I’ll admit it’s a little odd to see an Amishman plant a kiss on his neighbor. But it’s a common-enough sight, one you’ll see before Amish church service.
The holy kiss is a practice with Scriptural basis (more on that below). As with other Amish practices, the way it is done varies. In some groups just the ministers exchange the holy kiss. In others, baptized church members also participate (common in New Order churches).
Before Amish church service, men and women gather in separate places (usually the men somewhere outside, such as by the barn, and the women inside the home). It is traditional for new arrivals to walk down the line, to shake hands and exchange greetings. This is when the holy kiss may be exchanged as well.
The holy kiss is also given at baptism, from the bishop to new male church members. The bishop’s wife will do the same for females (see The Amish Way p. 50). It is also a part of Communion service and ordinations.
Where does the holy kiss come from? The Truth in Word and Work is a publication of the New Order Amish of Holmes County, Ohio. The booklet outlines areas of belief and provides Scriptural support for key practices. Here is what The Truth in Word and Work has to say about the holy kiss (p. 57):
THE HOLY KISS
The holy kiss is a Christian greeting commanded in the Scriptures. It is a token of love and fellowship with one another and with the Lord. It is to be practiced regularly by all Christians as they meet and fellowship together, as a brotherhood.
The Scriptural teaching that we are to greet or salute one another with a kiss, is understood as a command. It is mentioned in the following Scriptures. “Salute one another with an holy kiss….” (Rom. 16:16) “All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.” (I Cor. 16:20) “Greet one another with an holy kiss.” (II Cor. 13:12) “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.” (I Thess. 5: 26) “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity….” (I Pet. 5:14)
Brethren are to greet brethren, and sisters to greet sisters. It is also to be performed in purity and respect, for it is a holy kiss of love. “Greet them that love us in the faith….” (Titus 3:15)
As the bread and the cup are empty symbols in communion if the communicant does not partake in the spirit of communion, so also the holy kiss is a mere form of greeting if the participant does not walk in true holiness and righteousness, loving one another with a pure heart fervently. (I Pet. 1:22)
It must always be borned in mind that the holy kiss was not, nor is, a mere cultural or customary greeting, nor can it be replaced by such in our day.
So we see in this statement of faith numerous examples where the kiss is commanded in the Bible. Today some Christian churches share a sign of peace, though I’m not sure how many other churches regularly exchange a literal kiss as the Amish do.
An aside: At a church service while in Pennsylvania, Izabela had an awkward experience with the holy kiss. As she gathered with the ladies of the congregation before service, while greeting and the holy kiss was going on, she was told, “You don’t have to. It’s up to you,” by one of the women. This rather terrified her in the moment. She’d been “warned” the night before about the practice, and told that it was just for members. Now it sounded like she could join in if she wished. In retrospect the lady probably just meant that she could come in and shake hands. We had a chuckle about this later.
The holy kiss is not a peck on the cheek, but a full-fledged smack on the lips. Customarily, Amish men and women don’t show much physical affection in public (one reason this practice stands out). And as noted above, the holy kiss is not exchanged between men and women. The kiss is rather a “token of love and fellowship” shared among “brethren” and among “sisters” of the church.