In August, I decided that I needed a rest! My son suggested that I go to a spa. I truly wanted to go where I had never been before and told me that one of my goals was to visit Amish country. Everything that I had read about the civilization seemed inviting and I thought that I would benefit from the relaxing style and simplicity of being around their relaxing and simple culture.
Coincidentally, I had also 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 place is a significant drawing card for tourists. In actuality, Pennsylvania boosts bringing in $1.8 billion per year in tourism, most which can be attributed to summer guests in Amish communities.
I loved the six days that I remained in Bird in Hand and also learned a great deal about the values that hold the community together:
- Religion – Like most bands, the Amish left Europe because of religious persecution. It must have been quite an adventure to leave their homes and families in order to go to the new land of America with the hope of securing freedom for their own beliefs.
- Community – There are not many Amish groups in Canada. Even though they reside in single-family houses and on family farms, they’re extremely close knit.
- Self-support – They cooperate and discuss their work, religion and social activities with others in the region. They do not vote or think in insurance but instead meet the needs of the vulnerable without external support.
- Rules – Each community has specific rules which their baptized members must follow. None of them use electricity, technology or vehicles in their lives. Although they are a branch of the Mennonites who tend to focus more on the Bible, the monks have a tendency to concentrate on rules made in their districts which are enforced by their chosen Bishops.
- Family – Children are viewed as a gift from God. As a result, families are big and often include six or more siblings that are close in age. Relatives usually live within buggy-drive space so there is inter-generational contact.
- Language – The Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch in the house. Their children don’t learn English until they begin school that they attend until they have reached the grade eight level.
- Corn, soybeans, tobacco, bat removal companies and cauliflower as well as garden produce attracted income but currently only twenty percent of the Amish have farming as their primary source of revenue. Some have moved out of their original homesteads to regions where tourism is not as prevalent in order to protect their distinctive identity.
- Today, many have companies that sell their beautiful hand-made furniture, garden sheds, quilts, and food. There is nothing like a fresh pretzel and glass of homemade root beer on a warm summer day!
- 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 just relax while waiting for a table. Lovely!
- Forgiveness – The Amish strongly believe and practice the belief that the person who doesn’t forgive is the person who suffers. From birth they are taught that God forgave them and they are to perform the same without question. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel strong emotions like anger, hurt or grief. They do, but let go of resentment and bitterness quickly and find it tough to understand that others might not understand that this is just common sense.
The Amish aren’t perfect! They are human. They do not like the notion that some”Englishers” have had an inaccurate and negative impression of these through movies and television.
Remaining in an Amish community has given me some insight into how they could have remained so consistent and loyal to their values for more than three hundred years while all of the world around them has changed!
What are your values and how have they remained consistent or changed through the years?