well. I should clarify that the tone of the event was ‘appropriately somber’ as it got underway, as you’d expect for a funeral event. Visiting continued afterward during the meal and so on. It felt very similar to what follows a typical Sunday church service.

      And nice question on the clothing–I usually try to wear a dark suit and solid-colored white or blue shirt so as not to stand out too terribly. I was given an Amish hat to wear at another gathering this past Sunday, but that was more for fun than to make me fit in. When I’m not at a church function, I usually don’t pay as much attention–jeans and more casual clothes are fine, even shorts.

      But, I generally try to leave the Metallica T-shirts at home, especially at the more formal occasions.

    5. Wild behavior and deviance among Amish youth

      Very generally the Andy Weaver group is somewhere between the Old Order and the Swartzentruber group on the conservative-progressive scale. They came about in 1952 in Holmes County, OH. They have decided to restrict technology to a greater degree than the standard Old Order group but not nearly so much as the Swartzentruber Amish, who have as you probably know been highly resistant to technological change. Steven Nolt writes in A History of the Amish that the Andy Weaver group also sought to curb the more wild teenage behavior by restricting car ownership.

      This would set them apart to some degree from the Swartzentrubers are well. At the risk of generalizing, I’ve recently spoken with some Amish who seem to consider Swartzentruber youth among the wildest and they apparently have that reputation. There is a chapter in The Amish Struggle with Modernity written by Donald Kraybill that compares the four major Holmes Co affiliations and that would be a nice place to start, also a little bit of the history is given in Nolt’s History of the Amish.

    6. Bill

      A couple of weeks ago we took a couple of friends who had never been there to the Indiana County Amish area. Our first stop was to be at a home where I stop regularly when I’m in the area for produce and baked goods and whatever else may be for sale that day. Driving the road the home is on we came upon a group of young men in their black and white dress clothes. Being Saturday I knew right away there was a funeral somewhere nearby. As we got closer to the home the roadside sign advertising the day’s fare had a note attached that read “Closed Saturday due to funeral”. I’d never seen a bigger gathering in this area before as buggies filled the road I was on and the narrow lane and yard of the home. I don’t know who passed away but I felt bad as I know this family is large with a lot of very young kids.
      The day was mainly spent doing “English” things as it seemed most of the Amish community was at this and another funeral we happened upon not long after this one. I just didn’t feel right about approaching any of the Amish homes that day.

    7. Okay, I think you know how large the Amish population is in southern Indiana. I’ve never witnessed anything that could be interpreted as an Amish funeral and I’ve never seen an Amish cemetery. Do you know anything about where our Amish around here bury their dead. It’s something I’ve always wondered about, but not something easily entered into a conversation with them. Thanks!

    8. Bill

      Cindy,
      I’m not sure if your question was directed to me but I was referring to the Amish community in Indiana County Pennsylvania. Sorry if I confused.

    9. I’m sorry Bill, need to clarify. I knew you were talking about Pennsylvania, but it reminded me of one of the questions I’ve always had around here. Where do they bury their dead? I’ve seen pictures of Amish cemeteries from other places, but not around here and we have a lot of Amish in this area.

    10. Marcia

      Cindy – enjoyed all your photos. Sounds like the Amish are your neighbors? I’ve not decided where I will go for my first visit to an Amish community. Don’t want to get caught up in too much tourism.

    11. Marcia, thank you for looking at my pics. There is no tourism around here. The Amish are part of the community. Around here they are farmers and/or merchants, so they are very interactive with us “English”. There will be a lot of them in town tomorrow for our weekly farmer’s market. I hope you find a good place to visit to really see their lifestyle.

    12. Marcia

      Cindy – How long a drive from Dayton, Ohio to come to your neck of the woods?

    13. Marcia, I would guess about 5 hours, not really sure. I’m about 2 hours straight south of Indianapolis. My pictures are primarily in three counties; Orange, Lawrence and Washington. You can e-mail me at cindy47452@yahoo.com if you wish. Thanks!

    14. Marcia

      Cindy – I’ve taken down your email address. I believe my first visit will be an Amish auction near Rocky Fork Lake (about an hour from where I live) Although I won’t be surprised to find Mennonites running that show. (I’ve been told different things by different people.) I need to go soon before the harvest is over.

    15. Ira J. Chupp

      This has nothing to do with an amish funeral. In youweb site, you mentioned a Jonas Stutzman in white. Can you tell me more about this man?

      Thank You

      Ira J. Chupp