Suzanne Woods Fisher: The Story of the Red Mutza

In her previous post on the Amish dress code, Suzanne Woods Fisher described some interesting nuances of Plain clothing, and explored the tailor background of Amish founder Jakob Amman. Today, Suzanne tells the story of an unusual coat that crossed the ocean with one Amish immigrant to America.

The story below is excerpted from her new book The Heart of the Amish: Life Lessons on Peacemaking and the Power of Forgiveness.

The Red Mutza

There is no love without forgiveness, and no forgiveness without love.

Amish proverb

Have you ever noticed that the color red is seldom used by the Amish? Not in women’s dresses, nor men’s shirts, nor children’s clothing. Not even in quilts. But it wasn’t always that way.

Hundreds of years ago, a Mutza (frock coat) made of red woven fabric was once considered common for Amish men of Germany to wear—but only to church. Most Amish men have two kinds of coats, each with their own function. The ordinary coat can be used for work, but after a young man is baptized, the Mutza is always worn to preaching service. This garment is longer than the ordinary work coat and has a split tail. Think of it as a suit and tie, minus the matching pants. And the tie.

lancaster-amish-ryuichi-oshimoto-sigma-photo
Lancaster County by Ryuichi Oshimoto, sigmaphoto.com

As traditions developed in the Amish church, the color red became frowned upon, then forbidden. In the late part of the eighteenth century, Christian Hershberger was born and raised in Germany, joined the Amish church, and—like so many of his peers—emigrated to Pennsylvania as a single young man. One of the few things he brought with him from the Old World was his red Mutza. Eventually, Christian met and married Barbara P. Beachy of Somerset County, and they settled down in Holmes County, Ohio, to raise their family. He never wore the red Mutza to church, but he never got rid of it either.

Christian and Barbara had a son named Gabriel. After Gabriel grew up, was baptized, and married, he wore the red Mutza to church. The red Mutza raised eyebrows among the Holmes County church, and a ruling was made that men’s clothing should be black or dark blue. Definitely not red. The church decided that Gabriel’s red Mutza could not be allowed.

Gabriel stood firm. It was his father’s coat, he reasoned. A coat that had been worn among the Amish in Germany. A coat with history. He refused to put it away. The church stood firm and would not approve of a red coat for men. So there was a standoff.

Along came communion in the fall. A number of church members voiced their opinion that communion should not be held until Gabriel’s red coat was put away. Gabriel refused to budge. The bishop, a man named Mose Miller, was a peacemaker, known for his patience and love, and he wanted no ill will between brother and brother. He asked the church to be more patient, to allow time for the matter to be peacefully settled, without putting pressure on Gabriel.

In October, Gabriel made it known to the church that he was planning to build a corncrib. In those days, buildings were built like Lincoln Logs, with cuttings of notched logs locking into place with another notched log. It was backbreaking work, doable only with help from neighbors. Then, as now, work frolics were formed among the Amish to help each other with large building projects.

But no one came to Gabriel’s frolic. When the church members were asked to help build the corncrib, they refused to help him. Gabriel wasn’t at peace with the church, they pointed out, all because of that red Mutza.

jamesport-mo-amish-church-coat-don-burke
Sunday morning, Jamesport, MO Amish settlement. Photo by Don Burke

Bishop Mose, a carpenter, lived about two miles away from the Hershberger farm. When he realized that Gabriel would be working alone on the corncrib, he said, “It will not do to be revengeful. We must win people in love and not with hate.”

So Bishop Mose left his work unfinished, hitched his horse to a hack, and took his carpenter tools along to help Gabriel. With high scaffolding, a rope, block, and tackle, the two men pulled each log up to set it into place. Bishop Mose worked side by side Gabriel for three full days, without any help from other church members. He never said a word about the red Mutza or about the festering troubles with the church members or about delaying communion. He just worked alongside Gabriel, as his friend and neighbor.

At the end of the third day, the walls were up, ready for the roof. Gabriel told Bishop Mose that he could manage putting on the roof by himself. Raising the walls had been the hardest part.

So Bishop Mose brought his horse out of Gabriel’s barn to hitch to the hack, ready to get home to the work that was waiting for him. Gabriel helped him hitch up and thanked him for his help over the last three days.

As Mose was about to climb onto his hack, Gabriel stopped him by putting a hand on his shoulder. “I will put that red coat away for good, and come offer peace and love to the church next Sunday. I will not wear that coat again, as an honor to the church.”i

The old people of Holmes County often spoke of Bishop Mose’s example of patient loving-kindness. He won Gabriel over, they said, without one word about his red coat. This, they point out, is what love, rather than revenge, can do to win people as peaceful friends,.Some even wonder what might have been set into motion among the Amish in Holmes County, had Bishop Mose tried to win Gabriel over by force, rather than by love.

“Peace is worth our greatest effort,” Ken Sande writes in Resolving Everyday Conflict.ii The Bible tells us that we should “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The Greek word in this verse that is translated “make every effort” means to strive eagerly . . . earnestly . . . diligently. It’s a word that a trainer of gladiators might have used when he sent men to fight to the death in the Coliseum. “Make every effort to stay alive today!” Peace is worth that life-and-death effort. If we want to enter into all the peace God has for us, we have to give it our all.

We have to give it our red Mutza.


iThe Red Mutza

 The story of the red Mutza was originally retold in a letter written by a descendant of Bishop Mose.

ii Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson, Resolving Everyday Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 21–22.

This excerpt is taken from Heart of the Amish: Life Lessons on Peacemaking and the Power of Forgiveness. It is printed with permission from Revell Books.

Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of ‘The Stoney Ridge Seasons’ and ‘The Lancaster County Secrets’ series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She is a Christy award finalist and a Carol award winner. Her interest in the Anabaptist culture can be directly traced to her grandfather, who was raised in the Old German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne hosts the blog Amish Wisdom, and has a free downloadable app, , that delivers a daily Penn Dutch proverb to your smart phone. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Suzanne on-line at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. She loves to hear from readers!

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    21 Comments

    1. Was there really a Red Mutza or it this just an interesting fiction Amish story? It makes for a great story but it is true?

      1. Red Mutza

        True story, Katie!

        1. Katie Troyer

          That is so unAmish, I mean the red mutza. A year ago when I was researching the Holmes County Amish history, this incident was mentioned of helping this man and he came back to the Amish church, but it was very watered down.

      2. Mary

        Katie, I was wondering the same thing. If the story is indeed true, why is this the 1st time we ever heard of it?

    2. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      what a lovely story, Made me think of how I want to act this day (and through my days generally). In my dealings I aim to be like the Bishop.

      I did however imagine the fellow in the red shirt in the “An Amishman” documentary, which kind of stands out because stereotypically the Amishmen don’t wear red…

      1. Red shirt?

        I haven’t seen much red in Amish clothing, but there’s a lot of variety among them. I wonder where the documentary was filmed? And if it was Amish or Mennonite? Anyway…thank you for chiming in!

    3. Harriet

      What a wonderful story. The Lord knew what He was doing when that bishop pulled the lot. I agree with Shom. I too, want to live like that bishop lived. Thank you for bringing us this story.

      1. Red Mutza

        Glad you enjoyed it, Harriet!

    4. Donna

      We could all learn a lesson from this story!!Thanks for bringing this to us! That is why they shun their people to make them realize and in hopes they will mend their ways and come back to what is right.

    5. Debbie H

      Lovely story. We all need to think of our actions against others. Thanks for sharing.

    6. What a wonderful example! We live in a culture with too many hammers and see every problem as a nail, rather than an opportunity to rise above ourselves. This Bishop reminds me of a pastor I once had, who is now a dear friend.

      Whether the story is true — or accurate — the lesson within it is true.

      1. Red Mutza

        Thanks, Karen, for sharing that metaphor of hammer and nails. Loved that! And it is a true story–from an early settlement in Ohio.

    7. Alice Mary

      Would that the entire world could hear this story and truly take it to heart–and there’s the rub, “truly take it to heart.” So many hearts are made of stone. I would only hope that we could all exemplify Bishop Mose’s peaceful stance, and open others’ eyes to the possibility of worldwide peace.

      Alice Mary

      1. Red Mutza

        Nicely put, Alice Mary!

    8. Don Curtis

      Connection to Belle Center, Ohio

      My son, Mark, who is Amish but is not the Mark of Holmes County, Ohio. told me that there is a connection of the Red Mutza story in Belle Center, Ohio. The man who wrote the story out is Norman Hochstetler of Mio, Michigan. According to Mark, this story appeared in the Amish devotional, “Taglich Manna.” I don’t subscribe to this publication but Mark does. Anyway, Norman Hochstetler is a direct descendent of the man with the red mutza. Norman’s sister, also a direct descendent is a widow and lives just down the road from Mark in Belle Center’s Amish middle district. She has children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren all descended from the “Man with the Red Mutza.”

      1. Red Mutza

        Hi Don! Thanks for that added confirmation. Such a great story! Warmly, Suzanne

      2. Don this is off-topic, but leaving it here since this is your most recent comment. This morning I read this story about an Amish home burning down last week, reported in the Bellefontaine Examiner.

        I’m assuming this is the Belle Center community as the address is right in the area. Just wondering if you have heard anything from Mark? Sounds like the family was able to get out okay, and already were building a new house:

        http://www.examiner.org/news/49436-fire-destroys-amish-residence

    9. Juanita Cook

      What a beautiful story. Love and patience is always the best way of doing things. No matter what it is. I need to remember this story and be more like this with everyone too. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading this.

      1. Red Mutza

        Hi Juanita! Thanks for taking a moment to comment. Glad you enjoyed the story! Warmly, suzanne

    10. Barb

      Red Mutza

      Thank you Suzanne for the very interesting background information. I am most appreciative of this concrete example of how Amish clothing styles have changed — and they aren’t identical to what was worn 300 years ago (as the tourist newspaper purport).

    11. OldKat

      Wow!

      FANTASTIC lesson. Point made, thanks for sharing.