Q&A

Expand allClose all

Beards (1)

Why Do Amish Men Have Beards?

Men shave their faces until they marry, at which point they stop shaving their beard, though they continue to shave their mustaches to avoid association with the military. In general, beards are not to be trimmed or neatened. Amish men wear beards rather than wedding rings after marriage.

 

 

Bonnets (1)

Why Do Amish Women Wear Bonnets?

Women keep their heads covered with a variety of bonnets because of their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and women keeping their heads covered for prayer. In many communities, the kind of bonnet worn is indicative of a woman’s marital status. Depending on district rules, black bonnets may indicate singleness and a white bonnet signifies that an Amish woman is married. Also depending on district rules, the ribbon or string of the bonnet may be tied or untied.

 

Submit a question

Q: Do the colors of the dresses that Amish women wear have specific meanings?
-Barb S., Eugene, Ore.

A: Black is worn at communion and funerals. Sometimes dark blue may be worn for communion, in which case it would also be worn at baptisms. My wife said a good rule of thumb is, “Serious occasions require serious colors.” The specific dark colors worn by Amish women can vary from community to community. However, dark colors may be worn at anytime, so just because an Amish woman is wearing a dark color doesn’t mean it’s a serious occasion.

In general, Amish women do not wear light colors after a certain age. This is not necessarily written in their rule book, but just represents the dignity that comes with old age.

For more information, visit: http://www.oacountry.com/amishdress1

Thanks to Jerry Eicher, author of The Adam’s County Trilogy, for answering this question.

Q: In today’s world, do the Amish teenagers still go through a “rite of passage” before committing themselves to the Amish community and its rules for living?
-Pat S., La Mesa, CA

A: In most communities, teens begin rumspringa, “running around,” at the age of 16. At that time, many of the Ordnung rules are relaxed. The idea is that the kids have a chance to experience the outside world before they commit to the Amish church. Usually around age 18, kids will choose to be baptized into the church.

During rumspringa, Amish teens may purchase cell phones, obtain drivers’ licenses, own cars, and keep generator-operated electronics in their rooms. The boys are more likely to dress English than the girls. They may experiment with cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Often, kids will join the church when they decide to marry.

The very conservative Schwartzentruber Amish do not participate in rumspringa at all. However, they do follow the “bundling” tradition during courtship: a boy will visit a girl after the family has gone to sleep, spending the night talking with her in her bed.

Random fact: Amish newlyweds spend their honeymoon weekend at the girl’s parents’ home. For months afterward, they’ll travels to relatives’ homes each weekend, collecting wedding gifts such as furniture and quilts.

Thanks to Hillary Manton Lodge, author of Plain Jayne (coming in winter of 2010) for answering this question.

Q: In A Widows Hope, Hannah gets in trouble for talking about Scriptures she has been reading during her own personal devotional time because they are not from “approved” books. If the Amish accept the Bible as the Word of God, why do various books have to be “approved” for reading? Is this true with all Amish groups, or does this vary from region to region? And, is it frowned upon to discuss Scripture with each other outside an approved gathering?
-Christianne D., Eugene, Ore.

A: In my opinion, the fundamental difference between Old Order Amish and evangelical Christians lies in how one attains salvation. The Amish do not believe in the “assurance of salvation.” Instead, one needs to walk the straight and narrow path their entire life in the “hope” of salvation. It’s a fine line, to be sure, but it defines why they’re reluctant to mingle with the outside world.

The Amish believe in the authority of the Bible, but many bishops and ministers would prefer their flock not read certain New Testament passages which state that belief and acceptance alone is sufficient. For most Old Order, to assert that one is going to heaven is a manifestation of boasting. One should live a humble, submissive life in service to the community and await the great Judgement.
No doubt, this is a over-simplification. Most Amish do not discuss religion with outsiders, nor even among themselves. It’s simply not necessary.

Furthermore, the above applies generally to Old Order. New Order Amish sects have daily family devotional time that utilizes the entire Bible. They also embrace witnessing in hospitals and jails, doing missionary work, etc., similiar to Evangelical Christians, although their worship services are still quite similiar to Old Order.
I must stress these are fine lines of distinction that shouldn’t be overemphasized, and also, I am not a theologian nor an expert by any means. I am drawing subjective conclusions based on my research and verbal interviews.

This question answered by Mary Ellis, author of A Widow’s Hope and Never Far From Home (coming in winter of 2010).

Q: Who are the Amish? What are their origins, and what do they believe?
Cory, Galesburg, Illinois

A: The history of the Amish goes back to the time of the Reformation when a group of Protestant believers called themselves Anabaptists or re-baptizers. Their signature was believer’s baptism as opposed to the practice of the Catholic Church, which baptized infants. They were also a non-violent people. As happened to many of the protesting believers, the Anabaptists suffered severely from persecution with many of their group being martyred. Menno Simons, a Dutchman, was their leader from the late 1530′s til his death in 1561. Today’s Mennonites trace their heritage and their name back to him.

In the late 1600′s a group of Mennonites became dissatisfied with what they deemed the easing of early Mennonite teachings like shunning, done, they said, to mitigate persecution. Under the leadership of fiery Jacob Ammon, they broke from the Mennonites. While they still held to the cardinal Anabaptists tenets of believer’s baptism and non-violence, they also espoused a strict code of dress and behavior.

The first Amish, called such after Jacob Ammon, came to America from the Palatinate in Germany in 1707 to be part of William Penn’s holy experiment in religious tolerance in Pennsylvania. They settled in the Lancaster County area, about fifty miles west of Philadelphia. In this land of rich black soil, their farms prospered.

Today the Old Order or House Amish live in several states, Canada, even the country of Belize. Their congregations are organized at the local level, and rules like the width of the brim on a man’s hat or the number of pins in a woman’s dress may differ from district to district. (A district is a congregation that will fit into a home for worship.) Amish are trilingual with worship held in High German, daily conversations among the group conducted in Low German, and English being used in their contacts with the world around them.

The Ordnung, the unwritten code that governs Amish life, is structured to protect the two emtities most precious to the community, the Church and the family. Due to the practice of local leadership, decisions about modern developments and technology differ from area to area as well as district to district. For instance, in rural communities in Michigan bicycles are allowed while in Lancaster County, they are forbidden.

Rumspringa is the wild oat sowing Amish young people indulge in beginning at about age 16. The thought is that they must know what they are turning their backs on when they join the church. The vast majority of their young people return to the strict way of life in which they were raised. Once they join the church following their believer’s baptism, they are expected to conform for the good of the community. If they break the Ordnung and refuse to repent, they are shunned. Amish young people cannot marry without joining the church.

Humility, frugality, responsibility and hard work are virtues of the highest order, and Amish children and young people are taught to do their part to help the family. Individualism is discouraged as is education beyond eighth grade or any of the arts and sciences not seen as having a practical use.

Life among the Amish may appear simple, but it is not easy or idyllic. The Amish are as human as the rest of us and face tragedy, illness, poor crops, and rebellious children too. But they are clever and intelligent and above all adaptable. Their community is large and strong. Their commitment to their faith and to each other should guarantee that they flourish in the midst of modernity for the foreseeable future.

This question answered by Gayle Roper, author of A Stranger’s Wish, coming in winter 2010

Q: Mary, I just finished your book A Widow’s Hope, and I’m wondering if this is going to be a series? Also, I read in another Amish-based fiction book that a young girl had an English pen pal. Do you know if they allow such a thing, or was this just part of the book?
–Kenya

A: Yes, it’s a series. The 2nd in the Miller Family Series, Never Far from Home, will be released in Jan. 2010. To my understanding, although pen pals are encouraged in most cases, generally they would have to be Amish or Menonnite. An exception might be made if the person asked her bishop, and probably, had the letters reviewed by her parents to make sure nothing objectionable was inside. Amish parents prefer minimized contact with English teenagers, but generally wouldn’t forbid it unless given reason.
–Mary Ellis, author of The Miller Family Series

Q: I read where the Amish plant lots of celery when a person marries. What is the reason behind them doing this? Thank you.
–Yvonne

A: This question was a tricky one! When we asked Jerry Eicher, who was raised Amish, about this question, he had never heard of the custom. Neither had Hillary Manton Lodge, who researched the Amish extensively for her novel, Plain Jayne. However, several websites indicate that celery is an important part of the wedding meal. Other sites suggest that celery may even be used as a decoration in place of flowers. However, confirming these details with absolute certainty is difficult.

Here’s what Jerry Eicher had to say…

I have no knowledge of such a custom, nor have my sources, my wife, or my mother. But that may be because of the Amish we were associated with. I did find some web info.
It sounds like the practice is related to Lancaster, which is an Amish world of its very own. (I heard from a reliable source that funerals in Lancaster are attended by invitation only). Yet none of the info on the site I referenced above sounded unreasonable. It’s all possible.
Personally, I would still take the celery patch theory with a grain of salt. Remember, in the present day there are many Amish vegetable stands, and the business practices among the Amish have changed, even in Pennsylvania (furniture making, cabinet shops, etc. are now common). Each family may no longer have to raise the celery for the wedding.

Hillary Manton Lodge adds…

“I hadn’t heard of this either, so I did some digging. In his book Amish Society (which I used heavily in my own research process), John Hostetler writes about the Amish wedding process. The Amish don’t do engagements; usually, the parents are the only ones who know of an upcoming wedding. Celery figures into the wedding feast cuisine quite heavily, so if there’s a wedding in the future, the mother may plant extra celery. You can find information from Hostetler’s book online here.

Hostetler doesn’t elaborate on the reason or method. Wikipedia also lists the presence of celery.

My guess is that the celery still happens in farming families, predominantly in Lancaster. The Amish are very frugal, so if they’re in a position to plant and raise something themselves rather than purchase it, they will. It is important to note that a lot of Hostetler’s information is dated by about forty years.

Q: Why don’t the Amish reach out to win the lost? Even the King James Bible says that he that winneth souls is wise. Since they regard outsiders as lost but want their money for quilts, bakery items, furniture, etc., I would think they would love their “English” neighbors enough to see them won to the Lord.

A: This answer from Jerry Eicher, author of the Adams County Trilogy
One could say, in justification of the Amish, that some of them actually do mission work. I know many of the Amish in Holmes County are involved in mission work in Haiti . I personally grew up in an Amish outreach community in Honduras. But the real answer is that the Amish don’t feel they need any justification for how they live. Perhaps that is hard to conceive, but as Einstein discovered with nature, observation is relative. It really does depend on your point of view.

Number one, the Amish don’t see the world as lost. It’s just not in their constitution. They see the world as dangerous, as a threat, as a temptation, but only in relation to them. If you can live otherwise, then that’s not a problem. They expect God to judge the Englisha different than He does them.

Number two, the Amish don’t see mission work the same way as you do. They in fact consider themselves to be missionaries. They just don’t save souls–that’s someone else’s job. Their calling is to be salt of the earth, the purifier of men, the restraining righteousness that might perhaps even save a nation. This has been rooted deep in their heritage for more than 500 years.

So does it work? It did for their forefathers. Almost single-handedly, a small band of men turned Europe upside down. They so irritated both the reformers Zwingli and Calvin, and the Catholic Church, that they were pursued, persecuted, and killed by the hundreds, in some places like rabbits run to the ground. Yet their ideas–adult baptism, the symbolic nature of the sacraments, non-violence, and separation of church and state–won the day. Today we hardly realize that men once gave their lives for these beliefs.

Does it work today? I don’t know; I guess it depends. But you have to ask yourself, what so mesmerized the world when the Amish school shooting in Nickels Mines, Pa. happened? And why are you reading Amish fiction? You have to wonder.The Amish march to the beat of their own drum, and sometimes the world does stop to listen.