I set my Women of Pinecraft series in the small Amish/Mennonite community of Pinecraft, Florida. I chose that setting because I spend part of the year in Sarasota, where the community of Pinecraft is located. I also chose to use mostly Mennonite characters in my stories because Mennonites tend to be more open than the Amish, allowing my characters to interact with Englishers in a more natural way.
So how do Amish and Mennonites differ?
First, a short history lesson: During the Protestant Revolution of the late 1500’s one group broke away from both the Catholics and Protestants to form what became known as the Anabaptists—a faith rooted in the idea that infant baptism makes no sense. In their view all humans are born innocent and baptism should take place once a person reaches adulthood and can fully understand the meaning of the ritual.
However, in 1693 one faction of the Mennonites began to believe that the Mennonites had become too liberal. This group became known as the Amish. In spite of this divide, the two groups continued to share many core values:
- A plain lifestyle
- A shared use of what has become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect
- A love of and respect for nature and the land
- A belief that life on earth is but a preparation for the life in heaven
- A philosophy of non-resistance/pacifism
- Forgiveness of one’s enemies
Over time, their willingness to accommodate the ways of their Englisher neighbors differed. The Amish held to the old ways, while Mennonites eventually accepted electricity and telephones and owned cars and other motorized vehicles. Today, many “modern Mennonites” are mostly indistinguishable from their Englisher counterparts outwardly.
Still, in Pinecraft the Amish, Old Order and ‘modern’ Mennonite continue to live in harmony. They host an auction to raise money for relief work that features donated items ranging from a commemorative coffee mug to a tractor. My first time there, I watched in awe as the bid on a single coffee mug rose to $300. This happened repeatedly and I finally asked an Amish woman why so high. “We know what we wish to donate,” she replied. “Sometimes there is nothing we need so we bid for the mug—everyone can use an extra coffee mug.”
It is a lesson I have not forgotten and just one way these ‘plain’ people have changed the way I approach each day.
Anna Schmidt has been a finalist for the coveted RITA award three times for her romantic fiction and her novel A Sister’s Forgiveness gives Anna her fourth finalist honor for the Reviewers’ Choice Awards from Romantic Times magazine. Anna is the author of over twenty-five works of historical and contemporary fiction including her most recent Amish release, The Women of Pinecraft, which hit shelves on June 1st. The final installment in her Peacemakers series, Safe Haven, will be published in September of 2014.
Having survived her own battle with uterine cancer and discovered wellsprings of compassion and caring she never knew she possessed when family members and friends faced their own health challenges, Anna often draws on the questions she has faced in her own life in creating her characters. She also loves gardening and she’s hauled enough seashells home from the Florida beaches that somewhere in the future, archeologists may believe there must have once been an ocean in Wisconsin!
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