The Amish – A profile of courage and commitment – conclusion
Lest we forget
While this series of articles speaks to the history and religious practices of the Amish, it should not detract from the history of the pioneer families who settled in what is now Pocahontas County as far back as the 1700s. Those are the families that brought agriculture, logging and railroads to a mountainous wilderness and paved the way for the rest of us.
Their family names still ring throughout the mountains and hollows of Pocahontas County: McNeill, Nottingham, McNeel, Beard, Wooddell, Kinnison, Kellison, Workman, Price, Arbogast and many more.
All who followed did so because of the courage and hard work of these early residents of our county.
“If it’s bad for the family, we don’t do it.” Old Order Amish phrase.
In the conclusion of this series on Old Order Amish, we’ll discuss a few more practices of this anachronistic and steadfast lifestyle. Amish ways vary from community to community; we should not assume that all follow the same rules.
Telephones came out in the first decades of the last century, and by 1920, they were common in homes. The phone was one of the first modern technologies banned by the Amish in 1910.
As time passed, many communities loosened their ordnungen to allow the Amish to use payphones. Now, seeing a telephone in the barn is not so unusual. Cell phones are starting to be seen in some Amish communities.
We already know that the Amish do not drive cars, and that is as a result of a ban implemented in 1920. However, riding in a car or other forms of transportation is permitted. After all, moving your family, household goods, and livestock across several states would be pushing a buggy’s limits.
To be shunned
Shunning is an Amish practice we all have some conception of but may wish to more fully understand. Shunning is a decision on the part of the community to stop most interaction with a parishioner who has violated rules.
When shunned, you can no longer eat meals with your family or ride in a buggy with community members. Depending upon the ordnungen of a given community, those shunned are treated as a persona non grata and forbidden from participating in church activities or work.
Shunning is similar to excommunication in the Catholic church or disfellowship with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Amish do not consider shunning a punishment but an act of love. The family and the community want nothing more than for the offender to recognize their offenses and often attempt to avoid shunning through an intervention by the bishop or other church members.
What infractions may result in shunning?
Shunning may be based upon sins as prescribed by the Christian bible; acts such as unmarried sex, adultery, theft, and even deception. Or, the problem may be as simple as wearing unapproved clothing.
Amish reject adornments; they do not want to draw attention to themselves. Remember that the plain Amish clothing represents their humility, so any form of adornment, even something as simple as a man putting a bend in his straight-brimmed hat, is a display of being “different,” and that won’t fly in most Old Order Amish communities.
Is shunning permanent?
It’s not intended to be permanent but depends on the infraction and if the offender is remorseful and wishes to be part of the community again. If so, a sincere confession to the minister or the community at large will result in lifting the shunning restrictions.
Shunning is relatively rare in most Amish communities and is considered a last resort to get the attention and eventual return of those breaking the rules. Fortunately, the door is left open for those shunned because being torn from family, friend, and the church can be, at the very least, a painful experience.
A brief laundry list of activities that are forbidden or permitted:
1. Divorce – this is rare in Amish communities, although separation is not unheard of.
2. Music and dance – although dancing is not forbidden as such, it is simply not an activity practiced by Old Order Amish. Recorded music is regarded as bringing the outside world into the Amish world and considered a worldly and prideful activity.
3. Vacations – Yes, Amish do go on vacations. A friend who works at the Tamarack tells me that many Amish and Mennonites visit there frequently. There is a particularly popular vacation spot for Amish in Sarasota, Florida – Aye, the Amish are but snowbirds like many of us here in the northern latitudes.
4. Swimming – Bathing and swimming is permitted for adults but only with those of your own sex. However, children of both sexes can swim together until they begin maturing.
5. Deliberate flaws in quilts – That Amish deliberately put flaws in their quilts so as not to appear perfect before God is considered by most sources as a legend. Nevertheless, quilts are seldom made without at least some unintended mistakes, so offending God is not likely.
Is humankind an oxymoron?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one blemish in the business practices of some Amish and Mennonite communities, one that shocks many people, particularly those who love dogs.
Few today are unfamiliar with the term “puppy mill,” thanks to news reports and articles, and the efforts of animal rescue groups to make us aware of such inhumane practices. These commercial breeding establishments are often hell-holes; once you visit one, you can never get the horrific scene out of your head.
The Amish and Mennonites do run their share of puppy mills, 134 out of an estimated total of 268 breeding facilities in Holmes County, Ohio, with an estimated 10,000 such establishments nationwide.
However, the Amish are not the only ones participating in these dreadful and shameful enterprises. Those among our general population (English) also benefit financially through the pain and humiliation these dogs experience. Likewise, not all breeders run a “dirty” shop.
When I mentioned puppy mills to one Amish man, he told me that they are humane to all of their animals but do not believe in animal rights. I assume this was a “dominion over all creatures” kind of guy.
He was correct in that most Amish take good care of their animals; they depend on them more than most of us English. But sometimes, an easy profit blinds us to the cruelty required to make a dirty dollar.
It is my sincerest hope that this beautiful county will never be known as a refuge for puppy mills.
Before we conclude our series about the Old Order Amish, I want to discuss photographing Amish people. It is tempting to pick up that cell phone and photograph the Amish in their quaint clothing and horse-drawn buggies, but please, do not take frontal shots. The Amish take seriously the Bible’s admonishments about “graven images.”
In summation, the Amish are inspiring in their tenacity for living the “old ways” when surrounded by an ever-burgeoning growth of consumerism and invasive technology. We could all benefit from living a simpler and slower life, where we recognize our needs are more important than our desires. A less complicated life is good not only for the soul but also for our planet.
Until next time,