The Old Order Amish
The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to, but distinct from, Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology.
The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish. In the second half of the 19th century, the Amish divided into Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites. The latter mostly drive cars as does the main society during the 20th century, whereas the Old Order Amish retained much of their traditional culture. When it is spoken of Amish today, normally only the Old Order Amish are meant.
In the early 18th century many Amish, and Mennonites, immigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. Today the Old Order Amish, the New Order Amish, and the Old Beachy Amish continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”.
As of 2000, over 165,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States and about 1,500 lived in Canada. Most of the Amish continue to have six or seven children, while benefiting from the major decrease in infant and maternal mortality in the 20th century. Between 1992 and 2017, the Amish population increased by 149 percent, while the U.S. population increased by 23 percent.
Amish church membership begins with baptism, usually between the ages of 16 and 23. It is a requirement for marriage within the Amish church. Once a person is baptized within the church, he or she may marry only within the faith. Church districts average between 20 and 40 families and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member’s home. The district is led by a bishop and several ministers and deacons. The rules of the church, the Ordnung, must be observed by every member and cover many aspects of day-to-day living, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing. Most Amish do not buy commercial insurance or participate in Social Security. As present-day Anabaptists, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service. The Amish value rural life, manual labor, and humility, all under the auspices of living what they interpret to be God’s word.
Members who do not conform to these community expectations and who cannot be convinced to repent are excommunicated. In addition to excommunication, members may be shunned, a practice that limits social contacts to shame the wayward member into returning to the church. Almost 90 percent of Amish teenagers choose to be baptized and join the church. During an adolescent period of rumspringa (“running around”) in some communities, nonconforming behavior that would result in the shunning of an adult who had made the permanent commitment of baptism, may be met with a degree of forbearance. Amish church groups seek to maintain a degree of separation from the non-Amish world, i.e. American and Canadian society. Non-Amish people are generally referred to as ‘English’. Generally, a heavy emphasis is placed on church and family relationships. They typically operate their own one-room schools and discontinue formal education after grade eight, at age 13/14. Until the children turn 16, they have vocational training under the tutelage of their parents, community, and the school teacher. Higher education is generally discouraged, as it can lead to social segregation and the unraveling of the community. However, some Amish women have used higher education to obtain a nursing certificate so that they may provide midwifery services to the community.
Between 1992 and 2017, the Amish population increased by 149% while the U.S. population increased by only 23%.