I have been to this community on two occasions. My maternal grandmother grew up there. I wrote a story called “Sarah’s Courtship” that is based on experiences in her young adult life.
When I was In New Wilmington in the 1990s, it seemed that this community needed a new source of revenue because many were having a hard time making ends meet. But because of the rules of the church, they would not permit any of their people to own or work in an Amish-style restaurant because they didn’t want to promote tourism. It is considered one of the older Amish communities (founded in 1949), and it is fairly conservative.
Now this Amish community is divided on the issue of whether to sell mineral rights to the oil/gas companies. Some have already done so, and it sounds as though the first to do so some years ago didn’t ask their elders if they may. This is often how something new will creep into an Amish community… by default. While the elders focus on keeping the community from changing in one area, they miss the bigger changes that actually have more of a negative effect on their community. By the time it’s crept in, they cannot reverse it. In this case, mineral contracts with the oil companies are going to trump the Amish church Ordnung… It’s now too late to stop it — some contracts are already signed.
This is another example of how inconsistent some of the rules of the Amish Ordnung are, at least as seen from the outside. During one of my visits to my parents some years ago, I saw something that I’d never seen before… my niece was out mowing the lawn with a hand push mower, while her brother was using a weed whacker over by the fence line.
How does such a thing happen, you might ask. It’s because each time a new technology comes into being, the bishops in each church district have to decide whether or not to embrace this technology. Once that has been decided, they rarely reverse their decisions. So, back when the power lawn mowers came into being, the bishops in my home community decided against adopting them. Apparently when the weed whackers came into being, the bishops decided to allow them. It all depends who is bishop at the time, and who wants something new to be allowed. I know my maternal grandfather was instrumental in convincing the bishops to allow chain saws, back when they came into being. However, in Anna Miller’s community in upstate, New York, they are still not allowed to use chain saws.
Another example of something new creeping in, while adhering to an old rule is the telephone. Most Amish communities have traditionally eschewed telephones in their homes. Than along came the cell phone, which was a lot easier to hide and many Amish do. I wonder if cell phones would be more or less seductive to the Amish if home phones had been allowed? To me, the cell phone is much more individualistic and isolates people from one another more than a regular old home phone. Whether or not a technology is apt to bring people together or isolate them from one another is often a consideration for elders in Amish church districts.
So, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, it seems the elders lost control of whether or not their members sign on with the big oil companies. I wonder if they wish they’d been more lenient about working in restaurants or allowing more modern equipment for farming, or any number of other things. Or perhaps they don’t see the connection.
What do you think? Was signing on with the oil companies a mistake for the Amish in this community? Or a blessing?