The Amish In Northern Indiana

Goshen College lies between two of the most prominent Amish settlements in the mid-west:

Skirted on the east by the third largest Amish settlement in America, Goshen students rub shoulders with this unique otherworldly community with relative ease and comfort. Highlighted by the newly-completed Shipshewana visitor center, Menno Hof, the community attracts more than a million visitors each year.

Smaller in numbers and territorial size is the Amish community southwest of the college. It is equally rich in Amish life and culture and includes the converted farmstead, Amish Acres, sporting a new red round barn-theatre that gives daily performances of "Plain & Fancy," and features a popular restaurant along with entertainment.

The Amish broke away from the Mennonites nearly 300 years ago when differences arose among Anabaptist leaders in Switzerland and Alsace. Seeking a stricter lifestyle including the Streng Meidung, or shunning, which includes the social avoidance of erring church members. Tensions ran high and eventually in 1693, a complete split occurred. Forty years later, many Amish responded to William Penn's invitation to come to America and settle the land. No Amish now remain in Europe. Currently there are approximately 145,000 Amish men, women and children living in 22 states in the United States and in Ontario, Canada. There are 220 Amish settlements accommodating over 900 geographically determined church districts.

Persistence of tradition and slowness to modernize have characterized the Amish as they have steadily sought to carve out their lifestyle which is a culture apart from the world. Even at the dawn of the 21st century, Amish are characterized as humble folk--hard working, neighborly, otherworldly, agrarian, God-fearing, ethnically homogeneous--who live the simple life and live it well.

Searching for general characteristics that encompass all Old Order Amish groups even in their cultural and religious variations, the following seem dominent:

  1. Separatism. Otherworldliness, non-conformity based on Biblical teachings in Romans 12:1-2 and II Cor. 6:14. This pervades the entire lifestyle of the Amish (dress, language, work, travel and education).
  2. Simple Life. Simplicity and humility (demut) are stressed in Amish community. Education and training is limited to elementary levels. Amish warn of the "pagan" philosophy and the intellectual enterprise of "fallen man." Historically, they avoid all training associated with self exaltation, pride of position, enjoyment of power and the art of war and violence.
  3. Family Life. Amish marry Amish. No intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare. They are strictly monogamous and generally patriarchal. Sex roles are clearly defined. The average family size is 7-8 children. Homosexuality is not recognized as an acceptable lifestyle.
  4. Harmony with the soil and nature. Manual labor is good (Amish have little regard for labor-saving devices). Hard work and thriftiness are virtues. Amish believe that God is pleased when people work in harmony with nature, the soil, the weather and care of animals and plants. Amish always live in rural community. By contrast, the city is viewed as a center of leisure, non-productive spending, and often as the stage for evil and wickedness.
  5. Mutual Assistance. Amish do not survive outside of community. There is much neighboring in the community, and helping each other is the most common way of socializing. They carry no life or property insurance; the church assists in cases of major loss. Large families generally give assurance of care for the elderly. Only rarely do Amish retire to places other than the dawdyhaus, a small house built next to the main farm house. Retired Amish farmers do not receive Social Security.
  6. Disciplined Church Community. Discipline in the Amish community can be sometimes harsh and uncompromising. Baptized members are morally committed to church rules. Erring members are generally excommunicated and shunned until there is forgiveness and restoration to full fellowship.
  7. The Mennonite Historical Library located on the campus of Goshen College contains approximately 45,000 volumes, an unrivaled collection of Anabaptistica and Mennonitica that includes substantial source materials on the Amish, on family genealogies, local history, and Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

Essay by Samuel L. Yoder, Ed.D.
Pen drawings from Amishland Studios, c.1958

Additional articles and web sites about various aspects of Amish life:

Seniors for Peace, a site offering concepts of peace and justice as they apply to contemporary times. Seniors for Peace projects a perspective of people of mature years and is an international and inter-faith organization.

Amish, "The Best Collection Of Amish Recipes" Offering a broad range of recipes from Amish to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions.

html editing by Lon Sherer,