Defining The Amish For My Readers

Last week I shared with you a story of how a mother/daughter team of seamstresses signed up to work for us. I was delighted when I learned they are from the Swartzentruber Order of Amish. Coming from the Old Order sect of Amish I seldom had anything to do with anyone from the Swartzentruber Order. They keep to themselves and if they don't live in your neighborhood you probably won't get to know them very much. Click here to read. 

I knew when I wrote about this many of our readers would have questions about what the difference is between the orders of Amish and so I will attempt to define a few of the larger sects of Amish living here in Ohio. 

Aren't all the Amish the same? 

No, they aren't and all groups of folks dressing plainly are not Amish. Example: When Sam Mullet and his cult followers were running around cutting off beards it was reported they were Amish. But they are not Amish. They once were Amish but they moved away, started their own church, came up with their own rules and were excommunicated by the Amish church they had belonged to. Once they started their own church and adopted strange rules the Amish church had to excommunicate them. The Amish church not going to allow a rogue group of people identify as Amish when they had practices that were morally questionable. 

How Many Orders of Amish Are there?  

Great question! Let me try to answer this best I can. I'm not sure I know how many orders of Amish there are, but I will talk about the ones I know something about. 

New Order Amish Fellowship - This group broke away from the New Order Amish church a number of years back. This order allows electricity in their houses and barns. They are next to being conservative Mennonite. They freely use cell phones but are supposed to refrain from using the internet, so smart phones are frowned upon. They still use a horse and buggies. Their buggies are quieter because they have rubber tires. The use of tractors for transportation is allowed and heavily used by this order. Anyone traveling on our roads has probably encountered one of them on the road. They usually have an enclosed cab on the tractor which has heating and air conditioning so they are set to travel in comfort from the outside elements any time of the year. 

They believe in being born again and the Holy Trinity. They offer Sunday School on the in between Sunday. They carry Bibles to church and their ministers even prepare church sermons beforehand. This order of Amish has structured activities for their young folks and you don't hear reports of them having wild parties and drinking alcohol, etc. This order's young people don't date frivolously, they wait until they feel sure who they are interested in and who God has for them and then they enter a courtship. Once they begin to date they are committed to each other and usually end up getting married in a year or two. Break ups happen now and then but largely, once they have prayed about it and both are interested in the other they remain together. The women of this sect do not have to wear the black bonnets, not even to church, but I'm not sure if some of the older ladies still wear them or not, but they don't have to. This sect is growing, but still relatively small compared to some of the other orders of Amish. 

This order of Amish allows their pictures to be taken. 

This order does not shun for simply leaving their church and going to a new church. You would have to be living in some kind of moral sin for them to shun you. 

New Order Amish - This group broke away from the Old Order Amish at some point. I'm not sure how many years ago, but at least 40-50 years ago, if not longer. They are similar to the New Order Fellowship Amish - especially with how they do church, Sunday School, dating practices and spiritual things. They too believe in being born again and the Holy Trinity, I'm not sure if their ministers prepare their sermons before church or not. I'm sure they study for the sermon, but might not carry notes with them. This order does not allow traditional electricity but allows solar systems and electricity that way. They also still drive horse and buggies and their buggy wheels also are rubber tires. The use of tractors for transportation is also allowed by this order. The biggest difference between this order and the New Order Fellowship is they do not allow traditional electricity. 

This order of Amish allows their pictures to be taken.

This order does not shun for simply leaving their church and going to a new church. You would have to be living in some kind of moral sin for them to shun you. 

Old Order Amish - This order has made the most changes in recent years. In many ways they are more advanced than the New Order Amish. They allow their members to drive electric bikes and this has opened up their world in ways the outside world can't imagine. They can zip up and down hills with little effort. They can travel close to 20 miles one way before they have to charge their batteries. Young mothers can pull a little cart and take a couple children with them to mom's house without having to hitch up the horse. 

The Old Order Amish are the largest group in Ohio's Amish community. More and more this group is saying they believe in being born again and in the Holy Trinity. This group has the greatest variety of what they believe in and what they can and cannot do. There are many sects of Amish who consider themselves to be Old Order Amish, but you have to understand which district they belong to, to know what they can and cannot do. Some of the Old Order Amish have cell phones, even smart phones, other's barely allow their members a phone shanty on their property. One thing for sure is you can never make a blanket statement about this order of Amish and say, "All of them do so and so." 

Along with everything else, the Old Order Amish dating practices vary greatly from one district to the next. Even within a district it can differ. A movement started within the Old Order Amish a number of years back, maybe 25 years ago or so. These folks wanted something different and better for their children and so they started up a more structured environment for their youth. Scheduling volley ball, potato planting, singings, and the like so the youth had something to do. They also expect their youth not to practice bed courtship which was the predominant way for youth to date until this group formed a new way of dating practices. 

There are still Old Order Amish youth who practice bed courtship, but many of them no longer do. The Old Order Amish youth who do not attend the new, more structured youth activities are more apt to drive cars and wear English clothes. Even the young girls get driver's licenses and drive around town. If we are out and about we can always tell which ones are the Amish youth, even if they are dressed in English clothes. It's hard to explain how we know, but I guess it is how they carry themselves. If you come from the Amish you can just pick them out. 

Many of the Old Order Amish also wire their houses when they build new homes these days. Solar power is so heavily used that it is now acceptable to have lights and appliances run off of their solar power. They spend a ton of money on this, but it is allowed and so much more convenient and they don't mind paying the price for a better way of life. Again, this is for some of the Old Order, it depends on their district and what is allowed where they attend church. 

Many of them allow their pictures to be taken. Some even own cameras. 

This order of Amish generally will shun their people for leaving the Amish but once the person leaving has established themselves in a different church and some time has passed they often lift the shunning and things go back to normal. There are still some districts of the Old Order Amish who shun for life, but very few. It is usually the older the bishop, the more devout he is to the old way of thinking. 

Many families who have shunned family members don't recognize the shunning, they kind of sidestep the church's orders and still eat with their family and friends. Things have relaxed a lot over the past twenty years or so with shunning for this order. 

The Swartzentruber Amish - The strictest of orders. They still do life as they did it in the 1800's. No bathrooms, no running water, no gas lights, no solar power, no modern conveniences. They make very few exceptions for anything. Their buggies can't be closed up like the other order's buggies can be. They don't have tractors for transportation or even to help with farm work. If they need power they have some ancient kind of power rigged up to power their threshing machines and such.

They don't have buggy lights, but hang dim oil lanterns on the side of the buggy. If the lights are lopsided on their buggy, one lantern hanging higher than the other you know you are seeing a true Swartzentruber Order buggy. There is another, smaller sect who also uses oil lanterns, but they are allowed to have them placed evenly on their buggy. The Swartzentruber order tries hard not to be like any of the other orders. If someone does it this way, then they do it that way. 

In my last article I wrote about how Mary has to go to the edge of the woods and use her Serger sewing machine back there in a hut because her church can't know her family has it set up with a motor. The church would want her to use a treadle sewing machine only. In the more strict of orders it seems they go by the rule of "If we don't get caught, then we can have or do it." This is why things get done in secret. 

The Swartzentruber Amish youth are probably some of the most "uncivilized" out there. Once they are a certain age, 16, usually they do things behind their parent's backs. There is a lot of drinking and debauchery. At the moment a certain section of them are so wild that neighbors are afraid of them. They run their horse ragged, piling the buggies full of boys or girls and making the horse run up and down hills. It is tough to be on the outside looking in. There are rumors of Adam and Eve parties, where the kids all get naked and rub peanut butter over each other. That is a rumor and I'm not sure if it is true, but it gives you an idea of just how bad it can get within this order. 

This group is absolutely depraved spiritually speaking. It is interesting how the authors of Amish fiction often will have their families living like the Swartzentruber Amish, but their spiritual life more of a New Order Amish. Confusing, but it happens because they do not understand the Amish. 

This order absolutely shuns for life. If you leave their church, you are shunned until you come back. 

This order doesn't pose for pictures, but some of them actually don't really mind if you take their pictures while others absolutely hate it. 

In Closing

There are other sects of Amish here in our community which I've not told you about. The ones I wrote about are the largest groups and felt I was able to show how great the contrast is here in Ohio. If you are confused, don't feel alone. Even the Amish will laugh about how different everyone does things. As long as they in good standings with their church they are okay. 

 

 Shop the Frock

 

 

 


Share this post


Leave a comment

1 comment

  • What a wonderful post! Thank you you for sharing it all with us. I am truly fascinated with all of it.

    • Nancy