Our Amish Heritage
One of Lancaster County's most unique features is its Amish (ah' mish) population. A strong and deep-set religious faith shapes their world, which excludes electricity, television, and automobiles. The Amish express their religious values through the use of horse and buggy transporation, style of dress, and strong sense of community and family. But their simple lifestyle is not totally distracted from the society as a whole. due to constant pressures from the "outside world", the Amish may make certain concessions to their traditional values by still restrict themselves to comply with their faith. Therefore the culture and tradition described below may be liable to change and should be not be literally intrepred.

There are three families of Anabaptist related churches in Lancaster County: the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Brethren. Anabaptists believe in making a conscious choice to accept God and therefore only baptize adults. There are at least 8 Amish, 21 Mennonite, and 9 Brethren groups. All of these groups share the same beliefs concerning doctrines, but differ in matters of dress, technology, language, form of worship and interpretation of the Bible. 

A majority of Brethren and over half the Mennonites in Lancaster County dress much like the greater society. Smaller groups of Mennonites and Brethren wear distinctive clothing but partake of other "worldly" conveniences like cars, electricity, and telephones. This is also true of the Amish-Mennonites or Beachy Amish. Old Order Mennonite groups are considerably more restrictive concerning various areas of technology like their Old Order Amish counterparts. The Old Order Amish are the most conservative and best known of the "Plain" groups in Lancaster County. For purposes of simplicity, the information below will refer to the Old Order Amish.

DRESS--The Amish style of dress is symbolic of their faith. Amish men wear dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats with no lapels, broadfall trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, straw hats. Amish women wear modest dresses made form solid-colored fabric. The dresses are usually made with long sleeves and a full skirt, (not shorter than half-way between knee and floor), and covered with a cape and apron. Women's clothes are fastened with straight pins or snaps. Their hair is never cut. It is worn in a bun on the back of the head, concealed by a white prayer covering. Amish women are not permitted to wear jewelry or printed fabric.

FARMING--Farming was originally not a tenet of Anabaptism but agriculture became important when persecution drove the Amish to the remote regions of Europe. The Amish believe that practical knowledge, hard work, and long hours create a good living from the soil. They practice a life of hard work, thrift, and self-sufficiency which they believe is substantiated by the Bible. Their closeness to the land comes from generations of experience. The Amish attribute their success in farming to divine blessing.

In recent years, land in Lancaster Couty has become scarce and high priced. Many Amish have had to turn to non-farming occupations such as constructino, woodworking, and craft making.

RESTRICTED TECHNOLOGY--The Amish are reluctant to accept any technology which weakens the family structure. Progress is not assumed to be "better" in the Amish community. Their nonconformity to the American culture is fundamental Amish belief. The conveniences that the non-Amish take for granted such as electricity, television, telephones, and tractors are considered to be a tempting force that could lead them away from their close-knit community.

SCHOOLING--Amish children attend school until the eigth grade level. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court expempted them from state compulsory attendence beyond the eighth grade based on religious precepts. The Amish build and maintain their own church-funded one-room schoolhouses. The Amish believe classroom learning is only half of the preparation needed to make a living as an adult. Therefore, farming and homemaking skills are extremely important to an Amish child's upbringing.

RELIGION--The Amish are Christians. They do not worship in churches as is custom in other faiths, but take turns holding services in each others homes.

The five tenets of the faith which separate the Amish from main line Protestantism are:
1. Believers Baptism
2. Brotherhood
3. Non-resistance
4. Non-conformity
5. Authority of the Bible

HERITAGE--Historically, the Amish stemmed from the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptists or "rebaptizers" trace their roots back to the Swiss Brethren. Around the year 1525, they formed their own sect on the premise that other reformers had not accepted all the doctrines taught in the Bible. The Anabaptists were later called Mennonites after Menno Simons, an influential leader and writer who unified the movement.

In the late 1600s, Swiss Mennonite Jacob Ammon felt his church did not administer strictly enough a shunning or excommunication of disobedient or negligent members. Over this and other issues, Ammon broke from the Swiss-Mennonites, and he and his followers became known as Amish.


The above information was taken from "Lancaster County Amish: Their Lifestyle, Beliefs & Heritage" Published by the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2000.