Full Circle

In fifth grade I wrote my first paper on the Amish.  Today, I interacted with them for the first time.

As a young girl I visited Lancaster County more times then I could count on two hands.  I was enamored with the Amish lifestyle.  How could they live so conservatively and so simply in the face of such a fast paced modern society? And why did they want to?  The farms, the cute dresses, and the buggies awed me and as I drove along country roads I desired to be one of them.  I was nostalgic and it all seemed a bit romantic to me. Today however, I got to experience it!

This morning our class scrambled into the 15 passenger and took our first trip to Lancaster County.  We started with a touristy place called the Amish Experience, where we witnessed a somewhat “corny” yet informative video production on an Amish story.  Afterwards we visited several shops eating meals while also getting a taste of the culture.  What was particularly intriguing in those initial situations was gawking at the various Amish we encountered while also being gawked at while walking around in our long skirts and conservative tops.  I felt the tension of standing on middle ground as both the offender and the offended.   A women even asked a classmate, “where are you from?” and “what are you up to?”  When she found out we were with a college she said she knew because we did not indeed look “authentic.” While impressed that she knew the true dress, it evidenced the way we did indeed stick out like sore thumbs.

After these morning activities, our group travelled to the shop and home of an Amish friend of our professors, a one Samuel Riehl. Sam, a minister of the church greeted us openly inviting questions as we surrounded him in a grassy circle behind his store.  Of particular note throughout the conversation, was the demeanor of this Amish man.  Crouched strong, upon one knee he spoke to us, pausing before responding, flavoring his speech with humor, and humbly displaying his perspective, repetitively proclaiming not to be the judge while offering his personal convictions and describing all of us as Christians. In our conversation, several of Sam’s responses struck me.  A classmate asked him about the pacifist roots of the Amish in light of the Old Testament. Samuel responded with surprising appreciation for America and a shocking awareness of Memorial Day (coming up on Monday) with prayer and gratitude towards our veterans. As I was sitting there I could not help but think of my own army man and wonder what his thoughts would be had he been a part of the conversation.  Samuel continued to describe that he and the Amish believe in the powerful warfare of prayer, impressing me with a component of my faith I have never taken so strongly.  During the conversation, I had the opportunity to ask about the rejection of the assurance of faith (Amish do not boast of a known salvation) and whether he still finds peace. Samuel did not denounce the dramatic experiences of people who feel great change at the time of conversion, but he himself felt he could not claim a similar attitude, having grown up in the church.  This response brought up an irony, given thought, it may appear to be prideful suggesting that he had never committed so aggregious a sin to warrant such a conversion moment, while also claiming a humility that he has never experienced those feelings proclaiming the continual process of his salvation. Samuel admitted to not feeling peace at all times (seemingly associating his faith with his actions?) indeed proclaiming however, the peace of knowing that Gods grace is available at all times.  Among other tidbits he proposed keeping the Bible simple and encouraged us as the future of the nation to pursue our dreams. While more answers brought with it more questions I was blessed by the wisdom of Sam and the opportunity of this meeting.

Later in the afternoon we visited the homestead of Jacob and Anna Esh.  After learning about Anna’s quilting business, exploring the farm, riding Amish scooters, observing milking (I even got to pour fresh milk from the can!) and playing with kittens we sat down to an Amish meal.  Anna served us salad, fresh bread with jam, chicken, beef brisket, mashed and scalloped potatoes, baked corn, asparagus and for dessert, Reese’s peanut butter cake(?) and french rhubarb pie with ice cream. Even more striking then the meal however were the interactions of the Amish family.  Anna went about her work humbly, cheerfully and kindly. I was struct by the shyness of the young children expecting them to be more outgoing then the adults (seemingly opposite of our American culture). The compliance of the girls to sing after supper to us English (what the Amish call outside Americans) upon request of her father and mother demonstrated obedience and a reverence of their parents.  What an honor and blessing to be singing songs alongside these people, that they would even invite us in their home, which felt like an invasion to me, was welcomed and met kindly.  Anna cheerfully showed us her gardens and I picked her asparagus with her and my classmates.  We filled two buckets! Leaving, even after only being their for a few hours she proclaimed, “I wish I could hug all of you” and the parting made me desire to begin my home stay even more!

We concluded our day by tracking down the local Amish/Mennonite baseball tournament that Jacob and Anna’s son was participating in.  This experience was a picture of “rumspringa” or running around of the Amish “youth” before joining the church.  At the game I was overwhelmed, both astounded and confused by what I was seeing.  In many instances I could not tell Amish from Mennonites from English! What particularly struck me was what the Amish chose to do during their “rumspringa” period.  Many of the young men continued to wear suspenders over patterned and brand name shirts.  Girl also stretched tees over their Amish dresses but did not wear their hair loose though I thought I saw one girl wearing makeup.  Other piled out of cars and many of the young men were smoking.  It seemed that the men were much more rebellious then the women and at points I am sure I couldn’t tell Amish men from English!  This patterns finds similarities in the decision to leave the church.  In the van one of our professor highlighted that Amish men tend to leave the church at a greater rate then the females.  In all religions women generally tend to be more devote and in Amish culture men have much more opportunity to interact with the world possibly accounting for this difference.  This could also explain the more drastic differences in rumspringa.  During our time at the game, one of my classmates proclaimed that she wished our communities would participate in activities such as this and I agreed, saying, “this [the gathering of youth] is just crazy enough for me, without being too much.”  As I ponder it more it seems similar to the young people who scout each other out on the boardwalks of the beach in the summer.  On the ride home, our professor mentioned how many of the tamer youths would have been at home this Saturday night.  As we drove I considered myself and my close-in-age younger brother.  I imagined myself sitting at home quietly while he rambunctiously attended the baseball game,  thinking of similar evenings in while he was out with friends and how the Amish parents feelings must be akin those of my own parents in regards to the various young people.

Wow, today was full circle for the young girl who wrote her first research paper on the Amish in fifth grade and I am overwhelmed by the opportunity to move past the romanticism and experience the people, for all of their similarities and differences to my own life. I am so excited for the homestays beginning Tuesday!

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