This month’s topic about minorities has been interesting in that it allows me to recapture a visit to an Amish farm in Nappanee, Indiana, when visiting the United States last year. The Amish are a rather private group and so the visit, which was led by an Amish tour guide, was an intriguing look into a very different lifestyle to the one many of us live in today. They speak in Pennsylvanian German, which can sometimes be referred to as Pennsylvanian Dutch.
The Amish are a fascinating group of people who are considered a minority in this world. Despite European origins, there are around 165 000 Amish people in the United States and 1500 in Canada, with numbers increasing since the beginning of the twentieth century. This group of people are a minority because of their religious beliefs rather than because of their ethnic background. They are part of the Mennonite Church, which is a subgroup of the Christian Church. The Amish Church was set up because of a schism in Switzerland in a contest between the Swiss and the Alsation Anabaptists in 1693. The Amish were not the only result of these contests, with the Hutterites and Mennonities also being descent from the Anabaptist movement throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jakob Ammann was the leader of the Alsation Anabaptists during this time and so the people who chose to follow him became known as the Amish.
The Amish are particularly religious and have strict rules regarding baptism and marriage. Usually, baptism is done between the ages of 16 and 25, you are not an official member of the Amish community until you are baptised. It is a requirement for both people within a marriage to be baptised and of the same faith for the marriage to go ahead. There is no Church for the Amish religion; they instead meet in a member’s home in order for their services to be carried out. They must follow the Church rules at all times. This includes no electricity, televisions, mobile phones, cars and some types of clothing. There is also no participation in military service, nor participate in social security. They very much choose to live outside of modern-day society. Those which are unable to follow these rules are expected to excommunicate and are likely to be shunned by their family and friends. Around 90% of Amish teenagers do commit to the faith. There is a definite willingness to remain separate from the English-speaking world, and there is a very heavy influence on the importance of Church and family relationships. Formal education is stopped at the age of 13-14 where a more rural life will then generally be accepted.
In todays’ society, the Amish can often be treated with hostility because of their alternative lifestyle. There is constant pressure for them to partake in modern-day things such as taxation, education and law and its enforcement. Some Amish communities choose to educate their own children in small schools run by an unmarried female within the community. It is extremely unusual for a pupil go to college or university. They choose to use horses and carts as transportation and therefore pay no road tax and because of their beliefs, the United States government exempts them from any kind of social security tax as it is something that they do not believe in.
When visiting the farm, it was clear how self-sufficient these communities are. Their houses were simple, yet clean and sufficient. They made their own cheeses and raised their own animals for meat. There were shops selling home-made fudge and ice-cream. In many ways, the whole experience was rewarding in that it really did allow for us to be reminded of moral values, the importance of family, and the rewards that could be gained from hard work. Furthermore, it was inspiring to see how people live without the modern goods we all consider a necessity in everyday life. It proves that people today rely too much on their mobile phones, cars, computers and many other accessories and actually, they need none of that to live a happy life. People say today that moral standards and values are slipping; it is in this way that the Amish could provide some inspiration for today’s society.