Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why The Amish Do Not Have Church Houses or Church Buildings

Often we, the owners of the Millersburg, Ohio, Barn Inn Bed and Breakfast are asked why the Amish do not have church houses or church buildings.  The Amish meet for church, every other Sunday, conducting services in their barns, houses, and out buildings; such as a woodworking shop that has been prepared, and set with backless benches. Houses are immaculately cleaned, walls and windows washed, lawns manicured. Overall, homesteads are impeccably staged for the important day(s).  They usually host church two Sundays, after which, the church bench wagon is taken to the next host home.  An average Amish church in Holmes County, Ohio, may consist of about 125 people.  Many newer Amish homes and outbuildings are built with church accommodations in mind; new houses often featuring large open floor plans or walk-out basements.

Amish Church in Home - Amish Bench Wagon
As with many traditions, the Amish, when asked about why they don't have meeting houses, generally reply, "Because we've always done it that way."  I believe a look at their historic experience is helpful and may indicate where this practice began.

An excellent reference for Anabaptist history is the book, Smith's Story of the Mennonites, by C. Henry Smith. The Anabaptists who followed Menno Simons, (born 1496), preceded the Amish, who follow the teachings of Jacob Ammon, (born February 12, 1644).  The Amish broke from the Anabaptists, who were followers of Menno Simons. Menno Simon's followers were not called Mennonites until they came to America.

Because, from the early 1500's, Anabaptism was a capital crime; great persecution prevailed for those who refused infant baptism in the Catholic church. Dissenters and those who provided food and shelter to Anabaptists were imprisoned, burned at the stake, beheaded, or sometimes drowned.  Anabaptists met secretly to worship.  Today, many Amish and Mennonites make pilgrimages to a Swiss Taufer (Anabaptist) Meeting Cave where ancestors held secret church services.

Swiss Mennonite Cave - Schurch Tour
Most Amish homes have a copy of the Martyr's Mirror, a history, record book of anabaptists and early Christians who were martyred for the sake of Christ, during the reformation..  This copy was purchased at a local Amish home auction.

1814 Copy of Martyr's Mirror
In 1544, under the rule of Countess Anna (Netherlands), Mennonites were tolerated but still had to meet in secret.  When the time came that the authorities allowed church buildings, they had to be erected along back streets, out of view and obscure, without a tower or bell.  It is interesting, that on one occasion the Reformed Clergy of Norden complained to the magistrate that "the impudent Mennonites go to church to the sound of our own bells."

Today, as in years past, many American conservative Mennonite Churches are severely plain, devoid of adornment; no steeple and no stained windows. Shown below is a Beachy Amish Church in Fryburg, south of Mt. Hope.  The far left door is the ladies entrance and the far right door is the mens entrance.  After the service, anyone may use the double doors in the middle.

Beachy Amish Church
The question of whether to allow a meetinghouse created considerable tension among Amish communities; the debate extending from Ohio to Pennsylvania and Indiana.   A division in 1893 resulted in the largest segment of Amish transitioning to the use of meeting houses.  Most of those "Meetinghouse Amish" soon assimmiliated into the general conference Mennonites.  It was at this time that the term of "Old Order Amish" came to be, referring to the Amish who did not accept meeting houses.

Submitted by Loretta Coblentz
June 6, 2014

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