Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Diversity among Amish

Susan J. Reinhardt wrote: “I find it surprising at the disparity between the Amish in various geographic areas. I’d always assumed the Lancaster Amish were representative of all the Amish communities.”

I am still learning about just how diverse the various Amish communities are — and oftentimes in surprising ways. Having grown up Amish, I was aware that the style of dress and the Ordnung in different communities varied, but not to the degree I am learning about in the years since I’ve been researching the Amish.

As far as I know, this is still true of all Amish: Part of church discipline, requires that members of the community will make public confessions for their transgressions. There are different levels of church discipline, depending on the level of the offense. The most lenient church discipline is for the errant member to make a confession while sitting on a bench before the bishop. The second level is for the errant member to make a confession while kneeling in front of the bishop. The third level is for the errant member to be temporarily excommunicated. When I was still among the Amish, I thought all Amish churches used a two-week period for this temporary excommunication. However, while I was doing my internship for Donald Kraybill at the Young Center, I discovered that the Lancaster County Amish use a six-week period instead. This was confirmed by an Amish member I spoke with, who was just as surprised to find that the Geauga County Amish use a two-week period.

So as far as I know, there is no Amish community that is representative of all Amish. When I was growing up, I knew very little about the Lancaster Amish, other than they allowed tourists into their homes for tours, gave buggy rides to tourists, and generally accepted tourism as part of their way of life. The Geauga County Amish actually used the Lancaster community as an example of what they didn’t want for their community and therefore did not welcome tourists into their midst. Until the last time I was in Holmes County, I would have said that their community was somewhere in between Geauga and Lancaster on this issue. But after seeing all the tourism during my recent trip, I would say they have gone more the way of the Lancaster Amish.

Another thing that I know that is still true of all Amish is that they use horse and buggies for transportation. When I visited our different communities, I noticed how differently they light their buggies at night. In my home community, the Amish have taken to putting LED (light emitting diodes) lights on their buggies. This is the latest technology in lighting, often used for traffic lights. LEDs are very energy efficient, so this is actually a smart way to go for the Amish, because they don’t need to charge their batteries as often. Each buggy in Geauga County has several sets of lights, including red blinking lights in the back, headlights in the front, and I’ve even seen one buggy with a turning signal flashing. Besides all the lights, they have reflective strips on the backs of the buggies.

When I was in Indiana, I noticed that the lighting is very poor on their buggies. There is one light on each side of the buggy. There is a clear globe for the front, and a red globe for the back. I found themĀ  dim and there were no reflective strips on the backs of the buggies. This made it very difficult to see them, which is obviously dangerous if car drivers are not paying attention. Buggies just don’t stand a chance against a car — they fly apart on impact.

As far as I know, all Amish women wear head coverings. But the style of coverings varies from one community to another. In fact, when I was growing up, if we saw other Amish people while traveling, we could usually tell to which community they belonged by the style of the women’s coverings and dresses.

These are just a few examples of the diversity that exists among the Amish. There are many more examples. There are, however, quite a few things that are universal among the Amish. In my next post, I will point out the ones I know (or think I know — I could be surprised again, as I was with the length of the period for temporary excommunication).

Thank you, Susan, for your comments.

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