Arthur, Illinois has been home to the largest Amish community in Illinois since 1865. Just like there are various types of Christian churches within Catholic and Protestant ranks, the Anabaptists have multiple factions as well. In Arthur, one of the strictest “Old Order” churches is central to the community. It is surprising to some that each church’s Bishop determines the practical rules for church members. A few of the local community’s rules and practices are listed below.
- Hook and eye closures and buttons are allowed, but no zippers or Velcro.
- Only black shoes are to be worn.
- Buggies may be enclosed including a roof, doors and windshield. These typically are not heated, but when they are, a small gas stove is used.
- Requisite power for work must be produced by a diesel generator.
- Phone services are shared by several families in a phone “shack” where messages may be left and returned, but the phone is seldom answered.
- When the community in Arthur reaches approximately 1000, which it has done now four times, a new church district is created and more land acquired.
- Reputation is its own reward in Arthur. Once a member of the Amish community has lost his/her reputation due to dishonesty, poor business practices, or not carrying a proportionate share of the community burden, it is very difficult to recover.
- Community is the heart of the Amish faith. In Arthur, the community is known for its ability to respond to fires and natural disasters. If a home is damaged beyond repair, it is demolished, reconstructed, and ready for the occupants within six weeks. No insurance is required and the family who lost their home owes nothing except to be available the next time tragedy strikes.
- Financial strength is important in Arthur for the community. Newlyweds are given land and a very low interest loan to build a home. As their home is paid off, they continue to contribute to community funds so there is money to loan others. This is also the means by which the Amish care for their aging. The community/church bank is the retirement investment and the needs of the elderly are not neglected.
- Church, family, and business are not separate for Arthur’s Amish. Here, benches are moved monthly from one home to another for church and after services conclude, the business meeting begins.
- Medical bills are shared in church and the collection plate passed. The Amish here are expected to pay for all minor bills themselves. If they incur a bill the family cannot afford, it is taken to the Bishop and he reads all the bills in church. Each family is then encouraged to contribute toward community bills and the bill is paid by the church as the Amish self-insure.
Though the Amish in Illinois are a relatively closed community, Arthur’s Amish, Mennonite, and “English” coexist beautifully. The Amish school and local public schools even interact annually for a field day. Also different about this community is their willingness to be studied. Here, in particular, neuro scientists are studying the families to determine why the Amish have been spared Autism and a number of other medical issues.
Arthur’s Amish are different indeed.
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