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

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.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


    1. Leo

      Erik, please enter me in the book giveaway. I’d like to learn more about the OOM. Thanks, Leo

      1. Debbie

        book give away

        I would love to win these books. Such interesting and informative topics to read about!!

    2. Lois Klobucher

      Erik, please enter me in this wonderful contest, it sounds great

    3. Theresa

      Thanks for the opportunity to win and learn more about Old Order Mennonites!

    4. Glynda Shaw

      Interesting interview

      I enjoyed reading the interview. I would like to win this book and read more about the Mennonites. Most of what I have read has been about the Amish.

    5. mike

      Hi – I’d love to win the book.

    6. Helen Farrar

      Nice to have the personal and informative perspective

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, I enjoyed reading the interview as well!
      Helen in Oklahoma

    7. Lynn B

      Interesting article!

      Having known the Amish of Holmes County, I understand the statement that they are so much more obvious. In my opinion, the Mennonite there are visible, but to the unknowing, many of the “tourist types” dont realise a distinction. I have heard the statement made by tourists that the Mennonite left Amish so they could drive! If I remember correctly, the Mennonite actually are the older group, with the Amish being the breakaway. Sounds like a great book, Id love to have.

    8. Valerie

      Wow-Lots of Replies

      We sure come out of the woodwork when there’s a book giveaway!
      Count me in too please Erik,
      Thanks! I’ll buy it if I don’t win 🙂

      1. Valerie, that’s one reason I love these giveaways–hearing a little something from “new faces” 🙂 I’m enjoying all the comments and I am not surprised people found Osiah’s answers so interesting.

    9. Darrell Carter

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

      Enjoyed the interview and would love to win a copy of the book. I have shared on facebook. I enjoy your site and visit daily. Have a wonderful day!

    10. Danna Dudding

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

      I enjoyed the interview and would love to win a copy of the book. I have shared on facebook. I visit your site daily and really enjoy it. Have a GREAT day!

    11. kristin jager

      COMMENT on OSIAH HORST on Old Order Mennonites (3-book giveaway)

      This article caught my eye. I am soo interested in learning more about the Amish–whether Old Order, Mennonite or other. I find their beliefs, traditions, values, and way of life so interesting. I am also amazed at the differences between the groups. I would love to learn more about the Old Order Mennonites. I have enjoyed reading this interview with Osiah Horst very much.

    12. Karen Thomas

      Very interesting

      I enjoyed the article and am sure I would very much enjoy the book. Thank you.

    13. Sue laitinen

      I would love to read this book, please enter me. I really enjoy your blog Eric. You do alot of work on it, and I am an avid reader of yours. Thanks!

    14. Liz Breeden

      Enjoyed the article, would love to win a book!

    15. Chris Meyer


      I would love to read this! Please enter my name. Thank you so much!

    16. Ruth

      book give away

      I have read a few fiction novels about Mennonites written by various authors, a few of which were raised in areas where both Amish and Mennonites live. This book will be a wonderful way to learn about the Mennonites from one of their own.

    17. Pam McBride

      Would love to have these books. There is very few Amish books that I haven’t read:)

    18. Shaun Paulsen

      Enjoyed the interview. Please enter me in the contest, I would love to learn more about the Old Order Mennonites.

    19. Karen Pollard


      Great article on the author and from his son! Thank you for sharing! I would love to read his books.

    20. Vicki Lynch

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

      Loved the interview and love reading books about the Amish. Please enter my name Eric for the giveaway. Thank you so much for the opportunity to win. Like Valerie said if I don’t win then I will end up buying it….but it’s always nice to win once in a while 🙂

    21. Old Order Mennonites

      Interesting interview Erik. I would love to learn more. I also shared a link to this post on my Facebook page.

    22. Entry to contest

      Yet another awesome blog by you! I was just going over in my mind about OOM and OOA and wondering what all the differences were etc!
      Even neater that this is a story out of my Province! I actually did not know that there were any OOM in the Eastern part of the province aside local to me in the Lindsay/Glenarm/Cameron/Woodville areas!
      Please enter me into this contest!
      Thanks sincerely,

      1. Osiah Horst

        Hi, Allyson: It is good to hear from someone from Eastern Ontario. We have been in this area since 1980. We don’t know any of the Woodville Amish but have friends and acquaintances among the Lindsay OO Mennonites.

    23. Thanks for sharing

      I always enjoy learning more since I didn’t grow up Mennonite.

    24. Susan Hamme

      always looking for something new and informative about Amish, and apparently I should begin looking about OOM too. Always looking for somwthing to win

    25. Diane Paulson

      Silicon Mennonite

      I live in Silicon Valley, once and fondly known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, Santa Clara Valley, California. It was once a beautiful valley when my Italian father settled here in the late 40’s. I was born here and have seen the orchards covered up by tract homes and freeways. The mountains are still beautiful but are filling up with lots of expensive homes. I yearn for the farm lands of the Amish and Mennonite, but the closest I have come is attending a liberal Mennonite church here. It is a loving family, but no way plain. I would like to try plain. This book sounds close to what I could live and I’d love to have a copy, so please enter me in the contest.

    26. Jenny Griesbaum

      Osiah Horst on The Old Mennonite Order (3-dsy giveaway)

      I find The Amish very interesting. Would love to know more about them.

      Thanks for the opportunity

    27. Roberta Mcmahan

      Give away

      I love to read about the simple life’s that the mennonites and Amish live. I feel like part of the family as I read.

    28. Tiffany (As For My House)


      Thank you for the interview, and the chance to win!

    29. Pauline

      Would love to win this book! Please enter me, thanks!!!


      Have always had an interest in the Amish/Mennonite Culture/Religion
      My mother was born and raised in PA. Our family of many Aunts, Uncles, and cousins and neighbors always had large pot luck suppers. I lived in N.J. and raised my family and our vacations were always trips to Lancaster, Bird in Hand and Paradise. These are memories I will never forget and my children and their children now will never forget.I will be 62 next month and read every day ONLY Amish /Mennonite Books. I have bought some, given some as gifts and gone to 2 book signings in Sarasota, Florida. I would be Blessed to Win the 3-Book Giveaway. Thank you for Sharing. Rose “Cookie” Rosado

    31. Nancy Consolo

      I would love to win one of these books. It has only been a short time that I found my ancestors were Amish/Mennonite and I know some of them went to Canada to live.’
      Thanks, Nancy

    32. Deborah Spaulding

      Give Away

      These are the type of books I enjoy reading. Learning about different groups of Mennonites and Amish. I hope to win. Thank you for another great article.

    33. rachel gingrich



    34. rachel gingrich


    35. Book Give Away

      I love reading about the Amish. Being a Canadian, I would love to get a copy of this book. Please enter my name in the drawing. Thank you.

    36. R0se Goddard


      Hi, I love and am an avid reader of Amish and Mennunitee Fiction books and would and am interested in learning more about the OOM. Please enter me in the drawing aas well. Thanks ever so much

    37. Katie King

      Please enter me in the giveaway! 🙂

    38. Ann Hengst

      What a great giveaway ! I so would like to enter to win. I have always loved to read anything Amish related , it is all so interesting to me. I love whenever we get the
      chance to go to Lancaster and see them and buy some of their delicious foods.

    39. Lenise

      This was a very interesting interview! I would love to win the book! Thank you for the opportunity!

    40. Vicki

      Please enter me in the book give-away! Thanks!

    41. Jeff Frame

      Book Giveaway

      I have immersed myself in Amish research the last 3 years and this is right up my alley. Please enter me in the giveaway and thank you for your blogs.

    42. fascinating

      I hope I will be considered to receive a copy of your latest book. Thank you

    43. Books

      I sure would like to win these books and after I have finished reading them I would share them with the other folks who belong to our PA Dutch Heratage Group
      Ivan Gromling

    44. Osiah Horst OOM Book Giveaway

      That’s some mighty nice reading!! I’d be proud (*gasp!)…I mean pleased to be considered 😉

      Your website is always so informative and interesting. Thank you. I know you’ve poured your heart into it.


    45. Lisa Cregan

      Osiah Horst Book Giveaway.

      I would love to win this book but will most likely end up buying it anyway just to satify my curosity about the similarities and differences from Old Order Amish.

    46. Laura

      Thanks to Mr. Horst for his interesting interview (and yes, I can see why he might be glad not to have Harrison Ford associated with Mennonites!). And as someone who was a contestant on Jeopardy (15 years ago, and I lost, sadly….but my consolation prize was a trip to Ireland, which was mighty consoling!), I apologize for my ignorant fellow contestants. If they would let me go back on the show, I could answer that question easily! 🙂

      I’d love to read the book if I’m lucky enough to be a winner. I’ll probably order it anyway even if I’m not — it sounds like a well-written way to introduce people to Mennonite beliefs and customs.

    47. Kathy Rowe

      Book Drawing

      Sounds like a very interesting book. Please enter me in the drawing, Erik and Thanks!

    48. Thank you

      Thank you for the interview and the generous giveaway. I would really like to win one of the books.

    49. Micheal McEvoy

      Finding books out of Canadian Old Order Groups is a joy. It is a part of the world that I am greatly interested in as a Conservation Geographer as well as culturally.

    50. I enjoyed the interview and would love to be included in the drawing.