Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Joining the Amish

Anonymous asked: Who do you think would have a harder time joining an Amish community an “English” woman or man?

First of all, it is not easy for an “English” person to join the Amish, whether you are a woman or a man. There are so many barriers. The language alone is a huge one, but that is not the hardest. To go from confined thinking to free-thinking is a whole lot easier than the other way around as would be the case if you were educated in the traditional sense. You would have to fold up all that “knowledge” and store it away to collect dust, for it will do you no good for integrating into an Amish community. Perhaps the hardest thing of all is to learn how to accept the Amish ways without question when you haven’t been taught to do that as a young child. When things get rough, most people know that they have the option to leave the situation they find difficult or unworkable. So, growing up in the outside culture would make it a lot easier for you to say, “Good-bye” and walk away. It is not as easy as that when you are brought up in the Amish way of life. The Amish know all this, and that is why they are reticent to accept “English” people joining their fold.

Having said all this, I would say it is harder for women than men. For one thing, women have to “submit” to a lot more than men do, including deferring to the husband’s authority. Of course this also depends on the nature of the person joining, but one basically cannot be resistant to “submission” of the Amish religion and way of life and still be accepted into the Amish community.

I know of two cases in which someone did join the Amish — in fact both joined the very church district I left. The first involves a woman who joined, the second a man. The woman was married to someone who grew up Amish. They had met and fallen in love with one another when they were both working in a hospital — he was working as an orderly during his years of volunteer service during the Vietnam War, when he claimed conscientious objector status — and she was a nurse. They got married outside the Amish faith and had several children. He found he was pulled towards the Amish lifestyle, yet he and his wife were committed to staying together. She said she would do whatever it took to make him happy. They did join the Amish. This happened only a few years after I had left the Amish and married my husband. My mother kept telling me about this couple and how well they were doing (I found out later she had omitted the difficulties), as a way of inferring that David and I could do the same.

I am not privy to many of the details of the problems this couple has encountered, but I know that one day this woman made a linguistic mistake and was laughed at in a social situation. Her response was to refuse to speak in the Amish language after that. It is hard for me to imagine that the Amish accommodated her by speaking English to her in church services and other social situations, but they did indeed, even when they knew she understood their language and could speak it.

When the oldest daughter in this family started her “rum springa” years (dating period), her mother did not like the dating practices of bed courtship (see “Traditional Amish Dating Practices” of December 29, 2009) and so she told her daughter she may sit at the dining room table with her dates. The Amish women huddled together and said this is not the way it it’s done, and fussed about how they better let the mother know this (as if she didn’t already know it, and had perhaps made a decision to the contrary). it was a ). The women made as if this were a matter of letting her know, rather than accepting that this was a family decision that they shouldn’t meddle in. They were not going to stand for something being done “differently” even though this was none of their business. This is so very typical of the way individuals are kept in line in the Amish community.

The man I mentioned above, joined the Amish and married a young woman from the community. From what I understand, he had a fairly easy time of integrating into the community, most likely because he had Amish in his heritage — even his name is Amish-sounding. If I can get a sense of how he is presently doing, I will post it later.

Overall, joining the Amish as an outsider is a difficult thing because on the one hand, you cannot care too much whether or not you will be accepted or “one of them,” while on the other hand, that is precisely why most people would want to join in the first place — to be part of a tight-knit community. If you have a personality in which being a follower comes naturally, it can be done. You just have to be sure of why you are doing it (and then abandon all other “why” questions after you join).

Below are pictures of Amish people walking home from a church service. I am fairly certain that in the first photo the tall man on the right is one of my first cousins on my mother’s side of the family. Doesn’t he look like a character?

Photos by Sarah Weaver

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