Sam E. Miller on Leaving the Amish

It took Sam E. Miller two tries to leave “for good”, but in autumn of 2009 he made a break with his Amish community in upstate New York, and entered life in the English world:

In October, it will be 13 years that Mr. Miller, 30, has been living life as a member of what the Amish refer to as “the English” — those outside their own community. His family has largely ostracized him, although he does have an Amish brother in Indiana he occasionally visits.

“I haven’t been invited back since I left the community,” Mr. Miller said. “You kind of get used to it. You just realize that’s the way it is. We do write a letter back and forth sometimes.”

Sam E. Miller. Image: Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

Sam has now written an autobiography detailing his journey, as described in NNY360. He discusses both his leaving, and the community he left behind:

His home front, Mr. Miller said, had more strict rules compared to other Amish households.

“I actually very much did like the Amish life,” he said. “But my father was the bishop of the community. He had very strict rules set for me and my siblings. I felt like I wasn’t necessarily fitting in because I wasn’t able to do the same things or the same activities and stuff like that than what some of the others were able to do my age. So, I just didn’t feel like I fit in.”

Mr. Miller noticed the differences in rules when he visited his uncles.

“When we went to visit, it was different,” he said. “I could see they didn’t have some of the strict rules that my father had for us.”

Those rules included the especially divisive one about suspenders.

“In many people’s eyes, that may not look like a big thing, but it is a big thing if you’re a teenager and you have to wear suspenders,” Mr. Miller said.

He said that usually in the Amish community he was from, a young man could stop wearing them between the ages of 14 and 17.

“My father wanted me to wear suspenders until I was 21,” he said. “That’s when we basically go on our own.”

The wearing of suspenders didn’t bother him until other boys his age began asking him about it. He started staying home on Saturday nights, a time reserved for socialization, to avoid the issue.

“I guess for quite some time, I had a lot of anger built up because of my father, how strict he was,” Mr. Miller said. “I felt things could have been different if he didn’t have such strict rules.”

Mr. Miller left his Amish life before reaching the age of 18 or 19, when he said the youth are asked to get baptized into the Amish faith.

“That is why I wanted to leave before I got baptized, as I didn’t want to make a commitment to God unless I could stand good for my word,” Mr. Miller wrote in his memoir.

He also describes getting a spanking at school for what he calls incorrectly coloring a cow. So it sounds like he had a stricter-than-typical upbringing. The Swartzentruber Amish have stricter ways of living on balance than other Amish, but it sounds like his family and in particular having a strict father who was also a bishop exacerbated that (Amish bishops and ministers may feel an obligation to maintain a stricter lifestyle than the average church member, due to being leaders and de facto public examples in the church).

Sam had been nudged over the years by non-Amish friends to write down his story, which led to the book Memoir: Reasons Why I Left the Amish Community. He had more reasons for writing it than just telling his story to non-Amish readers:

The book, Mr. Miller said, is more than about getting his story out in the public for those interested in his recollections of growing up Swartzentruber Amish.

“I also wanted to have the Amish to read it so they can see a little bit different side, so they don’t have to have such strict rules for their children,” he said. “Just be more caring.”

Mr. Miller said there’s been “quite a few” Amish in his area who have read his book.

“I think it’s good they read it,” he said. “They probably don’t like it that it’s out there for the public to read. I did hear from a couple of them who had read it. They thought it was some good information. They looked at things a little bit differently, I guess.”

Sadly his father, as Sam reports it, sounds particularly stone-hearted. He was at one point retrieved by police, who had been alerted by his father:

Back at home, Mr. Miller said his father told him God and the Amish community would never forgive him. But there was more, which hit Mr. Miller as especially cruel.

“He also said I would never make it to heaven,” Mr. Miller writes in the memoir. “Instead, God would create a very hot fire and my body would be burned.”

With stories like that, you can understand why the Amish as a whole – and their church leaders in particular – might get a reputation for being severe. It’s worth noting that they’re certainly not all like that – in fact I’d say most are not – and wouldn’t say such things to their children. But in the stricter settings, this sort of thing could happen. As Sam attests.

Today Sam runs a large sugar bush operation (a sugar bush is a forest or stand of trees used for making maple syrup). With 14,000 trees tapped, it has the potential to make 6,000 gallons of maple syrup. Out of the Amish for well over a decade, he gives the impression in the article of having adjusted well to life outside his Amish origins.

These stories – of Amish young people leaving – make me feel sorry for both sides. For the young Amish person who feels he or she has to leave loved ones behind, and also the family left behind. I wonder if Sam’s father understands how he feels he contributed to his leaving. Maybe this book, if read by his father, will help mend something between them. To Sam’s credit, he doesn’t come across as bitter: “I guess if I was to say something to my parents, is that, you know, I think of them every day and appreciate the care they had for me while I was being brought up.”

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    1. Lena

      Support for ex-amish

      This is a christian ministry based in northern Ohio for teens who are leaving the Amish community and ex-amish. there are several resources about the Amish and ex-amish testimonies for those who might be interested.

    2. Alberta Wells

      Follow your Heart.

      Hi Sam Miller..
      I am glad you wrote your Memoirs of your life..I think by putting it on paper is a release from you. Like taking it off your shoulders..I read everything I see about the Amish, and follow many authors that write Amish stories..
      Just be true to yourself and God. I hope you are very happy in the life you have chosen. We all deserve that.
      I am going to search for your book..And will put it in my collection.
      Wish you all the luck in your endeavors..

    3. Leslie Harris

      Painful side of Amish life

      The one aspect of Amish life that strikes me as the most heartbreaking is the use of shunning to ostracize “errant” members. All it seems to do is cause schisms and breakups of families.

      In most versions of the bible that many folks are familiar with, Jesus spent more than a little time interacting with people many considered sinners: tax collectors, prostitutes, soldiers.

      The God of the Old Testament may have been portrayed as more Fire and Brimstone, but the God of the New Testament, as represented by Jesus Christ, was much more giving and understanding, with a deep desire to reach out to others and bring them to salvation.

      It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that rejecting your own family members is the way to keep oneself on the path to Heaven.

      I’d be so interested in that God would say about shunning.

    4. judy melish


      Hi Sam,
      I read with some sadness this post from Eric. While I have the greatest respect for Plain communities and all who live in them, I don’t begin to understand how a family/ community could turn their back on a son or brother, or any family member and believe that God would be OK with that. It seems most un-Christian to me. But you seem to be doing well despite your feeling the need to leave your community and that speaks loudly about the kind of Christian man you have chosen to be. I will keep you in my prayers and hope that eventually you will, in some way be reunited with your family. I will also find your book to read since I enjoy learning about all religions.

    5. Debbie


      We must all remember that there are awfully misled adults (parents) among every culture/religious affiliation etc. in the world. People leave families all the time for various reasons (abuse is probably most common). Yes, it is very sad and it breaks the heart of God. Hopefully Sam will know God’s true LOVE and GRACE in his life (Jesus). Will be praying for him.

    6. Yoder in Ohio

      Wishing you well

      It’s sad to hear about Sam’s experiences. I’d like to point one very important thing out here — not all Amish churches or communities are alike!

      One of our sons who has left the Amish lives at home with us and likely will until he can afford a place of his own. We have siblings who have left the Amish who are still very much a part of our family and social life. True, I live in a less strict community, but PLEASE do not take Sam’s experience and believe it is like that for ALL Amish!

      I’m very sorry and disturbed at how Sam was treated. I know that kind of thing happens a lot in the more conservative Amish groups. I cannot and will not call that “okay.” It’s not. I would far rather have my children find the church home or situation they can support and be supported by than stay Amish unwillingly.

      As for the salvation of the non-Amish — I like how our bishop has put it: Not all Christians are Amish and sadly, not all Amish are Christians.

      Wishing you God’s blessings and guidance, Sam!

    7. J.O.B.

      Yes, not all Amish are alike.

      Some have a lot of freedom. Especially the youth.

      It’s why i have mixed feelings on the Amish.

      I see them acting soft-spoken/proper/even shy. Then get picked up by their Amish boyfriend who drives a car. They change into regular clothes. Then blast the music. Party. Post half naked pictures on the internet.

      We’ve seen Amish girls with a different guy every weekend. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend means nothing.

      We see the parents dress their kids in name brand/more expensive sweatshirts with giant logos. Turning their kids into walking billboards for the clothing company.

      To be fair. The Amish are quite diverse. For every stricter community, there are Amish groups that are very much ‘anything goes.’ They do a good job of keeping it quiet. But we see it and even partied with them.

      Sounds like Sam got to see a little bit of the outside world and thought, I’m outta here. Not a surprise. It also tells me more older Amish are allowing Englisch things/behavior in their community because its what they experienced in their youth and it’s a attempt to retain the youth.

    8. Toni Arbogast


      I found your name on Facebook and wanted to reach out to you. I am interested in researching a retreat in Booneville, Missouri. Could you please reach out to me via email. I would like to get a little bit of information on the retreat and their staff. Thank you.