Defining The Amish
From time to time people ask the same questions about the Amish. Other people make assumptions and believe everything they read. One has to know the different sects of Amish first to begin to understand the culture. One can almost never make a blanket statement about the Amish because rarely does the same thing apply to all sects.
New Order Fellowship - This group is next to very conservative Mennonites. They allow electricity, telephones and driving tractors for transportation. Their dress remains the same as the New Order Amish.
New Order Amish - Allow solar power everything. They are not to have electricity but may run anything they like off of their solar power. They may use their tractors for transportation but you will also find them using their horses and buggies quit a bit, along with bicycles.
Old Order Amish - Probably the largest sect of Amish in Ohio and the most advanced of all the sects at this point. It varies from district to district what these folks can have and do but as a whole this sect has made the largest strides in the past 20 years. Their dress remains the same. Some use their tractors for transportation but the biggest thing that has changed is this order of Amish now is allowed to have what they call “battery bikes.” Their bikes are powered with a motor and they can go a good 20 miles per hour with very little pedaling. It has opened the world of the ladies, they are able to come and go in a more spontaneous manner. They also still drive horse and buggy but some of the younger generation are opting to not own horse and buggies and going places with their bikes, walking or hiring a taxi for the places they can’t get to on their own. They feel it is less expensive to live this way and way more convenient. Those folks are still in the minority, but we keep seeing enough of it to know that the way the Amish do things are definitely changing.
Swartzentruber Amish - this sect of Amish still does life pretty much the way they did things back in the 1800’s. Nothing has changed. When their youngsters question their parents the only answer they get it is that “it is not for our kind.” The youngsters grow up conditioned they are of the kind of Amish that doesn’t get to have and do things their neighbors get to have and do. Their main mode of transportation is their horse and buggy. Exceptions are made for travel when they are allowed to use a taxi, bus or train. They will often hitch two horses to a buggy for long distance trips that might take up to 8 hours. They take food and water along for the horses and stop off and rest the horses along the way. It is almost like a scene out of Bonanza, when the stagecoach rules in and the people have to get a hotel to rest before traveling on to their destination.
There are other orders of Amish. They all do things in their own way, a little bit different from the other orders. They Amish all have the same kind of pattern for church services. They have a bishop, two ministers and a deacon. They have a similar structure to how church is done. The New Order Fellowship and New Order Amish folks carry Bibles with them and their read along but as far as I know none of the other sects of Amish carry a Bible along to church.
Spiritually speaking they are all over the place with what they believe in. The New Order Fellowship, The New Order Amish and some of the Old Order all would tell you they believe in becoming “born again” and accepting Christ as their savior. Some of the Old Order and many of the other sects have a “hope” they are going to heaven one day. You have to know who you are talking to and what they believe in before you can say one thing or another about them.
Indoor plumbing. Most Amish have indoor plumbing. The Swartzentruber Amish sect, however, does not.
Taxes. It is law that we pay property taxes and the Amish abide by the same laws you and I do. They file income tax just like you and I do. There is an exception, some self employed folks have been exempt from paying social security taxes. This is lawful to do if the correct paperwork has been filed.
Social Security. There was a time when no Amish would draw Social Security come retirement time, but in today’s world a number of them do draw it. They kind of keep it hush hush but everyone knows they are doing it. Those exempt from paying the tax also do not get to draw it then.
Rumpspringa translates into running around. The English have made this into something it really isn’t. It simply means they are at a dating age. It is not a “time that parents allow their children to go wild and experience the English lifestyle and then at a certain age they have to choose if they want to be Amish or English.” That is a romantic notion someone came up with and other ran with it. Most Amish parents do a certain level of accepting that their children are out and about doing things they shouldn’t be doing but it is almost always assumed by the parents their children will join the Amish church and be good members. The New Order Fellowship and New Order Amish have things very structured for their youth. They host activities for their youth and most of those youth don’t get driver’s licenses and wear English clothes the way some of the Old Order Amish do. There is also a group of Old Order Amish who do similar as the New Order churches, with lots of structure and activities so the youth have plenty of things to do.
Education. Children still go to school through the 8th grade but many will get their GED after being finished with the 8th grade. The girls like to take office jobs and they need skills in order to be hired for those kinds of jobs. After their GED they can take classes offered locally to teach them how to type and learn office skills.
Church meals have evolved a bit. Many of the districts now offer pie along with their typical deli meat/cheese sandwiches. The ladies in the church are on what they call cookie and pie lists. About every 4th Sunday a lady has to contribute either a batch of homemade cookies or several pies. This is something they plan out well and everyone knows which is their Sunday and nobody needs reminded, they are so happy to help others out because one day they will have church at their house and then others will help them out too.
A way that the ladies of the church will “bless” each other is they make a list of the lady’s birthdays and then someone starts it. She bakes a cake in a pan, decorates it and gives it to the birthday lady. That lady will take the same cake pan and bake a new cake in the pan and give it to the next lady with a birthday. Instead of cake, sometimes they do gifts. By the time the year is up every lady will have received a gift for her birthday. You will typically find this kind of activity in most orders but not the Swartzentruber Amish. Their answer very often is that because the others do so we don’t do it. They don’t want to be like the other Amish.
I could probably write a book on the various differences and interesting tidbits about the Amish. I hope this list has helped you understand a bit about how different some of them can be from each other and next time someone makes a blanket statement about the Amish you might want to ask which order they are talking about to be sure you understand.
Coming up next week - Questions and answers about the Amish.