Stroll into the small farming community of Shipshewana, Indiana and be surrounded by a culture rarely found anywhere. The town of around 536 people hosts about 500,000 visitors each year. What is the big attraction? This area of Northern Indiana is home to many of the Amish faith. Tourism has been encouraged by residents of Shipshewana, attracting people come from far and wide to experience the simple, beautiful life led by the Amish.
The basis for the Amish religion is found in the Bible. Matthew 6 warns individuals from placing their hearts on riches. Amish make conscious choices to live simply, and not get caught up in material things. Wearing simple clothes and using no electricity or cars is their way of keeping life simple. Work is an important part of the Amish lifestyle. Arising by 5 am, family members start their morning chores. Children understand their chores are necessary for sustaining the farm. In mainstream American culture a child may be asked to take the trash out. Sometimes it is done, and sometimes it is not. On an Amish farm however, chores get done.
Looking for an Amish church to visit? You won’t find one. Amish services are performed in the barns and homes of the members. Congregations are formed according to geographical areas covering a one to two mile radius. The leader of each congregation is called a Bishop, and he makes decisions regarding specific rules. For instance, a Bishop can give the congregation permission regarding use of cell phones or modern farm equipment like Bobcats. One congregation may be allowed to use cell phones, while a neighboring one may not, depending on their Bishop’s ruling. Church is not held every other Sunday allowing members to visit relatives on off-weeks. It is common to have many visitors on Sunday. When the congregation gathers at the designated home they wait outside until the barn doors are opened, the signal to enter. By tradition, men enter first. As in many religious communities, practice is not based on doctrine alone, but often is established by tradition. While doctrine contributes to daily practices and beliefs, members are affected equally by culture and tradition.
One way in which tradition has molded Amish lifestyle is in the education of children. Amish children do not usually continue schooling past the eighth grade. In the past, families owned more land and children were needed to run the farm. Although farms are much smaller now, children still complete their education in the eighth grade. They are not required by law to attend beyond that because of their religious beliefs. Today children do not work on their family farms when they have finished their schooling, but rather they go to work at the local factories. Occasionally an Amish child may decide to continue attending school. They will stay in the home of a host, or “English” family for their extended schooling.
Amish tradition runs deep and is reflected in daily life. Family life is at the center of these beliefs–working, worshiping, and fellowshipping together strengthens ties and keeps their faith constant in a world that has changed around them over for over a century.