Osiah Horst on Old Order Mennonites

Osiah Horst grew up in an Old Order Mennonite family in Canada.  Osiah’s father Isaac wrote a column for a local newspaper which eventually grew into the book A Separate People: An Insider’s View of Old Order Mennonite Customs and Traditions, a witty and incisive look at Old Order Mennonite society.

Isaac penned 2 dozen books and many columns, before passing away in 2008.  Osiah has kindly taken some time to answer questions today about Old Order Mennonite life and his father’s work.

A Separate People giveaway

A Separate People Isaac R HorstOsiah has also provided 3 copies of A Separate People for Amish America readers.  To enter the giveaway contest, just leave a comment on this post.

For an additional entry, share this contest on Facebook and/or on your own blog (1 extra entry each for a possible total of 3; send a message to amishamerica@gmail.com letting me know you did).

We’ll draw and announce winners next Tuesday, January 17th.

Osiah Horst interview

Amish America: Would you mind sharing a bit about yourself–i.e. where you live?  What do you do for a living?  Family?

Osiah Horst: For the past 30 years, we have lived in a (new) Mennonite community in the Ottawa Valley about an hour from Canada’s capital, Ottawa. This is about a 6 hour drive from the Waterloo County area where most Canadian Old Orders live. We are members of the Markham Waterloo Mennonite Conference; we drive black cars, use some technology (restricted access, filtered internet) but our origins, practices, and customs are Old Order. We have a family of six with 13 grandchildren. I have been working as a bookkeeper/accountant all my working years, the past 6 years self-employed.

The rest of the family is horse and buggy Old Order except for an older brother. My mother who is 91, is still living in her own quarters, on the farm where one of her grandsons is farming

Can you tell us a little about your father and his writing?  Was his pursuit of writing accepted in the community?  Is/was he read by other members?

My father was not a farmer at heart and never very successful at it, but as a committed OO, farming was almost mandatory. He normally had some off farm job to make farming possible. Farmland was more expensive in the Waterloo County area due to pressure from the OO community so shortly after they were married, he started looking for less expensive farms in areas forty to fifty miles away. However, as a committed OO, he would not buy land and make a move without support from his church community. The move to the Mount Forest area finally took place in 1968, more than twenty years after he started his search for land.

ontario old order mennonites
Ontario is home to a sizeable population of Old Order Mennonites

My feeling is that his status in his community did not improve with the start of his writing. Would a writer of books be any better than an unsuccessful farmer in a community where hard work and financial success defines the person? Anyone who shared his love for history read first his historical articles in the Pathway Publications and then also his earlier books. One of the reviewers of the book is a younger Old Order from his home community of Mount Forest. In time, more people did read his books, although I believe they were more popular in the U.S. Mennonite communities than at home. After all, “a prophet is without honour in his own country” or “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  There seems to be a renewed interest in his work since his death.

My father was always sought out by people wanting help in tracing their family trees or just wanting to tap into his vast knowledge of the more recent history of his people. He also did considerable translation work, translating letters from the German script to English. One of his projects was translating David Beiler’s book Das Wahre Christentum. His masterpiece though, was translating and typing the 1,100 page collection of letters collected by Minister Jacob Mensch from Franconia during the late 1800 and early 1900. This work, which was done as a labor of love and not for compensation was completed over a twenty year period, ending about five years before his death.

How would you describe his book A Separate People?  What type of reader is it intended for?  What will readers learn from the book?

One of the reviewers, Lorna Bergey, put it this way: “I highly recommend this book to the inquiring public.” Mennonite historian Amos Hoover, a friend and at times co-worker of my father is quoted “Useful. Interpretive. Defends OOM faith and lifestyle.” Rather than try to put too much in my own words (after all as his son, I am both proud and a little embarrassed) I will quote John L. Ruth’s words in his book review.

“This loquacious book by an elderly horse-and-buggy Mennonite of Ontario welcomes the curiosity of anyone from nosy tourists to liberal cousins. Horst’s method, knowing what people are likely to ask, is to pose both questions and answers. His chatty dialogue takes readers vividly into meetinghouse, schoolhouse, and farmhouse, where he cheerfully points out the colorful, nonstandard features of his people’s behavior.

Where it suits, he’ll quote Tertullian or an Anabaptist author to show how traditional Mennonites see themselves trying to live by pristine Christian standards. When no other rationale for a practice seems evident, he’ll simply concede that it’s ‘tradition.’ The folkways of his spiritual family witness to the ideals of the Mennonites of eastern North America before the majority of them made large concessions to modernity. –John L Ruth, Mennonite Church Historian, Harleysville, Pa.

old order mennonite meetinghouse
An Old Order Mennonite meetinghouse

The book’s sub-title is “An Insider’s View of Old Order Mennonite Customs and Traditions” and it is just that – one person’s viewpoint. It is not intended to cover the history of these people nor is it a truly definitive work explaining or defending all of the customs and traditions of this one group. It is however, a good and interesting read for anyone who wants to gain some understanding of the OOM.

What do Old Order Mennonites and Amish have in common?  What differentiates them?

OOM and Amish have very similar beliefs; both use the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. The biggest difference is in the application of shunning. One of the major causes of the Amish/Mennonite split in 1693/94 was the shunning issue. There are many smaller differences; one of the most noticeable is in the wearing of the beard. There are very few OOM groups where the men wear the beard whereas all Amish, including Beachy, do. I enjoy Mennonite history and sociology and since more is written about the Amish than about the Mennonites, I read the Amish materials in an attempt to understand Mennonite history and culture. There is enough similarity in the two to make this possible.

You see a lot of variation among Amish when it comes to what technologies are accepted.  What variation is there among Old Order Mennonite groups?

old order mennonite buggy pa
As with the Amish, the buggy is symbolic of Old Order Mennonite society

There is almost as much variation among OOM as there is among the Amish, with one exception. At the most liberal level, they all become Mennonite. Most of my father’s church fellowship accepts electricity, telephone and rubber tired tractors for field work. There are several groups of OOM in Ontario, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky who remain much more traditional in their way of life.

The vast majority of Amish refuse the phone and public electricity in the home.  Yet as mentioned above many Old Order Mennonites accept both, and still seem to be rapidly growing and thriving like the Amish.  Are Amish being overly cautious about these technologies?

As a member of an OOM group, I would not want to accuse/judge or whatever, any other group of being too cautious. None of us can, from a purely Biblical standpoint, argue that our ways are best. However, Amish historian, Alvin Beachy was quoted as saying that “wherever a Beachy church started up, it became a bridge from the OO Amish to the larger society.” I believe there is a lot of truth to this so the more traditional groups are farther away from the road of accommodation, acculturation and eventual assimilation. All plain churches seem to have one thing in common, fighting the drift away from what we used to stand for. As a computer user and a restricted user of the internet, I see the dangers of unrestrained use of these technologies and yet, to me the computer is as significant a tool in my trade as is the tractor is for the farmer.

What are common misconceptions people have about Old Order Mennonites?

On another forum, “MennoDiscuss” I have seen questions like “are the OOM born again?” OO people are accused of being “works Christians” because of our customs and traditions. Yet we do not believe or teach that they are the way to salvation but are only ways in which we try to live faithful Christian lives.

What are the most pressing current challenges facing Old Order Mennonite communities?

old order mennonite produce wakarusa
An Old Order Mennonite farmhouse and produce stand near Wakarusa, Indiana

The existing OO communities are facing tremendous pressure on land prices so one of the biggest challenges is buying farms where they can continue their farm based lifestyles. Another challenge is how to maintain OO practices while making a living off the farm or in farm based shops. Governments continue to push socialist programs while they want to be free from government handouts.

What do Old Order Mennonites think about more progressive Mennonite groups?  To what degree do they interact and cooperate?

The OO Mennonites financially support Mennonite programs such as MDS and MCC. In turn, they have looked to progressive Mennonites for help in dealing with government. They still interact extensively in the community and church functions. There is considerable freundschaft connection still, in particular at funerals.

What roles do women play in Old Order Mennonite homes and communities?

OOM women are probably slightly less involved in business and the church than OO Amish. Very few OOM married women run their own businesses, although singles do. They are, to a large extent, involved as partners on the farm. Women do not nominate candidates for ordination like Amish may. In the home, the roles are very similar to their Amish sisters. In my biased opinion, both Amish and Mennonite women are more “liberated” than their Conservative sisters.

Why do you think we have a proliferation of novels, television programs, and websites about the Amish, but much less attention paid in popular culture to Mennonites?  Do you mind being relatively “overlooked”? (tongue-in-cheek question!)

Here I would quote Phyllis Pellman Good (What Mennonites are Thinking – 2000):

old order mennonite country pa
Pedaling hard. Old Order Mennonite country, Lancaster County PA

“I think of us Mennonites as a rather muscular group – small, scattered, varied but still making some difference in the world. So I was a little sobered the other night while watching Jeopardy on TV. I had just remarked about how intelligent the contestants seemed. But they all got stumped on the next question. The category was “Protestantism.” – The question was “the group related to the Amish, named for one of their leaders, a Mr. Simons.” None of the three players knew the answer. Kind of humbling, kind of funny.”

She goes on to say that “we (smug) Mennonites know why. If the Amish weren’t so visually obvious, they would be no-names too.” (also tongue in cheek.) There are obviously more Amish than OOM and spread over a wider area so they are better known. We get quite used to being asked if we are Amish. And in the end, I am not sure how much I would like “Mennonite” and” Harrison Ford” said in the same breath. Being overlooked has its benefits too!
To order A Separate People, you may contact Osiah directly at obhorst@mwpol.ca, or by writing to him at:

Osiah Horst
341 Zion Line
Cobden, Ontario, Canada K0J 1K0.

The price is $10 plus postage (plus GST in Canada). They are also available on ebay.


Read more on the Mennonites and Amish in Canada, or on Ontario Mennonite & Amish furniture.

Photo credit: Ontario Old Order Mennonites- Michael Schneider/flickr

Get the Amish in your inbox

Join 15,000 email subscribers. No spam. 100% free

    Join the Amish America Patreon for bonus videos & more!

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. Nicole C.

      I would love to read this book.

    2. Jessica G.

      I have had the pleasure of “meeting” Osiah Horst on MennoDiscuss and learning more about his Old Order Mennonite beliefs. I would be very interested in reading this!

    3. Norma Fredrickson

      Research Paper

      I am currently attending college and plan to do a research paper on the Amish community and feel that your book would be a good resource.

      Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy,


    4. Betty Hamilton

      I would love to win this book. Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy!

    5. janice ableitner

      book giveaway

      Thank you for allowing the givaway. Just finished reading Celebrating Christmas.a good read.

    6. Mary Ellsworth

      Osiah Horst Old Order Mennonites

      I would love to win one of the books as it sounds very interesting. I am always interested in reading about the Mennonites and the Amish, learning more about their customs and beliefs.

    7. Connie Kiers

      What an interesting article!!!

      What an interesting article. I would love a copy. It’s nice to see some Canadian posts every once in a while on Amish America. We often see these interesting folk when we travel to Kitchener Ontario to visit my brother and when we go to the Farmers’ Market in St. jacobs

    8. Connie Kiers

      What an interesting article!!!

      What an interesting article. I would love a copy of the book. It’s nice to see some Canadian posts every once in a while on Amish America. We often see these interesting folk when we travel to Kitchener Ontario to visit my brother and when we go to the Farmers’ Market in St. jacobs

    9. Connie Kiers

      What an interesting article!!!

      What an interesting article. I would love a copy of the book. It’s nice to see some Canadian posts every once in a while on Amish America. We often see these interesting folk when we travel to Kitchener Ontario to visit my brother and when we go to the Farmers’ Market in St.Jacobs

    10. Susan

      Learning more...

      Thank you for this article! I always enjoy reading about the Amish as well as the Mennonites and learning about the similarities as well as the differences between the groups. My “dream” job is to be an anthropologist and am truly fascinated with these groups that continue to grow in spite of the English world around them. Hats and bonnets off to them! And a book would be much appreciated and I would really enjoy it!!

    11. Jim


      I just discovered your site, Interesting info.

    12. Nancy

      Osiah Horst book giveaway

      I would really like to read ..thank you

    13. Amy Fields

      Very Good article

      As always very good read! Would love to win a copy of the book!


    14. Johnda Scott

      3 book giveaway

      Would love to win a copy of this book I always enjoy reading and learning about the Mennonite/Amish.

    15. Cass Wessel

      Interesting Website

      Would love to read these books, or at least borrow them. I live in the midst of many Old Order Amish neighbors whom I respect highly for their dedication and principles. Can these books be purchased anywhere?

      1. Merry

        @ Cass

        Mine from Amazon just arrived yesterday 🙂 http://www.amazon.com/Separate-People-Insiders-Mennonite-Traditions/dp/0836191226/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326558005&sr=8-1

    16. Beverly

      Happy to See This!

      I have an extensive library about the Amish but have found little relating to the more conservative groups of Mennonites and look forward to reading Mr. Horst’s work. Of course it would be lovely to get the 3 books! We have a small Plain Mennonite group here in northern Utah some hour and forty five miles from my house and I’d like to get to know more. Our group does not use the computer at all. No TV or radios either. They do use electricity and phones and drive cars. I’ve been deeply impressed with the quality of their nine years of education given in the most loving way imaginable. The results beat our huge public schools by miles. They have a small school that includes some “home school” students who are not Mennonite. If they were closer to home I’d love to go to church with them.

    17. Mark Burr

      Canadian Perspective

      It is nice to read about an Ontario Old Order Mennonite perspective of their lifestyle. Just as some information in the news today, in the Mt. Forest OO Mennonite community where the author’s mother, Mrs. Horst still lives, 3 teenage brothers in a horse and buggy were struck by a pickup truck after dark near their home, and one of the boys was killed. So there is sadness in that community today. Mark Burr.

      1. Mark Burr

        Buggy / Truck Accident / death


    18. Lee Ellen Hicks


      Would love to win your book. May God Bless you

    19. Kristy Schultz


      Sounds like a very informative book! Would love to read it!

    20. Doris Scheibel


      Would love to read this book and add it to my library of Amish books.

    21. PennyJjenkins

      Book Giveaway

      I am fascinated with The Amish and the Mennonite people. I would love to read this book! Thank you for offering the opportunity to read it. God Bless!

    22. ellen nugent

      would love to read this book,,i send away for all my amish and mennonite books,,as i live in england and they are very hard to find ,,

    23. Nancy


      I would love to win any or all of your books. Would these be in a book store because I have a friend that wants to buy some.

      1. Osiah Horst

        In reply to Nancy, not many bookstores have “A Separate people” at this point. The book was published by Herald Press about 11 years ago, and since there was still several hundred left and they were hardly selling anymore, I bought them all and am trying to distribute them myself. if anyone knows of a store that would like to sell them, I would be happy to sell wholesale as well.

    24. Lori

      Mennonite Book

      I would love to win this book!

    25. Great read

      Sounds like a great read. Thanks for the chance of winning.

    26. Tammy Traxler

      I am always reading about Amish and Mennonites. I find the history intriguing. I would love to have these books that have been written by Osiah Horst. I looked for e-books but did not find any.

    27. Esther

      Book Contese

      Please enter me in the contest. Thank you!

    28. Candy Duell


      I would love to win this book, thanks for offering it.

    29. sarah

      would love to compare...

      would love to win a copy of this book to compare what i’ve observed from the oo amish in the community where i live to the oo mennonite…

    30. (3-book giveway)

      So nice of you to have a giveaway. I would love to win it as i love reading about the Amish/Mennones.

    31. Mark Grantham

      Amish and Mennonites

      I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting a group of Old Order Mennonites and a group from the Amish community this summer. I was spending time with my mother,she lives in NW Pennsylvania. In her town of Fridays they have a small Farmers’ Market, I got to snickering, there were 2 booths with Amish farmers, on one side was an Old Order Mennonite and on the other side was a member of the local Church of the Brethern, and there was me, a Quaker, we had a sampling of the Nistoric Peace Churches!

    32. Linda Cockrum

      I would love to win the book. I love reading about the plain life. I am Pentecostal and to a certain extent we live a separated lifestyle but not near as much as the Amish or Mennonites. A couple of years ago I never read because I thought I didn’t like to read but a lady at my church loaned me some Amish books. Since then I have purchased about 75 books to read. So if I don’t win this book I will probably purchase it.

    33. Linda in Arkansas

      I would love to read this book. I never enjoyed reading until I was introduced the Plain Living books. I read daily now and love them. If I don’t win this book I will probably buy it.

    34. Bev Ryder

      I am looking foward to reading this book

      Learning about others is very interesting to me. My husband and i drive around wisconsin a lot and stop at many Amish/Mennonite farms to buy baked goods and other items. I have always wanted to ask questions but realize that it must seem rude so i don’t. Reading this book seems like a great way to get some of my questions answered 🙂

      1. Judy

        Osiah Horst

        I am just now starting to understand a little about the differeence between AMish and Mennonite folks. The interveiw was most intereseting.

        Bev, we live in MN, but get to WI fairly often and are always on the lookout for Amish settlements.. Could you share with me some of the little towns that have Amish settlements? I would be very grateful. We were there this fall, but many places were closed, though we did get to a GREAT bulk food store.

        1. Bev Ryder

          we have found alot in the cashton area and down closer to madison and janesville also in cashton there is a place called down a country road, she i a lady who has many amish friends and give her items to sell i have a link for her place. we like to go there but also drive around the area to shop at their farms. also if i remember right some a over by


          here is a great link for lists 🙂


          1. Judy

            nesboro area. And we did go to an excellent Elderhostel which had a good Amish study component (a few years ago) at Green Lake conference center. I’m not quite sure if that is still offered, but if you are interested, I can check it out. Do you know any Amish restaurants/home meals in that area? I made lots and lots of calls before we went but I couldn’t come up with anything. Thanks so much for getting back to me, Bev — I was so hoping someone would. Judy

    35. Jennifer Gilligan

      I would love the opportunity to win these 3 books. I have read alot of Amish books and would love the chance to learn about the OO Mennonites.

    36. Amsey Horst

      The internet makes for a small world

      Well I am too late for the giveaway but that’s OK as I already have the book and 20 others by the same author. I am Osiah’s older brother. Every so often I punch his name into Google to see what comes up. Dad would never have had a computer or internet connection. I on the other hand spend much time searching and reading. Ironically you would be hard pressed to find more than about one reference to my name and dad’s name comes up over and over again. In his retirement he wrote over 20 books. Most of them were self published. I just did a search and found 13 titles on Abe’s Books for a total of 79 books. Most of them are not in their inventory but rather from booksellers who have listings on their website. These books are all about Mennonites, most are specifically about Mennonites in Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada.
      If you type Abe books Issac Horst into Google you will find dad’s books, mainly used but a few new ones. They are listed by book sellers from Canada, USA, UK and Germany. Some are as low as $1.00. But please if “A Separate People” is what you are interested in buy them from the writer’s son.

    37. Nancy

      Mennonite books

      Awww to bad we didn’t live closer just think of the borrowing we could do. 🙂 But I sure will be checking on the net because I live just in London, ON so should have some luck with little positing.