When driving through parts of Kentucky, it’s not deer you need to keep an eye on but the Amish and their buggies. One of the Anabaptist denominations (which also includes Mennonites and Hutterites) the Amish are a breakaway group formed in 1693 by Jakob Amman, who figured that the Swiss Mennonites weren’t nearly as strict as they should be in their shunning of society.
The Amish began to emigrate to the USA in the eighteenth century and have since split into ‘new order’ and ‘old order’, the former accepting social change and technology, the latter holding fast to traditional ways. What stands them apart from Protestantism is the idea of adult baptism. Young people get to spend a year with ‘the English’ before deciding whether or not to join the Amish community through baptism. What stands them apart from American society at large is a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way.Their group norms is largely at odds with the individualism that is central to American culture.
They don’t have churches but instead rotate between families who open their homes and barns to the local congregation (generally of a house-able size of 75).They don’t play musical instruments (considered worldly and vain) but they do sing but in unison, though never in harmony.
Everyday life is governed by the Ordnung, an unwritten code of behaviour which is largely interpreted and enforced by the Bishop. It covers everything from child bearing to what they wear, from how they work to how they spend their weekends.
Not ones to sit idly by when someone breaks the rules, the Amish are known for their practice of shunning: An Amish person may be shunned for a variety of offenses, ranging from major moral offenses to using improper technology. In accordance with the teachings of Jakob Amman, an Amish person in good standing may not buy from, sell to, eat with or sleep with a shunned person, even if the person is one’s spouse or close relative.
For the Old order, The use of electricity is a no-no. It’s seen as the main connection to the outside world, a world full of temptation. They do have washing-machines and other ‘white goods’ that are run on propane, though. And one way to spot an Amish house is to find a plain house, painted in white, with a barn, and no electricity lines.
The list of rules would appear endless. Men must grow beards when they marry but should never have a mustache. All clothes are made at home, with no zippers. The women never cut their hair and jewelry of any kind is forbidden. There’s little problem taking photos of how they live but they don’t like photos being taken of themselves, believing that photos are graven images and thus violate the second commandment. On this note, their dolls are traditionally faceless. Set apart from the rest of the country, the Amish don’t vote or serve in the military. They don’t have social security or other types of insurance. And any sports they play are for enjoyment – competitive spirits should be kept at bay. An interesting way of life.
But not nearly as interesting perhaps as the Shakers. We went to see the Shaker museum at South Union and I am still reeling a little at what those lads got up to… or didn’t, as the case may be.
Known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, referred to as the shakers because of their ecstatic dancing, they were celibate: they did not marry or bear children so one has to wonder who they lasted for 200 years and are still going today (one small community left in Maine). In something reminiscent of Jesus calling on his disciples to leave all their worldly goods and follow him, the Shakers left it all behind – family, property, and money – to join ‘holy families‘ where men and women lived as brother and sister, where all property was held in common, and where each participated in the rigorous daily task of transforming the earth into heaven.
Founded by an illiterate English factory worker named Ann Lee, Mother Lee send eight pilgrims to America in 1774 to spread her gospel in the New World. Her followers believed her to be the second coming of Christ. In 1787, coinciding with the signing of the American Constitution, Shaker women were officially bestowed with equal rights. Before the emancipation of the South, the Shakers freed their slaves and bought others out. Their inventions are still in use today: the clothespin and the circular saw…. and they were, apparently, the first to put seeds into printed paper packets to sell! Way ahead of their time,the New Hampshire Shakers had rigged up electricity in their village while the state capital building was still burning gas.
Amazing what you learn when you visit Kentucky.