Old Order Insights at Kutztown University

The Kutztown University talk was a very well attended event last night, with an overflow crowd of around 200 coming out to hear James Weaver and Ben Riehl discuss Old Order Mennonites and Amish.

There was much humor and a warm rapport between James, Ben and moderator Dr. Rob Reyolds. The program lasted nealy two hours, with both pre-submitted and live audience questions covering a diverse range of topics. Some interesting points, in no particular order:

  • Old Order Mennonites have preserved a farming tradition to a greater degree than the Amish. Ben felt that it was easier for Old Order Mennonites to move to new locations and set up farming due to dfferences in permitted technology (tractor farming vs. horse-drawn).
  • Divorce is not something that either men have had much if any experience of in their own communities.  Among Old Order Mennonites a person is excommunicated if he or she divorces and then remarries.
  • Rumspringa is primarily a time to socialize ouside of the parental fold, and most importantly, find a life partner.  Both men felt they had done well in that department.  The idea that parents would want children to experience wickedness in the outside world in order to “inoculate” against it is a myth.  Parents worry about their kids in all cultures.
  • “We’re here by design not by accident” was a common theme of the evening. God’s hand is at work. Old Order people are also conscious of the choices they make and their lifestyle, technology and other cultural aspects have come about in large part due to deliberate decisions.
  • Amish worship in the home because their Old Order identity formed earlier in time. When the Old Order branch of the Mennonites crystallized, meetinghouses were already more accepted in the culture.
  • At one time ministerial candidates of financial means were favored among Old Order Mennonites due to having to be away from the farm frequently to fulfill church duties. James said this tendency had changed, however. Ben, making the point that financial status is not an issue among Amish either, noted that he had found himself in the lot three times.
  • When asked for a piece of advice for non-Old Order society James suggested trying to look out for one’s neighbor. He also proposed reflecting on clothing choices, noting that some of the customers at his produce business “challenged” his values by their choice of attire. Ben said that no matter what group you belong to you can’t go wrong doing random acts of kindness.

There was much more than that over the course of the event. Both men were gracious and charitable in their responses, both to each other and to the audience (and by extension, non-Old Order society). “We don’t think we’re necessarily better than you but here’s why we do what we do” was the general tone for the evening. I have a feeling much of the audience would have stayed for 3 or 4 hours had they the chance.

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    1. SharonR

      Old Order insights at Kutztown U.

      Sounds like it would have been an interesting evening. Wish I wasn’t so far away….Maybe a longer article could be re-printed in some fashion, to hear “more”?
      Thanks Erik for sharing,

    2. Barb

      Thank you for the information. Like Sharon, I too would enjoy more articles listing statements made by the 2 gentlemen.

    3. Robin Wyatt

      more info

      I would loved to have been there. There are so many questions I have for all the different plain communities. Maybe someday I will figure out how to ask them.

    4. Richard from Amish Stories

      Very nice job with this post Erik, and i hope your able to cover them more

      Good morning folks and Erik i hope your able to showcase the old order Mennonites a little more on Amish America in the future, and you did a very nice job on this story. A lot of us dont really know very much about them (old order Mennonites) so i know at least for myself id like to read any addional information that you can pick-up of these other plain people’s. And the ones that I’ve talked with here in Lancaster county all are farmers and seemed very little interested in entering the crafts trade like the Amish are doing, so to me in this way the Amish seem just a little more worldly in dealing with the tourist who visit here. Both to me are very hard working people yet with subtle differences! Richard

    5. Good information

      Thanks Erik, It is good to have a chance to learn more about and more from our plain neighbors.

    6. Paula Mann


      It sounds wonderful and particularly since we joined a plain church in 1999, I would have loved to be there but I care for my mother who is very frail and it is hard to get out. Was the discussion recorded by any chance? I would be more than happy to buy a dvd or tape.

    7. Jane F Thompson

      More Old Order Insights

      Wonderful post! I, too, would love more detail from the evening. Is there a transcription available anywhere?
      Along with Richard, I’d like to hear more about the Old Order Mennonites.
      Yours is one of the few blogs I read every time it arrives in my inbox.

    8. Rich Stevick

      Add me to your list

      . . . of those who would like a copy of any transcript or recording of the Kutztown event. I’m sorry to have missed it. Rich

    9. Kathy Rowe

      Count me in, too. I’d also like a transcript of the event. Can you help us with that, Erik?
      Thanks for the most interesting post.

    10. Linda

      Cindy Woodsmall wrote a new novella book, THE SCENT OF CHERRY BLOSSOMS, about an Old Order Mennonite girl in a relationship with an Old Order Amish boy. I have not read it. It may not be a true story, but maybe true to life, not sure.

    11. Mary

      contact PBS

      Why not contact PBS to air the discussion about the OOM & Amish that was held at Kutztown University?

      1. Carolyn B

        Mary, Good Idea!!!

        Mary, that is a wonderful idea. Hope someone can make it happen. I am so looking forward to the 28th and the American Experience show on the Amish.
        Thanks for all your work, Erik!!

    12. Dave

      Thank you Eric for your fine summary.

    13. Lattice

      I looked back at the post from Feb 17th to try and understand again, “Now, why did they do this?” Like the others commenting above, I think it is very interesting and valuable information, but I have to admit, I really do not see any reason that the leaders of the Old Order Groups would think this sort of thing would be necessary, therefore, “allowable.”

      The Old Order Groups I am familiar with really have no interest in clarifying much to outsiders.

      Still, I’m happy about it, although surprised.

      1. Brenda

        Reply to Lattice

        Yea, I agree Lattice, my experience with Old Order & Swartzentruber Order is that they are not interested in explaining their rules or culture especially to outsiders.

        In fact, in the PBS TV special, “The Amish” airing Feb 28, a small excerpt will show Levi Shetler explaining why he left Amish & the consequences. Levi is special to me & my family; he’s the cousin of our “adopted” son, Mosie, who is also former-Amish. Levi is very kind and quiet, shy, but personable. I’m anxious to watch the PBS TV special to see how the director and producer portray Levi. He, along with several other former-Amish are joining us Tuesday evening to watch it together. I want their comments and feedback because the producer, Callie, had emailed me asking for feedback following the airing.

        I like Ben’s comment on kindness, too. And, Erik, thanks for sharing this 🙂

        1. Brenda

          Oops, got off track and forgot to make my point about Old Order. After the PBS film crew left, Levi said to me that he didn’t understand why English are interested in Amish.

          I haven’t yet read all the comments here so please forgive me if I repeat someone’s comment.

        2. Trevor

          Pbs doc.

          I stopped to watch the PBS doc. This afternoon and was surprised and pleased to see the Amish of St.. Lawrence county (especially morristown-where my family is from) discussed as pertained to the building permit controversy (I hope the court ruled in favor of the Amish in upholding their rights and beliefs). Anyhow, I noticed that your friend Levi was wearing a St.. Lawrence river NY state shirt and was curious if he was from the area. He’s a brave young man and was well represented in the doc. And I wish him all the best.

          Star lake ny

      2. Lance

        As some of you already know, I tried to join a conservative Amish group. During a time of especial frustration with the church and its lack telling me anything, I was told that they cannot because of Mt 7:6 which reads “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

        That was one of the toughest moments in my entire life. I had spent thousands of dollars moving and conforming to their ways, at least that which I knew about, and had given over two years to their way, and I was still a “dog” and a “swine” in their minds.

        I thought it was an isolated incident, but in the years since then, I have learned that most Amish ministers agree with that usage of that verse with outsiders, while most would have been more tolerant and forthcoming to the long time and sincere seeker that I was. I still consider the man who told me that a best friend and was extremely disappointed to have missed his funeral. That actual hurt more than the verse did.

        1. Paula


          Oh that was such a tough comment to hear. We have seen that if you are not family or born Anabaptist there is distrust, maybe because alot of people come and go and there are alot of “bad experiences”, but we have never heard that. We know a number of people who have joined and in many cases married in. I assume you are talking Old Order Amish? You know it could be you are talking to people who are just traditional and not converted. There are both kinds of groups out there. Generally the ones that hold a new birth and are moderately interested in evangelism are more open. If they get a missions interest they may find themselves in the Mennonites or Beachys. What did you do after that? Are you still in plain church fellowship? Just wondering since we also were nonMennonite background.

    14. Al in Ky.

      Sounds like it was an educational and inspirational event.
      Like others have said, I would like to hear a recording of
      the evening. Reading about it motivated me to go to my
      public library and check out “On the Backroad to Heaven”
      by Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman. It is about Old Order
      Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and Hutterites. I think I will
      learn much by reading this book, but would really enjoy hearing
      people talk about this topic in person.

    15. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I like this statement, and Ben’s comment about kindness.
      “When asked for a piece of advice for non-Old Order society James suggested trying to look out for one’s neighbor. He also proposed reflecting on clothing choices, noting that some of the customers at his produce business “challenged” his values by their choice of attire. Ben said that no matter what group you belong to you can’t go wrong doing random acts of kindness.”.

    16. Eli

      I second that.

      Help out your neighbor… and try not to dress too scandalously.

    17. I agree with all of the above comments. Sounds like a wonderful informative meeting held in PA. Many questions that I need to have addressed. Especially the Old Order Mennonites.

      A PBS special would be wonderful to view.

      Learning and being kind to our neighbor would be most constructive to everyone in this day and age.
      Are there any articles or books that Mr. Weaver or Mr. Riehl have written? I’m sure not, however,any more forums to be held in the future.

    18. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Thinking about this point:

      “Amish worship in the home because their Old Order identity formed earlier in time. When the Old Order branch of the Mennonites crystallized, meetinghouses were already more accepted in the culture.”

      Does anyone know about what time in history did the Old Order communities begin to immerge. Secondly, does the term “Old Order” originate with the Mennonites, the Amish or their English neighbors? I’ve only had limited face to face time with Old Order folks, I wonder too, how many actually say “I’m Old Order Amish” as opposed to the less wordy “I’m Amish”

      1. OldKat


        I’ve actually only asked that question to an Amish person one time, because while I knew for certain they were Amish I was not quite sure if they were OO or if they were Swartzentrubers. So I asked: “What affiliation is your community?” and after a brief pause he answered rather matter of factly: “We are Old Order”

        However, I would think that they would generally say “I am Amish” and have never heard one describe themselves any other way. I think the Old Order label was gradually affixed to the Amish in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. One of the books I read last year had a good timeline on that. I will see if I can find it. Have no idea about the OO Mennonites.

      2. Brenda

        Attempt to answer questions

        “Does anyone know about what time in history did the Old Order communities begin to immerge. Secondly, does the term “Old Order” originate with the Mennonites, the Amish or their English neighbors? I’ve only had limited face to face time with Old Order folks, I wonder too, how many actually say “I’m Old Order Amish” as opposed to the less wordy “I’m Amish””

        I’ll try to answer from my experiences with Old & Swartzentruber Orders (most of them left & are not “Englisch”).
        There are more than 15 identified orders from extremely punitive, strict Swartzentruber up to the most “progressive” Orders like Weaver, New, and Beachy. Then there’s the Mennonites, which I have little knowledge/experience.

        Each order, from what my former-Amish friends share, is self-contained and doesn’t mingle with the other orders. In fact, higher (progressive) orders somewhat look down on lower (stricter) ones. Marriage from one order to another is prohibited. Thus the fiction books where an Old Order Mennonite gal has a relationship with an Old Order Amish lad is improbable. But, one must remember that fiction is just that – made up, pretend. 🙂

        I understand there are numerous orders because, as church disagreements arose, the problem-solving solution was to separate & start a different order. I do not know what time in history each order began.

        Lastly, on how many will say “I’m Old Order Amish” as opposed to the less wordy “I’m Amish”” my answer is “I dunno.” With the ones around here, I ask, “Which order are you?” and they will say. We have mostly Old & Swartzentruber. In another county that is more touristy is the more progressive, New Order Amish.

    19. Paula

      Old Order

      I believe “old order” started in the late 1800s with the union (meaning many denominations) Sunday Schools in many rural communities and was exacerbated by the advent of technology. I remember reading a book, maybe one of Stephen Scott’s titles from Good Books (?) where they said some early divisions occurred because fathers and ministers felt that religious instruction belonged in the home, and in some Anabaptist groups parents started letting their children attend the ‘union’ Sunday Schools that were common in rural places. Missionaries from various evangelistic protestant groups would set them up as a way to reach unchurched children and families and some of the plain people went to them. In a book on Beachy Amish church history apparently telephone, cars and electricity became an issue in some communities around the same time or shortly after. The idea was that too much connection to the world would undermine church teaching.
      We attend a church where the people are from Mennonite Christian Brotherhood / Nationwide Fellowship Background (black cars, black hats). All of our families homeschool, we have computers but not video or radio, but we do not have Sunday School. They do a children’s message up front of the church meeting room before the adult sermon. I believe even though we are modern in some ways we and the Horning Mennonites are still nominally old order because we don’t do Sunday School. When you get an unaffiliated congregation that is not part of an official conference group, you have more flexibility on these things. Our men have set the policy in their own brothers meeting monthly. There are some other congregations like ours sprinkled around. We don’t have black cars anymore either.

    20. Katrina

      Cindy Woodsmall's Books

      Linda- Cindy Woodsmall writes fiction. “Scent….” is her newest book. There is already a waiting list for it at my local library. She is quite a good writer, with believable characters and plausible events. There are a couple of writers of Amish fiction that are not.

    21. Katrina


      Erick- In the future is there any way you could post a webinar or video streaming of this type of program that was held at Kutztown? I would have loved to been there, since my great grandparents were Old Order, but I live in the Southwest U.S.

    22. Marilyn fron NY

      I just finished Cindy Woodsmall’s book The Scent of Cherry Blossoms last night. I would have loved to have been at Kutztown. If there is a tape, DVD, etc. of that , I would love a copy. I do know the Mennonites were founded first and the Amish left the Mennonites and started their own religion. The Amish thought the Mennonites were getting too worldly. That’s what an Old Order Mennonite friend told me, anyway.

    23. Valerie

      Amish Division

      According to “Mennonites in Europe” book, copyright 1942, the Amish split from the Mennonites because of the “Avoidance” practice of excommunicated members-Amman apparently felt those that followed Menno, were too mild on this practice and there was a great controversy in Germany dividing the church and Menno tried to keep this disruption from happening (started in 1693) and it seems this has carried on through to present time-

      Any former Amish can correct this, this was a book written by a Mennonite and is amazingly thorough in the history of the Reformation, Anabaptists-and all that was going on in that part of Europe at the time. Author is John Horsh. Mine is a very old old copy I stumbled on but I notice they sell new ones in the Anabaptists bookstores today.

    24. Lin

      Some information on the Old Order Mennonites can be found at:

    25. Kathy Rowe

      Do you know if we can obtain a transcrpt, DVD or whatever of that Kutztown meeting? Would be very interesting to read. Thanks for anything you might be able to find out for us.


    26. Margaret

      Loved reading the blog, as well as what the others thought.

      I’d love to see these kind of things on PBS, and I’m anxiously waiting to watch the Amish program on Tuesday!

      Keep us informed, Erik!

    27. Paula

      Old Order Origins (from GAMEO)

      Weaverland Conference Mennonites are an Old Order Mennonite group that began in Weaverland, in East Earl Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Weaverland group is also called the Horning Mennonites, after Bishop Moses Horning (1871-1955). It was founded on 6 October 1893, when Bishop Jonas H. Martin and Deacon Daniel Burkholder, with several hundred followers, withdrew from the Lancaster Mennonite Conference (MC). It was founded as a measure of protest against the innovations that came into the Mennonite Church at that time, especially Sunday schools, solemnizing marriages of nonmembers, church charters, and modern church furnishings and buildings.


      After some Amish congregations in states farther west began to erect meetinghouses, the Lancaster Amish gradually (1877-1882) divided into two main groups: the “Church Amish,” which adopted the name Amish Mennonites, and the “Old Order Amish.”


    28. Lance

      "Old Order" label

      In the book, “Tradition & Transition” by Paton Yoder, the Amish split of the 1860’s was described in detail. The split came about over a new practice of minister meetings. Those that accepted the new practice drifted out of the Amish towards the Mennonites, while those that rejected the new meetings, and clung to tradition became known as the “Old Order”. Many communities of Amish drifted out and became Mennonites by about 1900. Those that had remained Amish were called Old Order Amish by that same time.

    29. Recording of Kutztown Amish/Mennonite talk

      Thanks to everyone who shared on this most interesting talk. Just a quick response for those who asked, this event was not recorded but it sounds like future ones might be, especially seeing the interest people have taken.

      However there is a recording to a previous talk of James Weaver at Kutztown U which is available at this link:


      You’ll see it at the upper left sidebar of the page. It’s a 2.5 hr talk from last January on the Old Order Mennonites which James gave at KU’s Rohrbach Library.