Sunday, September 18, 2011

so why are the amish growing?

Why are the Amish Growing?

Not so many years ago I remember doing some research on the Amish and it was quite evident that a number of writers felt the Amish were on their way out due to declining numbers. Well, if it ever was the case it is not so any longer. A friend just returned from Michigan and told me there were Amish where there had never been Amish before and he had enjoyed making the acquaintance of several through his father. In Montana, not far from where I live, there are now Amish. If I did a bit of digging I wonder where else I might find they had popped up – Germany, Brazil, Ireland, France – and whether there were Amish who were of Hispanic background, or African-American, or Asian?

I’ve read that 85% of those born and raised Amish (though you’re not really Amish until you’ve taken your vows and been baptized) choose to remain Amish. Even with large families that still doesn’t account for the sudden spread of the Amish faith (which was not that strong in other generations). Clearly there is growth from converts. But what are the reasons someone would convert to the Amish faith in this day and age? As I mentioned in my last blog, I know some good reasons why I could be Amish but I also know a number of good reasons why I couldn’t. What are the reasons people might be joining the Amish faith in the 21st century, reasons that overwhelm their hesitancies and objections?

Well, the only way to really know all the reasons would be to interview the hundreds of new converts. Since I don’t have time to do that this Sunday night I thought I might speculate and that maybe you could respond and speculate with me. Then maybe another day I could find some research on the topic and find out if the actual reasons dovetailed with the ones we thought up together.

I think one reason for the growth of the Amish faith is the loss of community in the world around them. Many people no longer have strong connections with their neighbors or social groups or even their families. (Or even their churches.) Lonely and feeling increasingly cut off from meaningful relationship these people gravitate towards the close-knit Amish community.

Another reason is the fast and stressful pace of our society. People are sick of the running and having to live as if they’re machines with computer brains, sick of the financial strain, sick of fighting to make ends meet. Wouldn’t it be nice to live at a slower pace and have time to lean on a fence or a hoe handle and talk with a neighbor as if were 1875 again? Go at a horse’s pace when you travel rather than in a hurtling steel gas guzzler that fights for space with thousands of other hurtling steel gas guzzlers? Not be hassled by the need for money, money and more money?

Then there is the living out of the Christian faith. Some feel their churches are too big, too busy, too full of programs, too impersonal. They look at the Amish and find a faith in Christ where people know your name and care about your life and struggles, they value your family and children – not as numbers to fill the pews and chairs, but as members of an honest-to-goodness up-close-and-personal spiritual church that honors Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Lord.

Others agree with the pacifist stance of the Amish church, a stance they have taken for hundreds of years. In a world afflicted by a constant stream of wars, terrorist acts and violence for many – for most – it is refreshing to be among a people who eschew the way of the sword for the way of the plow. It is a community of Christian faith truly committed to peace.

As I mentioned a couple of blogs back there is the fact the Amish don’t swallow technology whole like the culture around them, they discuss and debate it. While it’s true humans seem to be a creation easily addicted to technological innovation down through the ages it’s also true there are those who question it and avoid it down through the ages. The big question for the Amish is whether a new technology enhances community or erodes it. If the latter it is not adopted. (In case you think nothing new has been added since the era of Wyatt Earp or Little House on the Prairie some Amish use cell phones at certain times and for very specific reasons.)

Then there is a reason I actually came up with after reading an Amish farmer talking about it (so it’s not a reason I thought up at all). He simply said that some people are called to be Amish, called by God, in the same way people are called to be pastors or missionaries or to join a specific church or denomination. Which makes sense to me. Some people feel they belong with the Baptists or the Methodists or the Pentecostals or Vineyard or the Greek Orthodox Church. And some feel they need to be Amish because God has put it in their heart. Warum nicht? Why not?

Or maybe you would like to live your life with God out among horses and barns and livestock and fields and wooden carts and carriages, and people with a like heart for such things, without the screech of TVs and car brakes and amplified music.

I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if some of the reasons I’ve laid out here might be the reasons some people have converted to the Amish faith and the Amish way in recent years.

What reasons do you think people have who discard suits and jeans and skirts and the driving of Camaros to dress plain and ride in one-horse buggies and grow beards or wear prayer kapps and sit down to platefuls of Shoofly pie?

What would your reasons be?

Why not leave a comment and let me know?

1 comment:

Bill L. said...

"...and people with a like heart for such things..."

Community, specifically, family community would be the gift I would be seeking if I chose to become Amish.

When my dad died just as I become a teen, I lost more than I have words to express. Though my inner reality, a thing I naively thought private and hidden, hurt my mother deeply, and I never recognized that in time to let her know I had become aware and ask her forgiveness, it has been one of the dominate forces in my existence.
My decades of Christian service, pastoring, teaching, helping..., have been one very involved attempt to build the beauty of eternity in Lord Jesus' heart and hand into a rural setting in modern America so I could be whole and grow old and rest with my fathers.
Unmasked it was little more than a really skillful attempt to use God and His family to fill the emptiness in me. I did not know that till about eight years ago, but it is true nonetheless.
This talk of the Amish way, it has uncovered a hole that still resides in my soul; however, I think I sense the solidifying outline of a bridge over that hole taking shape moment by moment.
Perhaps stretching the intent of the passage, "Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."