Amish Facts

Amish Facts & Questions I’m Frequently Asked:


How did the Amish religion begin?

The Amish people are direct descendants of the Anabaptists of sixteenth century Europe. Anabaptism is a religion that came about during the reformation era. The term Anabaptist first started out as a nickname that meant re-baptizer, because this group rejected the idea of infant baptism, since an infant doesn’t yet have the knowledge of good and evil. The Anabaptists were seen as a threat to Europe’s religious and social institutions and were therefore persecuted. The Amish religion is actually a branch of the Swiss Mennonites. The group received its name from its founder, Jacob Amman. In the Netherlands an influential leader of the Anabaptists was Menno Simons. He became such an advocate for Anabaptism that many Anabaptists came to be known as Mennonites. The Amish division came about as a result of particular reforms Amman wanted to make that turned into disagreements with other Mennonite leaders. As a result, a new religious division known as the “Amish” was formed under the leadership of Jacob Amman.

Rocking chairs on Amish porch

My husband grew up in a Mennonite church in Pennsylvania, and getting to know my Mennonite relatives gave me a sense of yearning for the simpler life. Then, when one of our Mennonite friends introduced us to an Amish man he worked with, my desire went deeper. When I discovered that my great-great grandparents were part of the Anabaptist faith, I realized why I had such a deep yearning to know the Plain People. It wasn’t long after that and we began making friends with many Amish families in several communities across the country. I decided to write Amish novels so that my readers would have a better understanding of the Amish people and their way of life.

Amish Way of Life: Amish Facts by Wanda Brunstetter
Richard making balloon animals for children

Their simple lifestyle, and the fact that they put God first, and then family, is what makes the Amish people so special to me. I also appreciate their example of putting their emphasis on people and not things. When I’m with our Amish friends I see their family closeness, and my desire to be closer to my own family grows stronger. When I’m visiting our Amish friends I feel calm, relaxed, and closer to God.

Working in the garden

One tradition I find particularly interesting is the way Amish bishops and ministers are chosen. Instead of going through seminary or a home-study course, and then being called to a church by a vote from the church board, like many of our English churches do, Amish ministers are chosen by the drawing of lots. Each Amish congregation is led by a bishop, two ministers, and one deacon, who are called from within the congregation and receive no formal, theological training. Prior to baptism, Amish men promise to serve as a leader if they’re ever called by the congregation. Only married men who are members of the local church district are eligible for a ministerial position. The ordination is typically held at the end of a communion service. Church members, male and female, go to a designated room in the house and whisper the name of a candidate to the deacon, who passes it onto the bishop. The names of those men who’ve received three or more votes are then placed in the lot. Those in the lot are asked if they are in harmony with the ordinances of the church and articles of faith. It they can answer affirmatively, then they kneel for prayer, asking God to show which one He’s chosen. A slip of paper with a Bible verse on it is placed in a songbook, and the book is randomly arranged with other songbooks, the same number as equal to the candidates being considered. Seated around a table, the candidates each select a songbook. When they open their books, the lot falls on the man who has the slip of paper with the Bible verse inside. The term of office for a minister is usually for life.

I’ve visited and done research on the Amish in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Montana, Kentucky, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, and Tennessee.


How do Amish communities often differ from each other?

Many of the differences are subtle: Different style of hats for the men and prayer coverings for the women; length and color choices for the women’s dresses; type of suspenders for the men’s trousers; scooters ridden in some communities, while bicycles are used in others; and differences in the size, shape, and color of Amish buggies. Some of the stronger differences include: How and whether phones are used — some have phone sheds or shanties outside the home; some, who own businesses, are allowed to use cell phones; some have no phones at all. Some can have tractors; some cannot. Some are allowed rubber tires, others only iron wheels. Some Amish places of business are allowed to use electricity, and even computers, while others use only gas and battery-operated lights and cash registers. Most Amish homes have indoor plumbing, but there are a few of the older, stricter communities where outhouses are still in use. The rules for each district are governed by what their bishop and ministers will allow, and what’s considered right according to the Ordnung, church rules.

Anyone can join the Amish faith if they’re willing to give up their modern way of life and adhere to the rules of the Amish Church. However, it’s a difficult transition, with many changes to be made, including learning the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch language of the Amish, changing to the simple way of dressing and living, and giving up most of the modern conveniences we Englishers are used to having.

The Amish have always believed that too much education, or worldly wisdom, makes one proud. To them, an eighth grade education is sufficient, although they do further their education by training as apprentices for their future jobs. Most Amish people I know also read a lot, which helps them continue to learn. It’s been my observation, from visiting several Amish schools and talking to the teachers, that an 8th grade education among the Amish is pretty much equal to a 12th grade education in English schools. The Amish believe that the strongest education their children receive should be from the Bible.

Playing on the playground

The Amish attend church every other Sunday in their home district. On the off-Sundays they will either spend the day visiting with friends or attend a church in another district. Amish church is not held in a traditional church building with padded pews. Church members take turns hosting church services, which are either held inside their homes, buggy sheds, barns, or place of business. The people sit on backless, wooden benches, with the men and boys on one side of the room, and the women and girls on the other side, facing each other. The service usually lasts 3 hours or more, and includes singing from the church hymnal, the Ausbund, as well as a time for sermons and prayer. During the prayer time, everyone kneels, and often it’s on a cold, cement floor. Sermons are preached by at least two of the ministers present. After the service is over a light lunch is served, and the remainder of the day is spent socializing among the adults, while the children play. When my husband and I visited an Amish church service we found that even though we couldn’t understand many of the German words that were said, we felt the worshipful attitude of the Amish people.

Amish church set up in a shed

Engaged couples must secure a marriage license, just as English couples do. A few weeks before the wedding, during a church service, the couple is “published,” which means that a formal announcement is made to the congregation, letting them know that the couple is going to be married. Amish weddings are similar to an Amish church service, and are much different than traditional English weddings. There are no formal wedding gowns, no bouquets of flowers, no music, and no wedding rings. The sermons and Bible verses emphasize the relationship between husband and wife. The bride and groom and their attendants sit in chairs facing each other. When it’s time for the vows, the bride and groom leave their seats and stand before the bishop. Each is asked if they’ll remain together until death, and if they’ll be loyal and care for each other during sickness, weakness, adversity, and affliction. The minister then takes the couple’s hands in his and wishes them God’s blessing and mercy, advising them to “Go forth in the Lord’s name,” and pronouncing that they are now man and wife. Following the service there’s a wedding meal, which is a huge feast. It takes several seatings to feed all the guests, and another meal is served in the evening, for the young people. Hymn singing follows this meal.

Amish wedding table

The Amish celebrate their birthdays in much the same way as we do. They will often have a birthday party, or will sometimes go out for supper to celebrate someone’s birthday. Cake, ice cream, cards, and gifts are often part of the celebration. My husband and I were invited to attend a birthday celebration for one of our Amish friend’s granddaughters. It was fun to see the excitement on the young girl’s face when her parents presented her with a pony for her birthday.

A boy and his toy

Thanksgiving is celebrated by the Amish in much the same way as many English people celebrate it. In the morning, the Amish gather for devotions, and many of them share something they are grateful for. The adults and older children have a time of prayer and fasting during the morning hours, and then around noon they gather with other family members for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The meal consists of turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, salads, freshly baked bread, and desserts. After the meal, the adults visit, while the children play games.

At Christmastime, there are no decorated trees or blinking lights adorning Amish people’s homes. They do, however, make special cookies and candies as part of the holiday activity. Some Amish will string the Christmas cards they receive around a room in their home, or may set out some candles and greenery. On Christmas Eve, the school children put on a program for their friends and family at the schoolhouse, where they share poems, recitations, and songs. The scholars will often exchange gifts with others in their class. On Christmas morning, the Amish gather with their families for devotions, and then the children open their gifts. In the afternoon the Amish get together for a big family meal. If Christmas Day falls near the end of the week, some church districts will hold their services on Christmas morning instead of the usual Sunday service.

Waiting for balloon animals


Why do the Amish dress in plain clothing?

Amish men and boys wear dark coats without lapels, suspenders, dark trousers, white or plain-colored shirts, and black or straw-brimmed hats. Women and girls wear plain, solid-colored dresses with long full skirts, long or three-quarter-length sleeves, and high necks. They also wear prayer coverings on their heads, in obedience to I Corinthians 11:2-16. The head covering is a symbol of subjection to God. When going out, they’ll often wear a large black bonnet on their heads, put on over the top of their prayer coverings. The Amish wear no jewelry of any kind. They believe that modest, simple clothing is essential to Christian discipleship. This belief is based on a number of scriptural principles. The Amish believe that how they live their lives reflects their faith, and that the clothes they wear are an extension of their faith.

Amish women at a flea market

Following principles found in Romans 12:2 and II Corinthians 6:14, the Amish are taught that they are to be separated from the desires and goals of the modern world. They believe that to be separate from the world is to be different from the world. They also believe that the use of many modern things in our world would tear their family unit apart, and take their focus away from God.

The Amish believe that owning a car could lead to a tearing apart of the family, church, and community. People who own cars tend to be away from home too much, and cars make the community more scattered. Convenient transportation could also lead to easier temptation. Owning a fancy car could become a symbol of pride. Cars usually have a radio and require insurance, both of which are prohibited by the Amish church rules. However, the Amish have no objection to riding in a car whenever necessary, as they cannot easily go everywhere they need to go by horse and buggy. Therefore, many Amish hire non-Amish drivers to transport them to places outside of the 10-15 mile limit they would usually travel in their buggies.

Horse and buggy at a hitching rail

The Amish see shunning as a necessary form of church discipline. When a church member is placed under the ban, due to a known sin or an infraction of Amish rules, they are shunned by other church members. A warning always comes before a person is placed under the ban, so they have plenty of time to repent and stop sinning. If however, they do not, then they are placed under the ban. This type of separation unites the community against sin. Expelled members are welcomed back into fellowship if they are willing to kneel and confess their error. During a time of excommunication, people are shunned until they repent. Although limited conversation is permitted with a shunned person, church members are advised not to have any business dealings with someone who is being shunned. The shunned person may attend family gatherings, but will likely be served food at a separate table. Families and congregations vary somewhat in how strictly they practice social avoidance. The practice of shunning is not used on a person who has never joined the Amish church.

Rumspringa means “running around.” This practice, which allows Amish young people who have not yet joined the church the right to experience the modern world, varies from church district to district. Although some Amish youth go a bit wild during this time, most do not go to the extreme, as some might believe because of media reports. The running around years usually involves attending various youth functions, going to baseball games and concerts, or visiting the beach. Sometimes Amish youth will set aside their Amish clothing and wear clothes like English teens would wear. Some parents try to curb the antics of their teenagers, while others seem to look the other way. The opportunity to run around and experience the English world gives the Amish youth a chance to accept or reject the Amish way before deciding on church membership where they will submit to the rules of the church. The Amish believe that if they give their young people the choice they will be more likely to comply with church regulations as adults. Four out of 5 Amish teens will set their Rumspringa days aside and join the Amish church.

Amish young people playing volleyball


What inspires your novels?

Sometimes a certain verse of Scripture inspires me to write a particular story. Other times my inspiration may come from someone I know or have met. Or, a story might pop into my head after someone has shared with me about a tragedy or triumph that’s happened in their life. Although I’ve never written a story specifically about anyone’s personal life, I have used snippets of many people’s lives, including my own.

Amish quilts on a line