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

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    1. sharon cawley

      Interesting to say the least

      I find other cultures very intereting but especially love to read about the Amish and Mennonite communities. I have several aquaintances in both communites and am in awe over the difference’s and little similarities they have. Would love to read this book!Thanks for offering it!

      1. Marybeth Trilling

        I would like to win this book

        I am definitely interested in Plain living. I subscribe to The Budget and Die Botschaft so I can learn more about Plain ways and this book would help me to grow a deeper Faith. Reading about a topic helps understand it and I have visited Jamesport Missouri where there is a sizeable Plain community. I respect the work ethic and the satisfaction in doing a job well done for the sake of doing it well. I do think we could learn much from how the family and Faith are the cornerstones of their lives and how children and the elder folks. I dress Plain and read a lot, including the Martyrs’ Mirror and am learning German. I would like very much to join a Mennonite or Amish Church and have been directed to a Beachy Amish Church district in Indiana, now I have to find a way to get there since I do not drive. I know I would love this book, and if I do not win it, I surely will buy it. Danke for considering me. Whoever wins this will surely learn a good deal about your life and Old Order Mennonites in general, and I wish them well. Respectfully, Marybeth Trilling

    2. Marilyn Berger

      Most Enlightening

      As an almost lifelong student of the Plain People, I truly appreciate this article on the OOM. I look forward to reading the book and continuing to learn. Thanks!

    3. Robert Gschwind

      Great info

      I always enjoy the insite, especially first hand, into the lives of the people.

    4. lanore

      Would love to learn more about the ole order mennonites. What a great story. Thank you. Will share this on facebook.

    5. Theresa

      I am very interested in learning more about Old Order Mennonites. Please enter me in the contest. Blessings.

    6. Felicia

      This was an interesting interview. I think there is a lack of knowledge concering the OOM’s as the OOA seem to take the forefront in secular society when it comes to curiosity (from familiarity). I don’t know that’s so much intentional as it is that of uneducation about the various groups. Be that as it may, the opportunity to win, what looks to be a fabulous book, would be a wonderful tool to educate others on a people who are just as significant and varied as the OOA. Isaac Horst, from this interview, appears to be quite the accomplished man and I believe this would be a wonderful read! Thanks for the opportunity.

    7. Paula McConnell



      Thanks for the post about this book! I am a Plain Quaker who lives in a Amish and Mennonite community. Many folks ask me questions about my Anabaptist “kin” and I cannot answer them all. I would love to win this book! After reading it myself, I’ll donate it to our tiny local library for others in the community to read as well. I’m doing the same with your book on business too. Why should it gather dust on my shelves while others could be reading it? The book will be there when I need it – or soon enough. It’s one of the ways I support my little community.


      1. Thanks Paula! Glad you did, and I’m grateful to Osiah for taking the time. And great idea on the books.

    8. Jane Reeves

      I always enjoy your articles. Would love to win a book.

    9. Tim Thompson

      Osiah Horst on Old Order Mennonites (3-book giveaway)

      Great Book , would love to read it.

    10. Dianna Bupp

      Osiah Horst on Old Older Mennonites

      Would love to win this book – have relatives who were Amish and also love reading about the Amish and the mennonites! Visit family in Amish country in Ohio!!!!!!

    11. Betty Hamilton

      What a wonderful article. I would love to read more about the Mennonite community and the people who live within the group. Thank you for the opportunity to win a book.

    12. MaryAnn Pepe

      Always hungry to learn more on the Plain People

      I would love to read this treasure and add it to my collection!!!

    13. Carolina HeartStrings

      Giveaway & greetings

      Greetings from the Carolinas. We are two blogger friends (Tammie in NC and myself in SC). We love history and this book would appeal to both of us. I grew up in NJ and was close to Lancaster, PA. Loved visiting the Amish community when we could. I handle our facebook page and will happily share this.

      1. Tammie and Friend, great to hear from you, and lovely blog you have. I am a Raleigh NC native and looking forward to being there in Feb.

      2. Teri

        What is your website?

    14. Jenna Cates

      Very interesting. Would love to read more about Old Order Mennonites.

    15. Iza


      I’d love to win one!

    16. Adair

      I had not known that there are more Amish than Mennonites; I thought it was the other way around. I have several questions – where in the US do Mennonites live? Do they have their own separate schools like the Amish do, and do they leave school as early as the Amish do? We had occasion, some 15-20 years ago, to meet and spend a delightful day with a lovely Mennonite family from France – they lived and farmed in Alsace right along the Rhine . We had kept one of their children at our home for a short student exchange program. When we were over there a year or two later they were wonderfully hospitable to us and we kept up for a while but have lost touch. I was really surprised to learn that there were Mennonites in France!

      1. Osiah Horst

        The largest OOM community is the US is in Lancaster County, Pa. There are other smaller communities in Pa., in Blair, Union, Cumberland, Snyder, counties among others. New York, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Kentucky also have OOM communities. And if I were to check my copy of “Anabaptist World USA” by Kraybill and Hostetter I could probably find some more.

    17. Stephen Keel

      Osiah Horst Giveaway

      Would Love to read the Book.

    18. Forest

      They seem very similar to the OO Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, who are frequently mistaken for Amish by tourists. As I recall, the Virginia OO Mennonites may use tractors for farming, but use horse and buggy for transportation.

    19. Count me in, I’d love to read this! There’s a town called Excelsior and next to it Versailles in Missouri, and they have horse & buggy, black car, and “regular” Mennonites. I’d love to learn more about them.

    20. Barbara Michels

      giveaway contest

      Would love to win a copy of this book. Was under the raising of Mennonite,and left it as a teenager. But my upbringing has brought my husband and I back to it. Is hard when there are no Amish or Mennonite around where we live. So Thanks Erik for the chance to win a book about them.

    21. Lisa Roszler

      My curiosity is piqued! Please enter me in the drawing! Thanks!

    22. Patsy

      Would love these books! I enjoy reading books like this. (I don’t do facebook or have a blog though).

    23. Jessica

      Really enjoyed this interview. So much out there is of the Amish, but so little about the Mennonites. I have been visiting regularly a Mennonite message board for a year now trying to find out more about these people. I really wish more plain people would move into Texas. We have a handful of Beachy Amish, but to my knowledge, no Old Order Mennonite groups.

      1. Osiah Horst

        Hello, Jessica: I am sure we have met on another forum. Nice to see a bit of overlap here!

    24. Jennifer Walters

      Would love to read this book-very interesting and insightful article into the Old Order Mennonite culture which we hardly ever hear anything about.

    25. Char

      Sounds like a great read!

      I intend to read the book, whether I win one or not!
      Thanks for sharing with us!

    26. Kim

      Comment on Osiah Horst on Old Order Mennonites (3-book giveaway)

      Thanks for this window into some Old Order Mennonites, Erik, I would love to read the book!

    27. Robin Stone

      Always Interesting

      I’ve become more interested in the Amish (and Mennonites) since moving to NE Iowa near the Hazelton and Edgewood Amish communities.

      1. Al in Ky.

        Thanks, Erik,for this interesting interview. (I think I have the book so don’t wish to be in the giveaway.)

        Robin and all others interested — There is a fairly large
        Old Order Mennonite community (Groffdale Conference/horse and buggy
        Mennonites) in Northeast Iowa. General boundaries of the community
        are Charles City on the south, the Minnesota border on the north,
        Osage on the west, and Hwy. 63 on the east. I have visited the
        community many times and find it very interesting. As I do in
        Amish communities, to learn more about the OO Menn. community I go to the OO Menn. stores in the area (Sunnydale Dry Goods, Dutch
        Valley Grocery, Farmland Hardware, etc. and also go to the OO
        Mennonite produce auction (Cedar Valley). The people at all of
        the stores are friendly and interesting to talk with. This
        whole area is interesting if you are interested in learning about
        differences and similarities among several Plain groups. In
        addition to the Groffdale Mennonites, there are Weaverland OO
        Mennonites (who drive cars), Holdeman Mennonites, Conservative
        Mennonites (Nationwide Fellowship), and Old Order Amish. Several
        among the various groups have stores in the area.

    28. Teri

      I'm Gonna Buy it, even if I don't win it

      I am absolutely taken with the Amish, Quaker, Shaker ways of life. I know they have tough times, as we “Englishers” do, but their way of dealing with things is so much more peaceful. Our world has gone crazy here on the outside. I own every Amish, Quaker, Shaker Book ever written. And I cannot wait to go into a book store, or online and find the next one published and just waiting for me to snap it up. I get lost in your world when I’m reading. Only problem is I read so fast, that the next books not out soon enough ! Thank you for allowing me a small peak into your peaceful world. Maybe I should have been born into a different world, because I feel more calm and at home in your books then I do in my world….. I will buy this book, if I don’t win it….But since I read so much, would LOVE to win it ;). Thank You for sharing. Would also love to receive emails!

    29. Amanda C.

      Thanks for the interview Erik. The book reviews have me hooked. I would love to win a copy of this book. Growing up among the Amish, I’ve always had a respect for their way of life. However, I’m not as familiar with the old order Mennonites, although I believe there is a rather large settlement about 40 miles away from where I live now. I’d love to delve a little deeper into their world. Thanks for the opportunity to win a book.

    30. Kathy Bean

      Can't wait to read.

      I think this would be an awesome read. I love first hand ‘history’.

      1. Teri

        KATHY BEAN ?! “MY” Kathy Bean? Something we have in common !!!

    31. Jason

      Great Blurb

      As always, another great blog entry! Looking forward to reading this book!

    32. Marilyn from NY

      I am always interested in the Old Order Mennonite and Amish as we have them not to far from where I live. A couple of the Old Order Mennonite are friends of mine. Your interview was very interesting and I really enjoyed it.

    33. Love reading about the Amish

      I would love to win this book, I love reading about the Amish and visiting the areas they live in and shopping in their shops.


    34. Paul Hellmann

      Fascinated by what I read so far would like to read more. Our family history has broken ties on my dads side due to religious beliefs, that were never mended. I know basically nothing about my mom’s side since she married my dad, (again wrong church).

    35. Book giveaway

      I would love to read “A Separate People”. Please count me in!

    36. Jean

      This is a new find to me. I now want to read it. It kinda remind me a little of Elmo Stoll and David Wagler in sense of loving to read/write…. that itself it is usually a good sign of good read!

    37. Trish Jorgenson

      Wanting to read this series!!!

      This series sounds fascinating and I want to read it very much.

    38. Alecia

      Osiah Horst book giveaway

      This interview was so very interesting. I enjoy learning about the Amish and have many nearby here in upstate NY. I would love to learn more about the Mennonites. Please enter me in the giveaway. thank you.

    39. Naomi Wilson

      This sounds like such an interesting book. I would love to have some new, plain reading.

    40. Mennonite heritage

      Sounds like the book is a fine read; and an insight of the Mennonite community from within.
      Because of my Mennonite heritage I truly would love to win the book. I agree with Paula. Its always good to pass along a good reading to a friend, a local library, etc; kind of keeping the journey going.

    41. Lee Ann

      Thank you for offering the books Osiah. Very interesting interview and now I want to learn as much as I can about both the OO Amish and the OOM. I also was under the impression that there were more mennonite than Amish out there.

      I would love to have this book! Hope I will win it. Will be letting others know about this book that are interested in the Amish and Mennonite lives.

      1. Osiah Horst

        There are more Mennonites than Amish in total but As Phyliss Pellman Good said the Amish are more visual. When Amish go liberal, they become Mennonite. The majority of Mennonites are not plain and therefore not noticeable. Since the modern Mennonites are more involved in active mission work than the OO groups are, there are now almost as many non-ethnic Mennonites as Swiss/German. There are large numbers of Mennonites in Africa, India, and in South and Central America.

    42. Merry


      Very interesting interview, thank you 🙂 I’ve been reading a blog by Monica – themennobrarian and to quote her: “The Amish are Mennonites. The Mennonites aren’t Amish. It’s complicated.” http://themennobrarian.blogspot.com/2011/01/some-mennonite-beliefs.html I’m still puzzling over that one! Her blog also discusses many of the perceptions and mis-perceptions of the Amish and Mennonites.

      I’ll likely go ahead and buy the book so if I should be one of the lucky drawing winners I would like my copy to go to Paula McConnell to share with her friends. I also pass on many books I’ve read and enjoyed. Those that I haven’t particularly enjoyed go to our local charity thrift store.

    43. Haven’t heard of this book. Throw my name in the pot. 😉

    44. Very interesting interview. Thanks for all of the insight into the OOM. We have many OOA friends and see many of the similarities between the two. Thanks again,

    45. Mennonites in Ontario

      My friend Paula (also a blogger) lives in the Cobden area. She is a(n) (almost) Plain Anglican and she and her husband have many contacts in Mr. Horst’s group. The last time we got together with Paula, her daughter Ella, and her mother was in St. Jacobs, the big OOM community in Ontario. You can find Paula at “At Home With Us.” I have written about St. Jacobs at my blog “Anglican, Plain.”

      1. Osiah Horst

        I have known Paula to see her ever since she married Colin and have known him since he was just a teenager! I have never asked her about her plain dress but it was obvious that it did stand for something. We meet up at Farmers’ markets regularly and they live about 5 miles from us across the lake.

    46. David Logsdon

      Good books!

      Would really appreciate getting copies of these books.

    47. Cathy Dugger



    48. Lynne Young

      This was very interesting. Would love to read the book! I enjoy reading non fiction first person accounts of Amish life.

    49. Lovely Interview!

      I enjoyed this interview. Thank you for doing it! 🙂
      I would also love the chance to read these books!
      Thanks so much!


    50. Melissa Blake

      Looking forward to this great giveaway. Love the Amish and like learning about their ways of life. Will share on facebook. Thank you for this contest. Have a great day.