Part Three: Amish Family & Brotherhood
The Amish could be described as believing strongly in God, the Bible, Jesus, family, and community, or brotherhood, much of which has already been delineated in the previous two articles in Sr. Perspective on this Mora Amish family. This article concentrates on family and community, or brotherhood, and with some striking examples of how communities can work together in brotherhood, and will doubtless make many non-Amish families think about the possibilities in their own lives.
Matthew said in Indiana, where Menno grew up, the Amish and non-Amish helped each other thresh and put away hay together. “It was a lot more like that (in the wider community) many years ago, a hundred years ago, but today, it’s divided. Worlds apart. I’m not sure if it’s helping society to have all these mechanical things. Once you have them on the farm, then you need to make an extra million to pay for all your equipment, and then you’re really not further ahead than you would be with a team of horses and 20 acres.”
The Mora Amish community of about 20 families, is divided into three work groups, each of which provides one workday, as they call it, per month, Matthew said.
Horses are used in various ways in the Amish community, including transportation. Photo by Gaylen Bicking
“Once a month, one of the families in each of those three groups has a workday where the rest of that group comes and helps them at their farm or home, doing different tasks,” he said.
The activities run the gamut, from cutting firewood, putting up a new fence, bringing in hay, planting onions, or construction work.
Christine said the women on workday might do sewing, make noodles, hoe the garden, clean house, or can meat or produce.
“Each family will have different tasks that they want accomplished on workday,” she said, adding that the last workday in her house the workers canned 125 quarts of applesauce.
“Every family decides what they want done on their workday,” Matthew said. “When it’s their turn, and their group comes, they tell their group what they want done.”
Christine added, “If they come here and I want the house washed up, I have rags and stuff ready for them. Or if they’re going to make noodles or do canning, I have everything ready for them to do the work.”
Those special workdays aren’t the only times they help each other. As Menno said, “Last week one of the neighbors had what we call a weeding, so a big group of 36 people came there to help weed their vegetable garden.”
Christine added, “It’s a community thing for whoever wants to get something done and could use help.”
“Those we call work evenings,” Matthew said, “to get a certain project done. We announce that we want everybody in this community who can help us on this particular evening with this particular task, and also bring what is needed and get it done. Sometimes the work evening is mainly for the youth, followed by a snack and visit before leaving for their homes.” All obvious examples of brotherhood.
Another example of brotherhood is helping to build houses. Christine said, “If this house would burn down, the ministers would send out letters, and churches would have a free-will offering. When my niece’s house burned down in Missouri, by the time their new house was up, people had given them furniture and clothes, everything in the line of household goods that they needed. We rely on brotherhood, and above all the good Lord.”
Nor do the Amish use insurance. “It is the same principle as Social Security,” Menno said. “We rely on brotherhood, and above all the good Lord.”
Menno said to the outside world the Amish way of life looks like a hard life. “But I think if we actually brought them in here they would discover it is the easiest life. When I said easy, I’m not just talking about the physical labor. I think people, and especially the youth today, are under a lot of pressure. Accepting our group applications takes away an enormous amount of that pressure.”
To aid the community with some income, families create items to sell to the non-Amish world. Menno said, “We have four families that are working together to make small useful buildings, mini-barns, gazebos, porches, and the like, for a certain Wisconsin company. We and other families sell eggs and vegetables. Some people do local carpentry.”
Which brings up an interesting concept — as youth grow to a certain age, one might decide that building small furniture or sheds fits their priority in life. “But in general,” Menno said, “We learn everything from other people in the community. Like we might learn what it takes to cut down a tree, and then make boards, and have them dried and create some furniture, and ask neighbors to help put it together. People who have farms learn to weld and do their own repair work.”
The Amish community does have families split up due to distance. Matthew said, “It does happen in the Amish community that relatives move far away, as with my brother Samuel, who has lived in Missouri for four years, married to a girl in that community. We don’t live in the same community, but it doesn’t keep us from having strong community ties here.”
They add that Samuel is with family there, and occasionally, they can all get together. “Living in different communities becomes automatic if you start spreading out to new areas.”
Transportation for the Amish is by horse and buggy, although they will hire taxis if the distance is more than 10 miles, in deference to their animals. Photo by Gaylen Bicking
“Yes,” Matthew added, “we definitely have relatives in quite a few different communities.” From the tenor of the voices in this discussion, one can tell that they would feel it would be more ideal if everybody who is related to them could live in this same Mora community, or at least a community that is closer. “It would be nice, but we don’t expect it.”
“If we want to visit some of our relatives,” Christine said, “we can hire somebody to take us down there to visit.”
That means traveling in an automobile. Menno believes that the subconscious influence of automobiles has affected community and family settings in a negative way.
“You can talk about the advantages and disadvantages of horse and buggy compared to automobiles, but I think in just a literal sense the subconscious influence of the automobile has had a negative effect on community and family settings. There are times that we might wish for those things, like automobiles, but we simply choose to abstain because of the many bad influences that can come with it. Not saying it’s impossible to control that influence, but it’s very hard for a whole group.”
“There are some advantages to horses,” Matthew said, “They never get stuck and don’t spin in a muddy spot. We try to use our horses and buggies as much as we can, but if it’s a trip of more than 10 miles it gets too hard to go for horses and buggies, so we hire taxis to take us.”
Their horses live long lives, some as much as 25 years, Menno said.
No Wild Oats
When asked about “rumspringa,” the entire Amish group laughed. The dictionary definition is “a period of adolescence in which boys and girls are given greater personal freedom and allowed to form romantic relationships, usually ending with the choice of baptism into the church or leaving the community.”
“That always tickles us,” Christine said, “because so many people bring up that word. But it’s a foreign word in this community.”
“In big communities,” Matthew said, “a percentage of the youth who do kind of go their own way and plan parties together maybe, behind their parents backs. It’s not in every community. Definitely not in ours.”
Christine added, “Some adults remember that they were young once too, but we don’t think that way.”
Menno said, “Probably one of the reasons people are constantly spreading out to different areas to maintain values to help avoid those type of sins.”
Keeping up on the news
Much of the food consumed in the Amish communities is grown right on their farms. Photo by Gaylen Bicking
Media and literature for this Amish group generally consist of newsletters about other Amish communities. For adults, one is called Family Life. A newsletter for the youth is called Young Companion. Both are monthly. The Budget is another Amish newsletter. It contains articles from almost every Amish community in the United States.
In summary, the Amish people believe intermingling with the larger community on a regular basis can affect their people subconsciously and take away from the family and brotherhood of the community, not to mention their religion and way of life.
Menno said, “Because in the larger community everybody is very independent. You can go anywhere you want and order what you want off your smart phone. Our way of life keeps us more dependent on each other in our community, and we think that’s a good thing.”
But in the end run, Menno said, “We are people just like everyone else.”
This is part three of a three-part series by Bill Vossler on an Amish community near Mora and their lifestyle. The previous two articles were printed in November 2018 and January 2019 and can be viewed at srperspective.com.