The Amish Church District
The Amish arrange themselves into compact groupings known as church districts.
Each district has its own name, usually a geographically-based one–Lamoni South, Randolph, and Crab Orchard are examples of places providing names for districts, these being found in Iowa, Mississippi, and Kentucky Amish communities.
Since the Amish travel by horse-and-buggy to one another’s homes for Sunday service, most districts are grouped together in a logical, geographical manner. The district line often runs down the middle of the road, which means you might attend with a different group of families than your neighbor across the street.
photo: Bill Coleman
Districts in northern Indiana and Arthur, Illinois tend to be block-shaped, keeping with the grid-like road plans of the area. Holmes County, Ohio congregation lines meander along the winding lanes that are characteristic of the hilly country.
New Order Amish churches tend to be more spread out in Holmes County,Ohio–probably because New Order Amish constitute a minority of the 200+ congregations here and must bunch together however possible. In some districts, members’ homes may be ten or more miles apart from one another, about a 90-minute buggy ride. Contrast that with, say, a certain district in the heart of Lagrange County, Indiana, whose families all fit on a half-mile-by-mile postage stamp of land. Walk to church? No sweat.
A church typically has a set of two or three ministers, a deacon, and a bishop whom they might share with another district. Generally speaking, the ministers and the bishop do the preaching on Sundays, and the bishop acts as the head of the congregation and final level of authority.
The deacon usually does not preach, but helps with discipline issues and is a bit of a social go-between, for instance acting to facilitate pre-nuptial proceedings between families.
Regarding discipline, the deacon will probably be the first guy that stops by after work to talk to you about ‘putting away’ your jet-ski or whatever offending technology or behavior you may be engaged in. In this sense he may act as the bishop’s ‘right-hand’ before he himself would get involved.
When churches get too big, they split. Typical church size is 25-35 families; when a church nears 40 families, it’s usually thinking about dividing.
Some settlements have unusually large congregations, however–in Allen County, Indiana, nearly a third have 40 or more families. The largest I’ve come across is a district which as of 2006 had a whopping 59 families under one bishop.
photo: Randall Persing
Once a district splits, it’s time to think about selecting a new ministry and eventually a bishop, a process that may take a few years. In the meantime, the original bishop ‘takes care’ of the new district.
Church is on one Sunday, off the next. Usually, if your district is off, you might pop in to the neighboring district’s service, or go visiting to family and friends. One thing is certain–no work gets done except for the most necessary chores–caring for animals, for example.
And no business deals whatsoever–milk companies have had to make arrangements with Amish dairies to pick up milk (usually a daily thing) late Saturday night and then again shortly after midnight Monday morning, in order to accommodate this strict Amish custom.
This is a great website! I’m glad I found it. I have recently moved close to Landcaster – and have become quite enamored with the Amish way of life – not having seen anything like it before. They are a very intersting group of people – and I think have a lot to teach us in regards to personal piouty and possibly holiness. Although I don’t agree with many of their conclusions regarding scripture (I’m of the reformed/calvinist persusaion) – they at least have successfully proven that it is possible to be seperate from – but still in the world. For that I have great respect and admiration of them.
Thanks Dave! I agree that we non-Amish can learn a good bit from them, just so long as we don’t fall into the trap of lionizing them.
Enjoy Lancaster–I will be working and doing research there for about two months this summer, and looking forward to it.
Fascinating post. Do you know how the Bishop is selected? I seem to recall hearing that it’s entirely ordained by God thru random selection (a marker in an hymnal and whoever picks up that book is the Man), but I don’t know if this is really correct information.
Voting to select Amish ministers
Thanks Melissa…for ministers, there is a vote among the congregation, and generally if someone receives two or more nominations they proceed to the second round…this is when everyone turns in their books and the marker is placed for one to randomly choose. So there is an element of community selection and the work of God as well (you could argue God works in the voters’ selection too I suppose). Apparently it’s all a pretty emotional event, with the chosen one and others often weeping, much from the realization of the new burden upon the man.
As far as the Bishop goes, he’s usually selected from among the two to four already ordained ministers. To be honest I am not sure if they use the book method, I will have to check.
I asked a minister I know, the bishop is chosen from among the church’s ministers, to be considered there are a couple of pre-requisites, and then they use the same verse-in-a-hymnal method.
I tried but could not understand the bishop and minister selection process. Please explain differently, without shortcuts.
Hello Piotr, you might want to read the chapter “leadership” in John Hostetlers book “Amish Society”, Johns Hopkins 3. ed. 1980, pp. 108-113
Piotr, “The Amish Way” (p 51-53) also has an excellent description of this selection process:
Is there anyway to hire the Amish or Mennonite to do house work for the general population? I mean like putting in windows, roofing things like that?
Nicole, it is definitely possible, for many of the Amish crews, jobs done for English people makes up a majority of their work.
What area do you live near?–perhaps I know of someone in the area if you’d like me to put you in touch.
We were driving around rural South Mississippi a few days ago in the Carnes, Brooklyn, Wiggins area, and were surprised to see an Amish Share the Road sign on one of the back roads. Where is the Amish community? Or, do you know?
Hi maedeans, I don’t know exactly offhand, but sounds like you were right on top of it! One thing is certain–there are not many Amish districts in Mississippi so you were in one of the very few.
Is there a way to figure out exactly where the districts are in a particular county in NY State? I know there is a large Amish and Mennonite community in mid-southern Seneca County, but I am also trying to find where they are located in other counties throughout the state. Are the locations of the church congregations notated anywhere by state?
Hi, I have really enjoyed this site. Do you know if the amish have any publications about their doctrine of their women not cutting their hair and also wearing headcoverings? I would really be interested in learning more about that. Thanks 🙂
The Truth in Word and Work
Amy, wow, just saw that I missed your comment from a year back! if you are still out there, i am working on something that might help, which will be coming out on the blog soon.
Laura, thanks a lot, i appreciate you taking the time to visit. There is a very good publication called The Truth in Word and Work put out by the New Order Amish in Holmes County, which does explain Amish belief on Plain clothing, women, and so on. I am not sure but it may be available at Raber’s Bookshop near Charm. Raber’s does mail order, let me know if you need the address
Mennonite schools in Ky
We moved to Kentucky 2 years ago. I know there is an Amish community (and Mennonite) in crab Orchard. I heard there is a Mennonite school there. Do you know if they allow outsiders to attend?
Great website for a researcher!
I’m writing a few articles about the Amish and Mennonites, for my Polish audience, who is deprived of it even on Polish Wikipedia.
The aerticles on your website explain and supplement information available from other websites and Wiki.
An Orthodox Christian by choice as an adult, I find the conservative Mennonite and Amish faith and culture fascinating, would like to study their life firsthand. Are there such possibilities in the US or Ontario? Please write to my e-address.
Piotr, glad if the site is of help. There are definitely such possibilities, from university study to firsthand interaction with members of whatever faith you are interested in. Your question is broad though, so I’m not quite sure how to direct you.
Given your language, if it’s of interest I wrote a book on the Amish for Polish readers, published last year in Polish.
I don’t need to write any articles then 🙂
Where are the horses?
Awesome pics, but what happened to the horses?
Are they fed during the service – pasture spring-fall, hay in winter?
Horses at Amish church
They’re tied up and provided with water and hay. They have about a 4-hour wait until the first ones will start leaving.
Deacon & Bishops
I was wondering if there was a list of names for the Bishops and Deacons for every Amish district in northern Indiana? We were told we should talk to an Amish Bishop in the New Haven area but we cannot find a name of who need to speak with.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
my email is: Isaac0280@yahoo.com
New Order Amish
Hi, I am very interested in joining the Amish. I have researched a lot of the different orders and affiliations, and I agree with the spirituality of the New Order. I want to go and talk to a New Order Tobe bishop/minister, but I am not exactly sure where the New Order Tobe districts and/or affiliations are located in Ohio.
If someone can please help me with this…please let me know.
Hello I have the same questions as I’ve been searching long and hard for someone to talk to about joining I’ve been unsuccessful please is anybody has a way to contact a Bishop please get back to me thanks. 208-519-0263