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Genesis 2:7,10,20-23 (Holy Bible)
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul... And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an help meet (suitable helper) for him... And Adam gave names to all of the cattle, and to the fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: And He took one of his ribs, and closed up the esh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto man. And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and esh of my esh: She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man."
This is the foundation that we believe our marriages are built on. When we promise our lives to each other, we consider it to be an institution of God.
This summer my oldest sister married. We still adhere to the tradition of hosting weddings in our homes. As you can imagine a lot of sweat and labor goes into a wedding preparation. At times like this we fully appreciate the support that we have as a community. Family, friends and neighbors all pitch in to help.
I grew up on the farm. This in itself creates extra work. On a farm, the work cannot wait or be put off. The cows need to be milked, the hay made, and the garden produce still needs to be canned and frozen. The whole summer long, all spare time was dedicated to the little extras. These important details included repainting barns and fence, making sure all flowers are taken care of, and cleaning out corners that normally don't need to be cleaned in the barn. The main goal is to assure that the final weeks' preparations are almost wholly wedding focused.
As our young people consider marriage, we look at it from a long-term commitment viewpoint. We are taught that courtship is not to be a frivolous, lighthearted relationship. Despite what the "Amish" romance novels might portray, it is usually not a juicy, gushy affair with rivalry between multiple parties. We feel that the Bible teaches us to be morally responsible and pure. Most of us adhere to the standards of no kissing, hugging, etc. This is to keep our minds free from physical attraction. We wish to keep our relationships free in a way that if a breakup should occur, there are no regrets and children that are victims of these circumstances.
After engagement, the plans begin. With 300-400 people to feed, it is necessary that a plan of action is in place. Schedules are made out for the ladies to come together to help. Meals are planned to be brought in by neighbors and family on these workdays.
For the big day, our community has mobile kitchens that can be rented for these events. They have kitchen stoves and ovens, sinks and are fully equipped with dishes and utensils. With all the food being prepped on-site it takes order and a practical setup. The mashed potatoes, dressing (stuffing), salads, breads, cakes or pies, and fruit needs to be cut and prepped.
After a full week of preparation, the big day has arrived. We typically have our wedding on Saturday instead of the traditional Thursday. Many of our men hold day jobs so it makes more sense to have it on Saturday. A bit of a side note that deviates from the story. Many Amish still cling to the practice of having weddings on Thursday. This tradition stems from a pagan culture that honored Thor, the god of thunder and fertility. Thursday was named in honor of Thor, hence the tradition of weddings on this day.
The day usually begins early if chicken needs to be fried. If this is the case the first cooks begin to arrive at 4 in the morning. The next crew arrives between 7 and 8. Designated cooks are usually aunts of the bride, home church ladies, and near neighbors. There are also 1 or 2 couples that are designated as coordinators. These men take the helm during the course of the day making sure that the grunt work is done and assisting the women with making sure things happen at the right time.
At 7:30 the hostlers, personal friends of the groom, show up. They will assist in parking and taking care of the horses. When this is done, they will assist in the kitchen or wherever help is needed. After the ceremony and before the youth lunch is served, they will coordinate the youth boys in cleaning up and loading the "bench wagons," the trailer that is used to transport our folding benches from home to home. These are typically a neighboring districts' that need to be returned that day for their congregation's services.
At around 8 o'clock the table-waiter, servers, arrive. These are usually the youth friends of the couple. Table-waiter are paired up, mostly two girls but dating couples are paired up and occasionally a very close friend or cousin of the groom will be paired with a friend of the bride. This is enough to set the older women's tongues a waggin' and the speculations are whispered. "Did you see that?," one will ask another.
"Do you think it will turn into something serious?," is the response. And admittedly, sometimes this day is enjoyed so much by this paired up couple, a later wedding materializes.
We have siblings or best friends as witnesses. In the "Amish" novels you will probably read about these as "navahockers," literally translated to sitting beside (the bridal couple). Most "English" would call them bridesmaids and best man.
The real activity starts at 8:00--8:30 am. The invited guests start arriving. First will be the wizened older generation followed by the middle age and then last minute some young family or late coming youth will come hustling in so as not to miss it. The women congregate close to the building where the services are held. The men, in traditional black suits and white shirts, will congregate at the front of the barn. Soon the ushers begin seating the women. In our weddings men sit on one side and face the women on the other. The ministers' bench is in the center aisle facing the men. The wedding party sits in the center of this front aisle.
As the men file in, we seat the song leaders first, followed by the senior men. Next come siblings, uncles, guests from other districts, followed by the home congregation men. We usually reserve a few rows for the "English" guests that wish to sit together as a couple.
At 9 o, clock the song leaders will announce which page number is to be sung first. These songs are from the Ausbund songbook, a collection of songs that are a couple hundred years old. Most of these songs were written during the years of persecution, many while in prison awaiting execution. These are all in German. The tunes have a slow melody that are sometimes derived from old European folk songs. I would venture to say that over the course of centuries they were probably slowed down from what they would have been sung originally. I personally enjoy these old melodies. If we follow the words they have a wonderful message that can be very fulfilling.
Our second song will be the Lob Lied. This is the song used at every service. It is, translated, titled Praise and Worship Song. The Lob Lied is a prayer asking God to prepare our hearts for His message and also asking God to all fill the mouths of His servants, our ministers, with words from God.
After 3 songs, we have 3 ministers teach us from the Word of God. The first one typically teaches about Creation, the beginning of God's institution of marriage and then also the subsequent fall of man into sin. He will also teach about everyday application of the scriptures in our everyday life. A part of this message will often be in English if there are visitors there that don't understand Pennsylvania Dutch. The second minister will then read a portion of scripture from Matthew 19.
Then the third minister will have what we call the main message. This is typically the bishop from the brides' home congregation or a father or grandfather that is bishop. This message includes application of the Bible's teaching on marriage and relationships. It is always a good time to review not only our marriage but also our daily relationships with our acquaintances. We adhere to the teachings of Jesus where he taught that there are to be only one man and wife. We feel that He gave us direction that divorce is not an option.
After reading another couple portions of scripture, the bride and groom's hands are joined in one. In our vows, we testify that God ordained marriage to be instituted between one man and one woman, and that this be for life. We promise to remain true in sickness and in health until death parts us. These vows are made in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
After this is done, another song is sung. And then the action begins. All the married guests are ushered into the reception facility and seated. After an English song and prayer, the table-waiter dish up and serve the meal to everyone except the youth. When this meal is done the guests all disperse and visit wherever they can outside.
Meanwhile inside it is a hive of activity. The tables are being cleared and reset for the youth. The youth are seated and then some young-married couples will serve them. After the meal, the youth sing a few acapella songs and then a short devotional by a minister concludes this part of the wedding.
Now begins the work. All hands that are willing, join in an effort to clear the tables. After tables are cleared the newlyweds will open there wedding gifts. By this time, we are supposed to be hungry again and leftovers are put out for the remaining people to eat again. These are usually only close relatives.
As you can see, a lot of planning gets put into a wedding. We have some traditions and rituals that are not a must, but they help us maintain a unity within our church. It is also takes a community effort to make something like this happen. These functions allow us to get to know each other in a more intimate way than just in our Sunday best.
This is the second greatest decision we make in life. The only one of more importance is the one to dedicate our lives to Jesus Christ. Our marriage is designed to be a help to us in our Christian life. This is why we stress a serious and prayerful attitude when we contemplate courtship and marriage. We make one choice, and then live with it the rest of our life.