Have your heard the terms “Old Order Amish” or “Amish-Mennonite”?
There are distinctions between these groups, but what are they? And why are they there?
We need to delve into history for this answer, back to the middle of the 19th century. At the same time that the United States was suffering the growing pains that eventually led to the Civil War, the Amish in America were facing their own difficulties.
When the first Amish settlers came to Pennsylvania in the 1700’s, they were a cohesive group held together by a common religion, heritage and language. They had been driven out of their native Switzerland after suffering years of persecution.
Over the next hundred years, the Amish settled farther and farther west, to western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. By the mid-1800’s, there were six main areas of settlement in these five states. But the combination of distance, time, and an influx of new Amish settlers from Europe in the first half of the 19th century threatened to break down the unity of the church.
Change-minded individuals questioned the long held traditional way of their forefathers. Some urged that the church should allow “stream baptism,” while some thought it would be best if the Amish met in church buildings rather than homes. Others wanted to have buttons on their clothes. Some felt the responsibility of taking part in local politics.
On the other end, tradition-minded people felt that the church shouldn’t embrace change too quickly. The reasons for the way the Amish dressed, worshipped and interacted with their non-Amish neighbors were good ones, and shouldn’t be tossed away lightly as a sacrifice to human judgement. Adopting styles and patterns of living from the surrounding culture would seriously impact the Amish community life.
The resulting split in the Amish church didn’t happen quickly, and it didn’t happen easily. Leaders of the church on both sides worked tirelessly for many years, traveling between the settlements to bring healing to the threatening division. Annual ministers meetings, called Dienerversammlungen, were held from during the middle of the century for several years as an attempt to restore unity.
Sadly, between the early 1830’s and 1878, the seam that bound the change-minded members and the tradition-minded members together unraveled thread by thread. And like the greater conflict happening in the United States in the same era, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and neighbors and friends found themselves on opposite sides of the division.
The change-minded churches broke away from their tradition-minded brethren, eventually calling themselves Amish-Mennonite. Over the following decades, many Amish-Mennonite churches dropped the “Amish” designation and joined the larger Mennonite denomination, but there are still Amish-Mennonite churches in existence.
The tradition-minded congregations are the people we know today as the Old Order Amish. When we visit the Amish communities of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and other states, we enjoy seeing their buggies, Plain clothes, and simple lifestyles – lifestyles that have endured through centuries of change.
Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of more than thirty years, their four adult children, two active dogs, and Maggie, the cat who thinks she’s a dog. If she isn’t sitting at her computer ruining – I mean living – the lives of her characters, she’s probably hiking in the Hills or the Badlands, enjoying the spectacular scenery.
Jan’s debut novel, The Prodigal Son Returns, was published by Love Inspired in May 2013, and her second novel, A Mother for His Children, was the winner of the 2013 TARA Contest in the Inspirational Category. It was released on August 5th. You can read Jan’s posts every Monday morning at the Yankee-Belle Cafe.
Purchase Jan’s books here.