Amish or Mennonites? What is the difference?
Old Order Amish
Here in Ohio we have the largest Amish and Mennonite population and communities anywhere in the world. This population lives in Wayne and Hoimes counties in Ohio and when driving through the rural communities in either of these counties, it is not unusual to see the Amish horse and buggies, Amish riding bicycles or Amish walking along the road, working in the farm fields or working as carpenters in furniture making.
Because I am interested in other cultures, I have become interested in the Amish culture and I have learned the diffferences between those who call themselves Amish and those who call themselves Mennonites. Wayne and Holmes counties are just about fifty miles from my home here in Ohio, so on lovely, warm, sunny Ohio days, I will many times take a ride down to what we call "Amish Country."
"Amish Country", are the beautiful farms, basket weaving stores and quilting shops, and furniture making crafts that are found all over Wayne and Holmes counties. Here is where the Amish and the Mennonites emigrated in the 1800's and live side by side in rural Ohio bliss. They also came to America to escape religious persecution in Europe. Both of these peoples have many similarities, but also many differences. I have learned about these cultures from the people who have opened their homes for us to see and tour, and they have explained their lifestyles to the"English" as they refer to anyone not Amish.
The Old Order Amish are a group of Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches. They are known for their simple living and plain dress. They are very reluctant to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. For example, they do not have telephones, use of electricity, use of automobiles or use of cameras or photography.
The Amish follow the teachings of Jakob Ammann, who was an Anabaptist believer and Mennonite while living in Switzerland. An Anabaptist is a believer of adult baptism, in addition to infant baptism, at the time the adult makes the decision to join in the faith. The Mennonites are Anabaptists as well. But in 1693, Jakob Ammann lead a schism in the Anabaptists faith, when he called for more strict and more discipline in the church and faith. He believed there should be stricter shunning rules for those who drifted away from the true faith. Those that followed Ammann became known as Amish.
In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania. Today, the most traditional descendents of the Amish continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch and a dialect of Swiss German. The regions they live in here in North America are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, and Ontario, Canada.
The Amish culture is a strict one and begins with Amish church membership with baptism usually between the ages of sixteen to twenty-five. Church membership is required for marriage and once baptised and a church member they can only marry within the faith.
There are twenty to forty families in each church district and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member's home. Each small district is lead by a bishop and several ministers and deacons. Ordnung, or the rules of the church, mujst be followed by everyone who is Amish, but each small district decides their own rules to live and worship by. The rules cover the day-to-day living and include prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, (not permitted to be used in the home, but have limited use for carpentry and farm machines) telephones (none in the homes, but they can use the telephone in phone booths), and automobiles (not permitted to drive them but they may ride in them if driven by an "English")
Those that do not follow the rules of worship or of daily living and refuse to repent are shunned by the other members of the community. Even spouses are expected also to shun the guilty or unremorseful spouse. Those that refuse to repent are excommunicated from the faith and the community. This is all done in the hopes of shaming the wayward member into returning to the church and its ways.
They follow strict regulations on clothing. Women wear dresses only and usually in dark colors of black, navy blue, and dark grey. Men wear jeans and overalls. No buttons or zippers are permitted on clothing as this gets away from "plain dressing." Women must pin their dresses on with only straight pins as safety pins are not considered "plain dressing." Only men's pants are permitted to have buttons, but never zippers. Women must always wear long hair tied or pinned up in a white cap or a bonnet. The pleats on the bonnets signify to other Amish which church district they belong to. The men must wear beards after marrying, but mustaches are not permitted. Bachelor males must remain clean shaved. The Amish are not permitted to accept government assistance such as social security and are exempted by law from having to pay into it. They also practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service.
The Amish are usually farmers and own most of the farmland in Wayne and Holmes counties here in Ohio. They can work outside of the home or farm as carpenters, quilters, sewers, cooks, and simple store clerk positions in small local stores and restaurants.
The Amish operate their own one-room schools and discontinue formal education at grade eight which is usually the age of thirteen or fourteen. Teachers come from the Amish community and are chosen by church elders. Since all Amish are not educated past the eighth grade and the teachers are taken from the Amish commmunity, the teachers are not formally educated past the eighth grade either.
A new added feature to their culture in about the last ten years is the rumspringa ( literally, "running around"). In adolescence, the child is permitted to live among "the English" to make the final decision on whether to join the Amish Anabaptist church or leave it altogether. However, once the decision is made to leave the church, the child is never permitted to return to the Amish community.
There is heavy emphasis on church and family relationships and they value rural life, manual labor and humility. They reject pride, arrogance, haughtiness and put a high value on humility, calmness, composure and placidity. They are reluctant to be forward, self-promoting or to assert themselves. They submit to the "will of Jesus" and are at odds with the individualism that is so central to the wider American culture.
The Mennonites are a Protestant group based around the church communities of Christian Anabaptists, the belief in adult baptism. The Mennonites are a little more relaxed than the Amish but also can be "plain people" and up to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population.
Mennonites, unlike the Amish, are scattered all over the world. The largest populations of Mennonites today are living in Ethiopia, Canada, the U.S., and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are actively involved with peace and social justice issues.
The Mennonites mostly came from Germany, Switzerland and Holland and were against the practice and theology of the Roman Catholic Church. They are considered part of the Protestant Reformation. They rejected infant baptism and joined the Anabaptist Movement when it began in 1525. Specifically, the Mennonites follow the teachings of Menno Simons, originally from Holland, (1496-1561) later residing in Friesland in what is today Germany. Simons was a Catholic priest who in 1536 left the Catholic Church and became a leader of the Anabaptist Movement. Through his writings, Simons articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. His teachings are founded on the belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ and they are known as peace churches because of their commitment to nonviolence.
Because many of the Mennonites were persecuted because of their Anabaptist beliefs, they emigrated to the U.S. They joined with the Quakers and William Penn in the 1700's and came to America, originally settling in Pennsylvania. From 1812-1860, another wave of Mennonite immigrants settled in America farther west in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. These were the Swiss German speaking Mennonites.
There are many communities of Mennonites and strains of Mennonites in their populations. The three major distinctions are the Moderate Mennonites, the Reformed Mennonites, and the Old Order Mennonites.
The Moderate Mennonites
This group of Mennonites belong to the Mennonite Bretheren and Mennonite Church. Their forms of worship and practice differ very little from other Protestant congregations with which we are familiar. They gather in churches to worship and do not worship in their homes. They have no specific form of dress and no restrictions on the use of technology. They have no formal liturgy and are self-supporting and appoint their own ministers. They do not have strict rules put forth by their churches and tend to be churches of emphasis rather than rule. Their churches emphasize peace, community and service to mankind.
They fully participate in the general community, not their own specific community as the Amish do, and banning and shunning are rarely practiced. They offer outreach programs and help to the wider community at home and abroad. They sponsor missions in third world countries and encourage their adolecents to join missions overseas during the summer and immediately following high school graduation. Their children attend U.S. public schools and they educate their children K-12 and post-graduation education at colleges and universities.
These Mennonites see themselves as the true followers of Menno Simons teachings and New Testament teachings. There are no specific church rules, but the rely solely on the Bible as their guide. They have a strict separation from all other forms of worship. They dress in conservative "plain" clothing that preserves the 18th century Mennonite dress, but use buttons and zippers. They do not force the faith on their children. Their children attend public schools. They use and drive automobiles.
Old Order Mennonites
These are the strictist form of Mennonites. Some groups use horse and buggies and speak German and some groups drive cars and speak English. They follow conservative church doctrine and dress and traditions. They behave and dress as the 19th century and refuse to participate in politics. They school their children in parocial Mennonite operated schools. They do allow the use of tractors for farming. They stress separation from the outer world, wear "plain" clothes but do not always shun. From outward appearances they are difficult to distinguish from the Amish.
Although they have more relaxed rules for worship and daily living, the Mennonites, for the most part, consider themselves "plain people." The women still wear long dresses, but they wear the lighter colors of light green, light blue, yellow and peach. They also sometimes wear the white caps and chapel caps on their heads and usually wear their hair wound up on their heads. The men also wear "plain" clothing, but can wear other fabrics than jean material. They do not wear the straw brimmed hats like the Amish men wear.
Both the Amish and the Mennonite cultures are interesting to see and learn about. Obviously, the Mennonites are more open, relaxed and eager to talk about and teach about their lifestyle. The Amish do keep to themselves and are not as open. They turn away when anyone tries to photgraph them, hence no photos of my own of the Amish.
If you wish to visit "Amish Country" in Ohio, then come to Wayne and Holmes counties in Ohio. You will return back in time to life in the 18th and 19th centuries on rural farms in Ohio. You will see the quaint, charming homes of the Amish and their farms on Rt. 30 and Rt. 62 outside of Canton and Massillon, OH. You can sample the Amish cooking at the many Amish restaurants that dot these two counties, and you can visit and tour the Yoder Amish homestead, farm and one room school house. They offer daily tours and Amish buggy rides. All this in the heartland of Ohio.