3 posts categorized "Swiss Amish"

October 23, 2007

My top five Amish settlements

Who loves rankings? (everyone loves rankings)--today I offer my personal top-five favorite Amish settlements.  I hope you'll indulge my self-indulgence for this one day (I've been wanting to do this post for a long long time!).  I haven't been everywhere, but of the 17-or-so communities I've visited, these are the ones I would most readily revisit (and do when I can), and why.

1.Daviess County, Indiana--I really love the Amish people down in Daviess County.  I love how the settlement feels well off the beaten path, with a minimal tourist industry for a fairly large collection of Amish (toned-down compared to Nappanee, similar-sized, on the opposite end of the state).  I loved learning people's nicknames, which was super-important with such high-naming-homogeneity (85% of the people here share just six last names).  I got my first taste of Amish peanut butter and first invitation to church here, unsolicited.  Very friendly folks.  And an odd southern twang to the accent makes a Daviess Amishman easy to spot anywhere outside the settlement.

2.Arthur, Illinois-- the first Amish settlement I ever happened upon.  That's probably a big part of the reason it's number two.  Arthur is in many ways a classic Amish community--it's of a size where nearly everyone still sort-of knows everyone else, it still has a fair percentage of farmers yet has embraced the idea of home-based businesses (wood shops flourish here), and has a fairly uniform Ordnung across the settlement.  Like the Kalona settlement in Iowa, it is centered around a quaint, smallish town that sort of tries to rev up a tourist industry but doesn't quite get there.  All the better for the atmosphere.  Click this neat link to learn an interesting fact about the Arthur Amish and vehicles.

3.Holmes County, Ohio-- this would be number one but for nostalgiac reasons giving the top two spots to Arthur and Daviess.  Holmes County is in my opinion the most scenically beautiful and interesting of all settlements, with its diversity of Amish population and hilly rural setting.  It's touristy, but nothing like Lancaster.  I probably know more Amish, better, here than anywhere else.  This is where they broke me in, after all.

4.New Wilmington, Pennsylvania--I only visited here a day and an evening, but absolutely loved it.  Blue doors, brown buggies

5.Allen County, Indiana--  A Swiss Amish settlement that is starting to butt heads with a major urban area.  Has an interesting charm to it, due to its various 'quirks'.  The Allen County Amish are a bit more gruff than those in, say, Daviess County or Elkhart/Lagrange, a bit more wary of outsiders.  When you get past the somewhat aloof exterior there are some very nice folks here.  The Amish in Allen County only drive open-top buggies and heavily favor building with brick.  The settlement has a wealthy feel to it due to that.  It doesn't seem to be a facade.  The construction business has done very well here.  My books also did very well here.

In Allen County, there seems to be an odd mix of rulesMost homes have indoor bathrooms, while a significant number of folks have stuck with outdoor privies.  Yet cellphones are prominent.  English is creeping in, perhaps a bit too close for comfort.  But there is definitely a conservative streak here.  These Amish have close ties to the very conservative Swiss group in Adams County, just on the other side of Fort Wayne.

Disclaimer:  My comments here are mostly superficial and done in good fun.  I've met great folks and enjoyed my time everywhere I've been in Amish America.

But I wonder, what are your favorite Amish settlements and why?

June 06, 2007

The Amish Church District

The Amish arrange themselves into compact groupings known as church districts. 

Each district has its own name, usually a geographically-based one--Lamoni South, Randolph, and Crab Orchard are examples of places providing names for districts, these being found in Iowa, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

Since the Amish travel by horse-and-buggy to one another's homes for Sunday service, most districts are grouped together in a logical, geographical manner.  The district line often runs down the middle of the road, which means you might attend with a different group of families than your neighbor across the street.

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photo: Bill Coleman

Districts in northern Indiana and Arthur, Illinois tend to be block-shaped, keeping with the gridlike road plans of the area.  Holmes County, Ohio congregation lines meander along the winding lanes that are characteristic of the hilly country.

New Order Amish churches tend to be more spread out in Holmes County, Ohio--probably because New Order Amish constitute a minority of the 200+ congregations here and must bunch together however possible.  In some districts, members' homes may be ten or more miles apart from one another, about a 90-minute buggy ride.  Contrast that with, say, a certain district in the heart of Lagrange County, Indiana, whose families all fit on a half-mile-by-mile postage stamp of land.  Walk to church?  No sweat.

A church typically has a set of two or three ministers, a deacon, and a bishop whom they might share with another district.  Generally speaking, the ministers and the bishop do the preaching on Sundays, and the bishop acts as the head of the congregation and final level of authority.         

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The deacon usually does not preach, but helps with discipline issues and is a bit of a social go-between,  for instance acting to facilitate pre-nuptial proceedings between families. 

Regarding discipline, the deacon will probably be the first guy that stops by after work to talk to you about 'putting away' your jet-ski or whatever offending technology or behavior you may be engaged in.  In this sense he may act as the bishop's 'right-hand' before he himself would get involved.

When churches get too big, they split.  Typical church size is 25-35 families;  when a church nears 40 families, it's usually thinking about dividing. 

Some settlements have unusually large congregations, however--in Allen County, Indiana, nearly a third have 40 or more families.  The record holder is a district which as of 2006 had a whopping 59 families under one bishop.  That is what you'd call a ripe one.

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photo: Randall Persing

Once a district splits, it's time to think about selecting a new ministry and eventually a bishop, a process that may take a few years.  In the meantime, the original bishop 'takes care' of the new district.

Church is on one Sunday, off the next.  Usually, if your district is off, you might pop in to the neighboring district's service, or go visiting to family and friends.  One thing is certain--no work gets done except for the most necessary chores--caring for animals, for example. 

And no business deals whatsoever--milk companies have had to make arrangements with Amish dairies to pick up milk (usually a daily thing) late Saturday night and then again shortly after midnight Monday morning, in order to accomodate this most strict of Amish customs.

February 23, 2007

Those Yodeling Amish

Random fact:

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The Amish yodel.  As in yodel-ay-eee-ooo.


Not all Amish, though, and maybe not quite like that.


This is a 'Swiss Amish' practice.  Within the Swiss sub-group, Chad L. Thompson tells us it's mainly done in two settlements that straddle Fort Wayne, Indiana--the Adams County bunch to the south, and to a lesser extent, Allen County to the north.

More nifty info on the yodel here.

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