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So you think you want to become Amish

Esther Leggett Published: October 2, 2014 3:52 PM
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Jumping the fence from the other side ...

I can't tell you how many letters, phone calls and e-mails I receive from people inquiring about how they can become Amish. The number has to be in the hundreds, I'm sure.

Most of these folks have done some research about the Amish lifestyle and admire the simplistic qualities by which the Amish live. Although I'm sure some are totally sincere, I often get the feeling many of these people are inquiring because they are looking for a "quick fix" to their hectic, over-materialistic, fed-up-with-the-way-things-are lives.

Recently I sat down with Atlee D. Miller, a member of the Walnut Creek Northeast New Order Amish Church. He's the father of 10 children: four boys and six girls.
I asked him how, if they were truly sincere, someone could become Amish. These are the steps Atlee described:

1. First, come live in an Amish area for a year. You can live by yourself or with an Amish family. Some Amish families will take in such guests; some won't.

2. Attend church services ... every Sunday. You will need an Amish go-between to introduce you to the church.

3. Find a job where you will be working with the Amish. This will help you understand their work ethics and get to know their culture better.

4. Learn German. You will have to learn to speak Pennsylvania Dutch, the language usually spoken in Amish homes (Amish children learn Dutch as their first language; they don't learn English until they go to school).

5. After one year, if you still think you wish to become Amish, there will be a period of time when you are instructed in the ways of the church. You will learn their ordinances.

6. Then, the church will vote whether or not to take you in. If the vote is affirmative, you will become a full member of the Amish church, and finally, you are Amish. Your old ways are gone for good.

Atlee did stress these steps to acceptance are for the New Order, however, he felt the Old Order would probably be very similar. The Swartzentruber Amish, the most conservative, would probably have much stricter guidelines.

I asked Atlee how easy a process this is, and he said, "It's not impossible, but we definitely have a different lifestyle than most people are used to."

In Atlee's lifetime, he's known about a dozen "English" folks who've chosen to become Amish.

"Most are men," Atlee said. "They often meet an Amish woman who they would like to date seriously, so they decide to join the Amish church. Very seldom does a woman come in from the outside, but I have known of two English women who became Amish."

Atlee told me of a young English man who decided to become Amish after meeting an Amish woman. They married and moved to an Amish community out in Montana. After some years, the man became an Amish minister.

"I believe he might be the only Amish minister in the United States that was born English," Atlee said.

I asked what the hardest obstacle to overcome is, when switching from English to Amish, and Atlee said it is the mode of transportation. After being used to jumping in a car (with heat and air conditioning) and going anywhere you want, it is a huge adjustment to being limited to traveling at five to 10 miles per hour ... in the rain, snow, heat and cold. And you don't just gas 'er up and go, either. The care of a horse is a lot more labor-intensive than of a car. You can let your car sit for several days if you want, but you have to take care of your horse every single day. It's a lot to get used to.

Some New Order Amish do have telephones now, but learning to live without technology is another stumbling block to many. No radio, no TV, no Internet, no stereo, no iPod, no ESPN.

Actually becoming Amish may be biting off more than most "English" folks can chew.

Become Amish? One Amish writer responded this way, quoted in Small Farm Journal some years ago:
"If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself."

If you wish to change your life, whether by adapting some Amish ways to your own or by completely abandoning your present lifestyle and becoming Amish, the choice is yours.

Whatever you decide, be totally honest with yourself and let your heart guide you.

This story originally appeared in Amish Heartland magazine in September 2007. You can see the original story and any comments left on it here.


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