|Over the years, we invited readers to send in questions.
With the help of some of our Amish friends, we tried to briefly answer
them. Here are a few of our favorites, which we last revised in the year
Q#1: How Many Amish Are There And Where Do They Live?
A: It is not easy to say exactly how many Amish there are. There is no
census taken by the Amish of their members. In addition, since the Amish
believe in adult baptism, should we count only the baptized members, or
all persons living in the household?
One way to guess at the population is to look at Raberís Almanac
every year. It is published in both German and English. Inside we find a
list, by state, of all the Amish church districts. The list also includes
the names of ministers, bishops and deacons. Even though not all the
information may be up-to-date, and certainly changes occur over the course
of the year, it gives us a good idea of how the Amish population is
According to the 2000 edition of Raberís Almanac, there are
Amish living in 21 states in the USA. The largest populations, about 70%
of the total, are in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, in that order. Holmes
County, Ohio, is the largest settlement. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania
settlement is second. The other states are: Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri,
New York, Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, Delaware,
Kansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Montana, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, and
Although the number of members and non-members in a church district
varies, current research uses about 168 persons as an average per
district. We can multiply this times the number of church districts listed
for each state in Raberís Almanac, and get a rough estimated
population. For 2000, we would have about 55,000 Amish in Ohio, 47,000 in
Pennsylvania, and 37,000 in Indiana. In all of the USA, the estimate would
be about 198,000. There are also about 3,000 thousand Amish in Ontario,
using the "Raber" method. (NOTE: These figures are probably
high, as church districts vary in size, but the growth in church districts
shows the general growth in the Amish population.)
Lancaster County, the oldest of all Amish settlements, comprises about
half of all the Amish living in the state of Pennsylvania. Lancaster has
about 130 church districts, making an estimated population of 21-22,000
Old Order Amish. To get an idea of how fast our population is growing, I
went back to the 1973 Raberís Almanac. Back then, there were only
51 church districts listed for Lancaster County!
Q#2: What Does "Pennsylvania Dutch" Really Mean?
A: "Pennsylvania Dutch" is a phrase commonly seen and heard
throughout the Amish Country. It refers to a people, a language and a
culture, but it has nothing to do with Holland, as many people think.
The problem word here is "Dutch." It should actually be
"Deutsche" or "Deitsch," referring to German. For a
better explanation, letís journey to Philadelphia. It was in
Philadelphia that various religious groups first arrived from Europe in
the early 1700s. Most were escaping persecution and were responding to
William Pennís promise of religious freedom in the New World. They
included Lutherans, Amish, Mennonites, Reformed Quakers, French Huguenots
and others. These immigrants, many of whom had once lived in countries
bordering the Rhine River, now found themselves settling in southeastern
Pennsylvania between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers.
Germans were some of the first to arrive in "Pennís Woods."
Many German visitors tell us even today that the Lancaster County
landscape reminds them of parts of Germany. Perhaps that is why Lancaster
was one of the first places they settled. Some people say the word
"Deitsch" (for German) was difficult for the non-German populace
to pronounce, and so in time it became "Dutch." Whatever the
case, Pennsylvania Dutch refers to people of German background,
descendants of German, Swiss and Alsatian immigrants and also to the
German dialect spoken here, and their art, foods and culture.
The language is still spoken by the Amish, as well as many non-Amish
residents, particularly in the Lancaster, Lebanon and Berks County areas.
The dialect is close to Palatine German folk speech. (A publication in the
dialect is currently published in Germany.) Interestingly, the language
was primarily spoken and not written. (The Amish, for example, write to
each other in English.) But in recent years, more people have begun to
both read and write the language in an effort to preserve it. Now there
are even classes offered locally in the Pennsylvania German language, and
a dictionary has even been published.
This German influence is also seen in many local foods. Few people
escape Amish Country without sampling such Pennsylvania Dutch specialties
as shoofly pie, chow chow and chicken pot pie. This is hearty eating, and
we love our desserts, sometimes having as many as four or five at a time!
Finally, most people have seen the folk art of the Pennsylvania Dutch,
whether it be in hex signs, quilts, furniture or fraktur. Pennsylvania
German art is found in many of the worldís museums. Its distinctive
birds, tulips, hearts and other images reflect the regionís religious
faith, love of color, and closeness to the land.
Q#3: Where Do The Words "Amish" and "Mennonite" Come
A: Many visitors to Lancaster County mispronounce the word
"Amish," pronouncing it as "aim-ish." The key to
understanding how to pronounce this word is to look back briefly at the
beginnings of the Amish and Mennonite faiths.
The year was 1525; the place was Zurich, Switzerland. The Swiss
Brethren, radicals who disagreed with reformers like Martin Luther and
Ulrich Zwingli, formed their own "church." Among other things,
these "reformers of the Reformers" believed in separation of
Church and State, non-resistance and adult baptism (which gave them the
nickname of re-baptizers or Anabaptists). These ideas were considered
radical and threatening to those in power. After fines, banishment and
imprisonment failed to stop the movement, thousands of the Anabaptists
were hunted down and killed.
There was no single leader. Rather people of like thinking appeared in
various parts of Europe. But of the many leaders, the most well known was
Menno Simons. He was a Dutch Catholic priest who converted in 1536. His
extensive writings worked to spread the faith until his death in 1561.
Since it was common then to name new movements after their leaders, the
nickname "Mennists," "Mennonists" or
"Mennonites" was used referring to the Anabaptists throughout
Many years later, in 1693, a "Mennonite" bishop named Jacob
Amman disagreed with some of the interpretations and changes occurring in
the church. In the end, a division took place, with Amman and his
followers taking the more conservative path. In time, they became known as
the "Amish Mennonites," or simply "Amish," apparently
from the Swiss diminutive "ami." Thus, we pronounce the word
Although there were attempts to reconcile their differences, emigration
to America started a few years later, and it was in America where the
Amish faith grew. In early America, the group was sometimes referred to as
"Aymennist" or "Omish." While further divisions
occurred in America, we today refer to the conservative group as the
"Old Order Amish."
Today there are liberal Amish groups that use electricity and cars, as
well as conservative Mennonites who do not. But the differences between
the many groups tend to be more in the area of practice and lifestyle than
of doctrine. All of them trace their beginnings to the Swiss Brethren and
Anabaptist movements in Europe.
Q#4: How are Amish Carriages Made?
A: Thatís a good question. I talked to one of my Amish friends who
makes carriages, and here is what he told me...
Until about 150 years ago, all carriage bodies were made of wood, but
as population and demand increased, the years involved in seasoning and
drying the pine and poplar became a problem. Plus, kiln-dried wood didnít
last. After 3 to 4 years there was often rotting. So, the switch to
fiberglass was made. Fiberglass is molded and sold to the wooden body
shops, which connect it to the upper wooden portion of the carriage.
Different Amish work on different phases of carriage construction.
Wheels of hickory, axles of tempered steel and springs are mostly made
locally, some by Mennonite neighbors. My friend assembles the parts and
then does the painting, upholstery, lights, brakes and optional. I donít
know anyone who makes an entire carriage from start to finish.
From the time an Amishman places his order until the finished product
is ready takes about 130-150 man hours, but my friend says he is usually
working on 2 or 3 carriages at a time. He usually can do one new carriage
and one paint job a month in addition to a lot of repair work.
Prices for enclosed carriages range from $4,500 to $5,000 (up from
$2,800 to $3,600 in 1992), depending on the options, plus tax. My friend
noted that although Amish carriage makers donít formally agree on
prices, they do try to keep prices comparable. A carriage seats four
people comfortably, but maybe six with kids.
The State requires head and taillights plus continuous flash. Turn
signals are not required, but almost always included. Lights are operated
off a car battery. Carpet is pretty much standard inside.
As when you buy a car, we also have a selection of "options"
to choose from. These include additional lights inside, stained switch
box, sealed thermapane windows, and handholds. Rubber in the springs makes
the bumps milder, but fiberglass is replacing the steel springs. Some get
a speedometer that goes on the brake drum to measure speed, distance and
time on the road. Usually the seat material is also used for the inside
lining. Most popular are velvet-like fabrics in blue, burgundy, or tan.
The biggest changes over the years have been hydraulic brakes and
interior decorating. The material for the outer gray covering of the
carriage is now vinyl, instead of the former cloth with its coat of paint.
Although fiberglass and plastic sliding doors appeared in the early
1990ís, the standard now is wooden doors with plastic lamination on both
sides. Also pretty much standard now is the fiberglass unit that includes
the entire front and posts, again eliminating rotting due to exposure to
the elements. One of the newest options is fiberglass wheels, which cost
about $300 more per set of four.
My friend guessed that there are about 10 carriage shops in Lancaster
County within a 15-20 mile radius, each employing about 2-8 employees. In
addition, there are perhaps six body shops, manufacturers of hydraulic
brakes and other suppliers. Locally made carriages are sometimes sold to
areas outside of Lancaster as well, including other parts of Pennsylvania,
Maryland, southern states and even the Mid-West. They may be crated for
shipping or delivered by truck. Some people even send "packages"
out to be assembled on arrival. A reunion for Amish carriage makers is
held every two years.
Q#5: How do you become a minister in the Amish church?
A: As you may know, the Amish divide their settlements into church
districts and have church services in member homes. Each church district
usually has two or three ministers, one bishop (often shared between two
districts) and one deacon. The Lancaster County settlement currently has
about 130 church districts.
The Amish do not believe in going to college or a seminary to become a
minister in the church. Nor does a man aspire to be a minister. Rather,
ministers are chosen by lot from among those in the church district
congregation. No one is "brought in" or feels they are
"called" to serve as a preacher. They normally serve for life
and receive no salary.
Becoming a minister is not viewed as an honor, but rather a heavy and
serious responsibility. The idea of choosing a minister by lot comes from
Acts 1:23-26, in which lots were cast to decide who would replace Judas as
one of the 12 of Christís apostles.
In most Amish settlements, a young man cannot be baptized into the
faith unless he is willing to become a minister should the lot fall on him
Usually an announcement that a minister will be chosen is made at least
two weeks prior to the communion service, so everyone may pray and
meditate. It is normally taken for granted that this will be a married
man. In the Lancaster County settlement, it is preferred that candidates
for bishop have children who are church members in good standing. There
are not to be discussions among people as to who they plan to
"nominate," not even between man and wife, nor does anyone
indicate his desire to be a minister.
After the long communion service, the selection takes place. Chapter 3
of I Timothy is read to those gathered. This chapter in the New Testament
describes in detail the qualifications and character men should have to
hold this position. Then the bishop and other ordained men go to a private
room. Each member, beginning with the men and boys, then women and girls,
goes to the door of the room and whispers the name of the man who they
feel is best suited to be the new minister.
The men who have received three or more votes become the candidates of
whom there may be around six to eight. When voting is completed, the
ministers return and announce the name of each man who was selected to be
in the lot. As each manís name is called, he rises and goes to sit at a
table on which an equal number of songbooks have been placed. Each hymnal
has a rubberband around it, and hidden inside one book is a slip of paper.
In the Lancaster County settlement, on the slip of paper in German is
written, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing
thereof is of the Lord," (Proverbs 16:33) This reminds all that the
final choice is made by God.
Each man selects a book. Usually the oldest chooses first down through
the youngest, and he who picks the book with the paper within becomes the
new minister, and will be one until his death. Because of the solemn
procedure and great responsibility, when the chosen manís name is
announced, he and many of the congregation burst into tears. The bishops
and ministers greet the man with the holy kiss and shake his hand. The
impact of this event remains with a man for years.
The minister receives no formal training in his new position. Everyone
is encouraged to pray for the new minister who has been selected from
among them. The Amish feel that Godís hand is involved in this process.
Indeed, there are even some stories of men who tried to pick a certain
book, but felt they were being "held back."
Deacons are chosen by lot as well. The bishop is chosen from the
ministers in the district.
Q#6: We hear the Amish worship at home and that your services are very
long. Can you give us an "insiderís look" at what happens at a
A: Maybe the best way to answer your question is to simply describe a
church service I attended, from the time we left home until we returned.
Church in our district last Sunday was held at the John Stoltzfus farm.
We had to get up a little earlier than usual to get the milking done.
Afterwards we had breakfast at 6:30 AM and were on our way in the horse
and buggy by 7:00. It took us about 30 minutes to get there. When we
arrived, we took our horse to the barn, and I joined the other men to talk
before the service began. When it was time, we left our hats, entered the
house and shook hands with the preachers, deacon and bishop who sat in the
front. Sliding doors had been removed, and the men sat in two rooms, the
women in the other two.
The service started about 8:00 AM with a hymn sung in German from the Ausbund.
The second hymn is always the same, the Loblied. One man leads, singing
the first notes as everyone joins in. The singing lasted about 30 minutes.
Of course we all sung in unison, with no musical instruments. It was slow,
yet beautiful and, with over 150 voices, quite moving.
The first sermon began about 8:30 AM and lasted about half an hour.
Then there was a silent prayer, a Scripture reading (Matthew 13) and the
main sermon. Both preachers cried at times during their sermons and were
quite emotional. It is amazing to realize that the preachers have little
idea who will preach until the service beings. They usually read a
Scripture and say what comes to mind, without any notes.
To keep the children quiet, some mothers produced books, Cheerios in a
coin purse, plastic animals wrapped in a hankie or candy. The oldest lady
in the district, in her upper 80ís, sat in a more comfortable chair,
rather than on the hard benches we all had. The main sermon lasted about
one hour. Then there were testimonies, additional remarks made by the
other preachers attending. After a prayer, Scripture and hymn, the service
concluded around 11:00 AM.
After church, we men prepared the rooms for lunch, converting some of
the benches into tables. There were about 35 people at the table in the
room where the men ate, each place with a knife, cup and saucer and glass
of water. We had coffee, bread, buns, peanut butter spread, red beets,
pickles and cheese. Of course, we gave a silent prayer before and after we
ate. We ate quickly since others were still waiting. (I remember how, when
I was a boy, we waited outside for our turn to eat, since the older people
eat first. When our time came, we took out little pocket mirrors to comb
our hair, left our hats on the porch again and went inside.)
Afterwards the men sat and chatted in one area and the women in
another. Families left as they were ready. When we got home, we rested and
did some reading until it was time to eat at 4:00 PM, and then milked and
fed the cows once again. Next Sunday is the "off Sunday," and weíll
be visiting friends in another district. Before long it will be our turn
to have church at our place.