In August, I decided that I needed a rest! My son suggested I go to a spa. I really wanted to go where I’d never been before and told him that one of my goals had been to go to Amish country. Everything that I had read about the culture seemed inviting and I believed I would benefit from the relaxing style and ease of being about their simple and relaxing culture.
Coincidentally, I’d been working on my family tree and was intrigued by the fact that my fifth great-grandfather, Conrad Eichelberger, had immigrated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania from Germany in the mid 1750s.
Bird in Hand is a rural village with a population of 300 people but the area is a major drawing card for tourists.
I loved the six days that I stayed in Bird in Hand and learned a great deal about the values that hold the community together:
- Community – There are not many Amish groups in Canada. Even though they reside in single-family homes and on family farms, they’re very close knit.
- Self-support – They cooperate and discuss their work, religion and social activities with others in the area. They do not vote or believe in insurance but rather meet the needs of the vulnerable without external support.
- Rules – Each community has specific rules that their baptized members must follow. None of them use electricity, technology or vehicles in their lives. Though they are a branch of the Mennonites who tend to concentrate more on the Bible, the monks have a tendency to focus on rules made in their districts which are enforced by their preferred Bishops.
- Family – Children are seen as a gift from God. Consequently, families are large and frequently include six or more siblings that are close in age. Relatives usually live within buggy-drive space so there’s inter-generational contact.
- Language – The Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch at the house. Their kids don’t learn English until they begin school that they attend until they’ve reached the grade eight level.
- Living off the Land – In the past, Amish were primarily farmers who believed in hard work where fields were tilled and crops harvested using horses. Corn, soybeans, tobacco, and cauliflower in addition to garden produce attracted income but now only twenty per cent of the Amish have farming as their primary source of income. Some have moved from their original homesteads to regions where tourism is not as widespread in order to protect their unique identity.
- Skills – The Amish are experts at finding niches and filling them. Today, many have businesses that sell their beautiful hand-made furniture, garden sheds, quilts, and meals. There is nothing like a fresh pretzel and glass of home made root beer on a warm summer afternoon!
- Simplicity – The Amish foster humility and this is evidenced in their unadorned homes, uniformity of dress and patterns. Most restaurants in the Lancaster area have a row of rocking chairs outside so people can unwind while waiting for a table. Lovely!
- Forgiveness – The Amish strongly believe and practice the belief that the individual who does not forgive is the one who suffers. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel powerful emotions such as anger, hurt or despair. They do, but let go of resentment and bitterness quickly and find it hard to understand that others might not understand that this is simply common sense.
The Amish aren’t perfect! They are human. They do not like the idea that some”Englishers” have had an erroneous and negative impression of these through television and movies.
Staying in an Amish community has given me some insight into how they might have remained so consistent and loyal to their values for more than three hundred years while all the world around them has changed!
What are your values and how have they stayed consistent or changed over the years?