Reader Brad of the Brethren recently raised the question of common ownership of goods among the Amish.
Amish are not like Hutterites where the vast majority of property is shared in common. Amish individuals own private property like anyone else. Amish households operate independently in a commercial sense, though within a web of church and community support galvanized in times of need.
But what about the handful of goods used collectively in Amish communities? And what about schools? I passed these questions along to an Amish friend who shares an answer from the perspective of the large northern Indiana settlement.
Below, he addresses ownership of churchwagons, cemeteries (though he says he has limited knowledge on that topic, I think what he shares is worth reading anyway), schoolhouses, and one other item which sometimes comes in very handy. Reproduced in full here:
You were correct in thinking the church only owned the bench wagon and its contents. But it’s not uncommon if 1 to 4 church districts split the cost of a tent or two and assign 1 person to take care of it. The tents are used for church, reunions, funerals and etc… Right now I can’t think of anything else that the church owns.
Cemeteries are generally owned by the public or county. I actually don’t know. But there are very few Amish owned cemeteries that I know of and they are quite small generally on a big farm. But it is common for all the surrounding church districts to maintain the local cemetery. I probably shouldn’t have written this paragraph because I really hardly know anything about this subject.
In our community schoolhouses aren’t built on donated land that I am aware of but it probably happens here and there as our community is quite big. A group of people (normally from one to four church districts) purchase a few acres, come up with a school name, get a tax number and at that point operates as a non-profit business owned by itself with parents paying a certain amount of tuition per child. This money pays teachers, maintenance, books, and the mortgage and building costs.
Adios, Amigo or should it be Later, Graber
As with most things Amish, some practices are more typical of certain communities. So you’re likely to see variations and quirks across the 450+ Amish communities (for instance, the source and usage of land Amish schools are built upon may vary–as seen in this case of school grounds transforming by the season in one community). But this should give you the general picture, and specifics on how things work in one of the largest Amish settlements.
As for tents, as noted above Amish sometime do have church outside underneath them. The first place I remember encountering this was in fact our Amish contributor’s community of northern Indiana.
If you’re curious, another (non-Amish) resident of the area shares the following:
“…the Amish do hold services outside in tents when a house / shop is not well suited or available for the service. …’s for example have their service outside in a tent because the house doesn’t have enough space for the service and his shop is typically full of equipment and parts. … …s in Arthur is another tent service I have attended. They lived in a mobile home and did not have a shop available for use. These families tend to take a church rotation in the summer when the weather is warm.”