Winter broke and spring swept into Bergholz. The fields were tilled and brown, and the forest started to turn green. Construction work picked up as the ground thawed, and the whole community became so busy that we didn’t have time to think about the strange things that had happened the year before.
We cut the hay and put it up. We planted oats and then threshed the oats. But when winter rolled around again, when we settled in for the long dark season, that’s when all the strange things seemed to happen. Always in the winter.
It was about that time that Sam decided we shouldn’t have church anymore.
“Maybe we’d better not pray anymore either,” he said. “Not before or after meals, not in the morning or evening.”
I don’t know that anyone said anything in reply. We were all shocked by his decision not to have church. None of us had ever even imagined a world where we wouldn’t go to church! It was part of our heritage, part of our life. We were dedicated to following God, and it was hard to understand how not having church was a good thing. But Sam said it, so we listened.
“And put your Bibles away,” he added. “The devil is twisting things around. He’s twisting the way people are reading the words and confusing people.”
So we all put our Bibles away, and that was that.
In my grandfather Sam Mullet’s world, there were always lines, mostly between those he said were living right and those who weren’t. There were the Good Guys, and there were the Bad Guys, and Sam had a way of keeping the two groups very well defined. I don’t think he ever used the terms “Good Guys” or “Bad Guys,” but we always knew who was in and who was out.
Sam decided a group of guys, about seven or eight of the men in Bergholz, were clearly the Bad Guys. He started laying down the law for them and dishing out punishments.
“Maybe then you’ll start writing all your sins down,” he told them.
Sometimes Sam had them do work for him, things like clearing the service roads in the woods around his house or mucking out his stalls. Other times he punished them by making them go live in a chicken coop or in the stables. When they lived in the chicken coop, they ate food from the scraps thrown in for the chickens. A few of the men rubbed chicken poop into their hair to show remorse. Whether it was chores or punishment, it was all designed, according to Sam, to help them “pay for their sins”—sins they sometimes hadn’t even committed—and to get them to be sorry for not telling the truth.
People became very serious about trying to rid themselves of these sins, which Sam had brought to the forefront when he made all of us write them down. The men went into the chicken coops and the stalls willingly.
The days were getting shorter, and the nights were growing cold and dark.
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Excerpt from Breakaway Amish by Johnny Mast with Shawn Smucker. Used by permission. © 2016 Herald Press. Books available online at www.HeraldPress.com, by calling 1-800-245-7894, or at your favorite bookstore.
Johnny Mast grew up in the Bergholz Amish community in southern Ohio, known for its beard-cutting attacks on other Amish people. He is the grandson of Bergholz bishop Sam Mullet, and served as his grandfather s right-hand support for his farm and businesses. Mast left Bergholz several years ago and now works on a construction crew. He and his wife, Clara, have one young daughter and live in Ohio.
Shawn Smucker is the author or coauthor of seven books. He and his wife, Maile, and their children live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.