Our first stop on The Big Trip of 2019-2020 has been a success! We spent four nights in Lancaster County, PA … Amish Country. I’ve been fond of this area since a family vacation when I was a kid. I’ve visited this area a handful of times since and brought my daughters here when they were young. A lot of people have misconceptions about the Amish and consider them to be cult-like. They are not a cult, they are a faithful community of anabaptist Christian people who date back to the 1600’s. The Amish are not Dutch, their ancestry stems from German and Swiss roots and they speak a German dialect as well as English. “Deitsch” is the German word for German, but we Americans have botched that as we botch so many words that we don’t understand, and we decided to call these people the Pennsylvania Dutch.
We’ve been fortunate to stay in an area with a lot of Amish traffic. One young woman wheeled her wagon into the campground our first night and asked if we’d be interested in buying her homemade baked goods. She had apple fritters, cookies, breads, pies. She was so pleasant, although I was surprised to find her accent a little tricky to understand. Her cookies were delicious, no doubt made with fresh eggs, milk and butter from her farm.
We were out for a walk Sunday morning as the Amish were heading toward a church service at a farm just down the street. (They do not have church buildings, they worship in homes a couple of times a month and worship is followed by a big meal and fellowship with neighbors.) They passed in buggies, on their scooters, and on foot. Just like in our society, the older folks were early in their buggies, the young couples with infants were also early, on foot pushing strollers, and the teens and young adults were the last to arrive. Many waved and said “good morning” as they passed.
The Amish farms are so beautiful and pristine. You won’t see a lot of junk strewn around an Amish farm. Everyone helps to keep the farm and household running. Not all Amish live on farms. Many Amish men are craftsmen, building furniture and homes, repairing machines and engines, working in factories. Women are in charge of the household and family, but may also work outside the home in quilt shops, tending their roadside stands, in retail stores, etc. Amish do tend to stick to their community but are not prohibited from socializing or doing business with “Englishers” (us). They do use natural remedies, but also visit doctors, dentists and chiropractors. They do not carry insurance, they pay their bills in cash and pay them immediately, which tends to gain them significant discounts. If they can’t afford a particularly large bill, the church community helps out.
There are many different groups of Amish around the country, and it may surprise you that there are communities in 31 states, although the majority live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Each community has its own “Ordnung” (order) which dictates matters such as dress, permissible uses of technology, religious duties, etc. “Old Order” Amish are more stringent, “New Order” Amish are more relaxed. Most people recognize Amish as people who are not allowed to use electricity, and this is true of Old Order Amish communities. The reason is that while the Amish recognize the value of using certain technologies (phones for emergencies, as an example), they also see danger in unlimited use. Placing limits on ownership and restricting how certain technologies can be used allows the good while attempting to restrain the potentially negative effects of technology. Frankly, when you see the Amish kids running around outside instead of inside playing video games, you have to wonder exactly who has the right and wrong ideas.
You can think what you want, but I believe that a community that has lasted over 300 years on the foundation of family, community, faith, truth and pacifism can’t be bad. They aren’t without their troubles, but that’s true of all societies, isn’t it?
By the way, one funny note is that we saw SO MANY cows running while we were here. I think Amish cows are happy cows, free from hormones and other gunk added to their food, and that’s why so many were running!