The surging Amish population in America recently has brought public attention to a very private people. The Amish, whose roots date back to the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, have seen their numbers rise of late, their current population of 249,500 expected to double by 2024. While much of the public knows the Amish for the hard-working, technology rejecting rural lifestyle, not much else is widely known.
The Amish movement was is rooted in the Anabaptist religion (Anabaptist being a play on the phrase “rebaptizers”) in Europe by Jacob Ammann in an attempt to restart the ways of the Anabaptist religion. The Anabapists had previously been persecuted for their beliefs, being burned at the stake, imprisoned and executed for openly practicing the Anabaptist religion. Ammann sought to upstart the religion, making proposals on religious practices to observe. He sought to make communion twice a year as in accordance with Swedish practices, suggesting that Christians wash each other’s feet during the service. He forbade the trimming of beards and wearing fashionable dress. His followers became known as the Amish, and moved to France to avoid Swiss persecution. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Amish migrated to America, and today there is no known Amish population in Europe.
Staying in tradition with Anabaptist beliefs, adults baptize themselves and each other, followers believing that it should be an adult decision to follow Jesus. They believe firmly in the separation of church and state, being one the early proponents of the movement. They are more concerned with practicing their faith rather than preaching a particular doctrine. The religious persecution their ancestors suffered led them to lives of promoting peace, loving enemies and forgiveness. There is a great respect for the elderly, those acting against them being shunned and facing possible excommunication if they don’t repent their sins to their elders. Being that the Amish population is largely young, there is a great emphasis on the young, and their devotion to the church and Jesus’s teachings.
One notable rite of passage for the young is the rite of Rumspringa. For those not yet baptized and under the control of the church, they are given the freedom to explore the outside world. Some communities offer adult supervision during this particular time. Rumspringa is meant as way to decide if a person wants to be baptized and go with the Church’s teachings. Their exploration of the outside world is an integral part of their emotional growth, being introduced to other ways of life to decide what they want for themselves. Many often adhere to the Amish way of life while going through Rumspringa, some look for something completely different, wearing different clothes and going to nightclubs and parties. A big worry for the elders is youths experimenting with drugs and promiscuity in their naiveté. After this period, many come back to the fold and join the church.
Amish medical practices vary, there being no biblical references for members to live by. They are not opposed to surgery and some seek modern medicine for serious ailments; simple illnesses are usually treated by folk remedies and herbal teas. They often look for natural healing to treat the sick, some even going so far as going to Mexico to seek unorthodox treatments unavailable in the United States. Amish businessmen open up their own drugstores to the Amish and outsiders alike, offering traditional medical treatments to make them easily accessible. If there are medical bills, they are in fact paid by the church.
Leisure time is spent outdoors, playing sports and enjoying picnics. Traveling for family reunions is common, sightseeing along the way. A recent occurrence is groups of Amish chartering buses for field trips to zoos and historic sites. Family reunions and picnics are common. Children enjoy activities around the farm, using it as their playground, playing with the animals and imitating their parents’ work on the fields. Baseball is a popular pastime, as are swimming and camping. The men also hunt, sometimes renting cabins or boats to go on hunting expeditions.
The Amish are people too, dealing with everyday problems such as jealousy and anger. While pointedly apart from the outside world, violence and sexual abuse does occur. Marriages sometimes end in divorce and the youth are sometimes led astray. A pious people, they are steadfast in their religious beliefs and aim to only be a good, church going people. They do not receive government aid and take care of their own; families take in their elders in their later years and do not send them to nursing homes. There is no unemployment or homelessness. There is no bias against the disabled, no one person being inferior to the other. The Amish have managed to avoid many of the plights that plague modern society, and have remained a steadfast, solid society.
Elizabethtown College Staff, “Amish Studies”, The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College
Timothy Aeppel, “The Amish Population Boom”, the Wall Street Journal
Brad Igou, “The Traditional Family and the Amish”, Amishnews.com