Amish Diversity

Michelle wrote: 

I’m a fairly new reader, I found your blog after a google search on celery. I’ve always been fascinated by the way the Amish live so lately I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on. Since I haven’t been able to find an answer, my big question is about celery. Why does it play such an important role surrounding marriage and what is it’s symbolism?

Michelle, I didn’t think it would take me this long to answer your question, especially because I can refer you to an earlier post in which I addressed this question: 

Amish and the Color Blue, Superstitions, and Celery at Weddings

Diversity is not usually a word we associate with the Amish, but I am realizing just how diverse the Amish are in their various communities. I did not even know that some Amish eat celery at weddings until after I left the Amish. I also never heard of “Amish Friendship Bread” and I’d never eaten a Shoo-Fly Pie until after I left. 

And this does not just apply to food. I had no idea that at least one Amish community didn’t allow hardwood floors in their community until I read that on Mary Ann’s blog. The community in Somerset, Pennsylvania is the only one I am aware of that has church buildings, where the community meets for church services, rather than meeting in people’s homes (or sheds or barns).  

The rules of the church (Ordnung) vary quite a bit from one community to another. Besides such obvious things as the women’s style of head coverings and and the style of buggies, there are such things as window coverings — in my home community, we were not allowed to have shades, but in Lancaster and some other communities, they have to have green vinyl shades and as far as I know are not allowed to have curtains. And what is allowed on buggies in terms of lights, storm fronts, and gadgets, varies a great deal.

Another thing that varies greatly is the level of leeway the parents lend their young people when they are dating. No Amish parents I know literally give their young people a conscious choice about staying or leaving (contrary to common perception that rumspringa equals conscious choice), but some parents allow still give their young people a “longer rein” in some communities than they do in others. I know in some communities, the young people are required to join church before they are allowed to date. This allows the parents and elders to “rein in” their young people much more tightly.

One thing that I was really surprised by when I was doing my internship with Donald Kraybill (and he was just as surprised as I was) that the time period for “temporary shunning” varies from one community to another — where I grew up, that time period is two weeks, but in Lancaster (and perhaps other communities, too) that time period is six weeks. 

I just realized that I’ve not addressed temporary shunning before. Normally there are several levels of church discipline to bring errant church members into compliance with the Ordnung. The first level is to make a public confession sitting before the bishop. The second is to kneel before the bishop. And the third is to be temporarily shunned, and then some weeks later, if with the proper show of contrition, the errant members makes a kneeling confession and is welcomed back into the church. 

So the Amish may not have too much diversity in terms of race or ethnicity, but they certainly do in terms of their rules, traditions, and beliefs. I am still learning just how much they do vary.

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3 thoughts on “Amish Diversity”

  1. I am not surprised at all that Amish is so diverse in their customs. They do not have as much chance travelling outside their own community (for example to Amish in another state) and therefore the isolation will create these differences. Nowadays I guess Amish travel more but it is still harder than for the average person. I think that fact that Amish also do not have written down rules but base their community on doing what they always have done will also make for variations. ‘What we have always done’ will vary in different places and communities will come to different decisions in different places.

  2. Mind control is a bad thing – no matter where it is practiced – whether it be Hitler or a church. When people are not allowed to think for themselves the whole world suffers.

  3. Was just thinking of teenagers and this post made me think of rumspringa and how one community in our area left their old one in either Indiana or Ohio because they felt there was too much freedom offered to the teens. The midwest Amish teens were getting into trouble and these families wanted to turn that tradition around. New rules for a new community.

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