In today's stressful world, many of us wish wistfully that we could work close to home, spend more time with our families and friends, raise resourceful, responsible children, depend less on material possessions, and escape from the constant distractions of media, computers, and other electronics. In Amish communities, however, people actually do all that -- simply, daily, and as a matter of faith and commitment.
Our nation's major Amish communities are mostly in the farm country of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but can be found as far west as Missouri and south as Tennessee. Tracing their roots to Swiss German Anabaptists who migrated to the U.S. in the early 1700's, most still speak Old German at home and in their community.
Rules which may seem restrictive or surprising to outsiders -- no cars, no electricity, simple dress, only basic education -- unite them as a community, allowing them to avoid distraction and invest their energies in family and community life. It seems to work: Over 90% of young adult Amish choose to stay and make their lives within the community. Community members also tend to live and stay healthy longer than the rest of the U.S. population. Thanks to low attrition, big families, and long lives, the Amish community is actually growing.
The Old German Anabaptist tradition that shaped the Amish community is shared by other groups as well, who are fascinating both in themselves and as a cultural context to understanding the Amish. Mennonites, the other major surviving Old German group, tend to be slightly more modern; although most also maintain plain dress, strong faith, and close family ties, many allow their members to drive cars, use cell phones for business, and seek higher education. Mennonite history is on display at the lovely Hans Herr House, built in 1719 as a family farmhouse, and which served as an early (and oldest still standing) Mennonite Meeting House. Other related historical sites include the Ephrata Cloister, once home to a monastic Anabaptist community, and the Landis Valley Village Museum.
Landis Valley Village Museum
Willow Street, Pennsylvania