The Distinction between Owning and Using…

Anniem asked: I had a question. From the line,”Some communities allow their members to use electricity in their homes, so long as they don’t own it.” I wonder what they aren’t to own: the house, the electric bill or the appliance?

Thank you for the excellent question, Annie. It is the home itself they cannot own for it to even be wired for electricity. While I was growing up, there were Amish families living on farms they didn’t own. It was called “farming on shares.” Basically the “English” farm owner would allow the Amish family to live on the farm and manage it and they would split the proceeds 50/50. There was a family who lived up the road from us who had this arrangement. The family had an electric bulk tank out by the barn, and they milked the cows with milkers. They used tractors for working the fields instead of horses. The electric conveniences were not confined to the barn, though. They were allowed to have a telephone,  electric appliances, including a refrigerator and freezer, and they were even allowed to use electric irons, which I considered one of the biggest luxuries of all — they didn’t have to put up with the gas fumes. (We used a “Coleman” gas iron, which was not only hot, but it gave off noxious fumes.)

I believe part of the reason nobody in our church district restricted this family from using these conveniences was because the family was so big — they had seventeen children. The thinking was that it with a family that big, you needed all the help you could get. We often went and used their telephone and they sometimes brought us messages (often by driving down on a tractor). Nevertheless, I often envied their “handies” as my mother used to call these things. However, when I saw the whole family at their dinner table, I knew I wouldn’t trade. I could not imagine having so many brothers and sisters that I might not remember all their names.

So, this “you can use, but you cannot own” policy works for many Amish. In one case an Amishman was asked why it was okay for him to hire someone to drive him places, but it wasn’t okay for him to own the car. He responded with, “When you fly somewhere, do you buy a ticket or the plane?” This is a humorous response, but it really doesn’t answer the question. With the Amish it’s all about “being in the world, but not of it.” And a common Amish witticism is, “You have to draw the line somewhere.”

2 thoughts on “The Distinction between Owning and Using…”

  1. Hi,

    A small comment on the sharing etc. In the church where I visit in Michigan there are about 4 “community” freezers located throughout the district. One of the families has a big trailer sized freezer and all the neighbors put frozen food in it.

    As for more churches not living in “english” houses etc. for the sake of convience is kind of depending on the people. For the most part the Amish I’ve met (limited to only a few Amish churches in MI) WANT and CHOOSE to live the way they do. They accept what the church says they may or may not have (modern convience wise). But I am sure many of them would want to do this but lots of them choose to live this way and want to live without the modern things etc.

    Sorry, I’m probably not really qualified to answer and Saloma you can corret me if I’m wrong I’m just trying to help based on my knowledge of the church I visit.

    ~Kate

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