Amish History

Who are the Amish?

The Amish and Mennonite people are descendants of the Anabaptist movement of sixteenth-century Europe. Initially, a small group of Swiss Christians gathered together in an attempt to reform the state Protestant Church. In 1525, the first Swiss Brethren congregation was formed in Switzerland. A key belief was that only adults should be baptized. They also refused holy mass, believing that the clergy of th day were corrupt with their ways of teaching. Instead, they promoted the concept of church as a self-governing unit where worship services are held in homes rather than in a church building. Because of their “radical beliefs”, many early Anabaptists were prosecuted and even burned at the stake. In 1527, Anabaptist leaders met secretly and created the “Schleitheim Articles”. These seven articles remain the basic guildelines used by the Amish today.

Menno Simons (1496-1561), was an early Anabaptist in the Netherlands. In 1632, he drafted the “Dordrecht Confession of Faith” and became a man of influence. By 1544, the term Mennonite was first used in a letter refering to the Dutch Anabaptists.

During the late 1600s, a group of devout individuals led by Jakob Ammann broke away from the Swiss Mennonites, primarily over the lack of strict enforcement of Meidung, or shunning – the excommunication of disobedient or negligent members. They also differed over other matters such as foot washing, the lack of rigid regulation of costume, and what they felt was a general lack of discipline. This group became known as the Amish. The Amish lived in Switzerland and in the southern Rhine river region. Today, Amish and Mennonites share similar religious beliefs. They differ primarily in lifestyle and church practices, with the Mennonites being the more “liberal” group.

In the late 1700’s, William Penn, a strong advocate of religious freedom, invited the first group of Amish to come to America. They settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Today, the Amish can be found in twenty-five states, Canada, and even Central America. The majority live in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan follow next in numbers. The Amish population in the U.S. is now more than 225,000 members, and is growing rapidly due to large family size and little dissension. There are many differences of groups within the Amish population. Each Amish church district has their own distinct set of rules or “Ordnung” for how they conduct their daily lives. This Ordnung dictates almost every aspect of their lifestyle, from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques to house building and furnishings. The Ordnung varies from community to community, which explains why you will see some Amish with deisel engines to produce electricity, while others won’t even accept the use of battery-powered lights on their buggies.

The Amish are not adverse to technology, per se. However, they are against any innovations that they feel will weaken the family or community structure. The Amish separate themselves from the outside world, often citing the following Bible verses in support of their beliefs. “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14). So the Amish reject many forms of technology – motorized vehicles, phones in the home, computers, internet, radio, television, and modern appliances run off of public utility lines. However, they are quick to adopt technology that they feel will be beneficial without compromising their beliefs. Windmills are often seen on Amish farms to pump water or provide naturally generated electric power. Many Amish are also strong advocates for the use of solar power on their farms.