© 2012 Reynold R. Kremer
The Amish church is considered equal to or even more important than the Amish home. From little on, Amish children are taught that there are but two purposes in life: to serve family and to serve the church. Apart from these two goals there is nothing more that Amish strive to do. This concept is very difficult for English people to grasp since the goal of any English young man or woman is to do well in life by becoming successful.
The Amish worship time is a highlight in any Amish life. Each Amish district schedules worship only every other week at the home of a member. Districts (or congregations) are comprised of about 200 people or so. Once they exceed that number, they divide into another geographical district. In some settlements like Ohio members are allowed to join districts not of their geographical area, however others like northern Indiana force members to attend the district in which they reside. That means that if a family is at odds with the bishop, the only way they can resolve the situation is to move into another district, often leaving behind homesteads and precious family farms.
Amish do not believe in the necessity of a church building since they teach that where two or three are gathered together in God’s name that comprises a church or place of worship. Schedules are drawn to determine which member is responsible for hosting the next worship Sunday. Preparations take weeks of planning and cleaning as Amish families retrieve the church buggy that is filled with hinged oak benches, hymnbooks and dishes for the noon meal.
On Sunday morning just before 9 AM the buggies begin arriving. The young men untie the horses and lead them into the barn while the women go into the house. The men usually stand around discussing the latest news until it is service time. Since most Amish services last about three hours, that last bit of standing will do the men well. As they enter the home, they follow a strict age order with the oldest members entering first. Women and small children always sit in one area and men in another.
Since the Amish church does not follow any strict liturgy (non-liturgical) like traditional Catholic or Lutheran churches, the services are somewhat informal. They do follow specified Bible readings that are preplanned for the entire Amish community. The Ausbund is the hymnal used by most Amish. It includes texts of many hymns dating back to the persecutions in the 15-1600’s. This hymnal boasts the extinction of being the oldest Protestant hymnbook still in use today. Although melodies are not included in the hymn book, the tunes have been passed down from generation to generation. Tempo is usually determined by the conservative natire of the district.
The service begins with an opening hymn during which the ministers will discuss who will be the preachers for that day. The second hymn is always the Loblied (O God, Father, We Do Praise Thee), thus establishing a link of fellowship with all other Amish churches. Following that hymn they usually have the introductory sermon or Anfung. Kneeling for prayer and Bible readings by the Deacon usually follows. Next comes the main sermon which lasts well over an hour. Here the minister exhorts the people to remain true to the Lord. Many Bible stories are mentioned in the sermon as well. Testimonies, closing remarks, prayers and the benediction usually close the service. If there is business to conduct such as a shunning, the members must remain until dismissed. At the end of the service, members also are given the opportunity to discuss or even criticize the sermon (zeitness).
Most Amish congregation are lead by a chosen staff of a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon. Each has specific duties such as preaching (ministers), performing special rites like baptism, marriages, etc. (bishop), or conducting the church readings and keeping tabs of the church treasury (deacon). These men are specially chosen by lot and are asked to serve for life. They do this willingly for no salary while continuing to do their daily work routine at home.
Should a church district need another minister to replace one who has died or moved away, a special time is set aside at the morning worship service to do the choosing. On the Sunday of selection, usually a communion Sunday, the members are asked to vacate the worship area while visiting bishops and ministers prepare two booths for voting, one for the women and one for the men. Male and female baptized members file past the men and whisper the name of a candidate of their choice. The recommendations are then tabulated. When the final list has been established, a second vote often takes place which narrows the list of candidates. Finally the remaining slate of candidates is asked to leave the room while an equal number of Ausbund hymnbooks are prepared. In one of the books there is placed a slip of paper which states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33.) The hymnbooks are then shuffled and laid across a table. The men are then asked to return to the room. The man who picks the book with the Scripture passage is named the new minister. The choice, they say, has been made by God. From that moment until death he has been chosen to lead his people and he cannot refuse such responsibility. The entire process is considered very solemn, and there are often tears shed and prayers silently spoken during the process.
In most congregations this calling process has done well to establish a godly staff of ministers, deacons and bishops. Yet, here also the wiles of Satan take their toll as in any other Christian church. Just recently I was told of a faithful and experienced Amish man who was chosen minister in district that he had just moved to. He was blessed with tremendous Bible insight despite his eighth grade education. He was also enjoyed by the people of his new church district. However, one Sunday in his sermon he made comments which were not well received by bishop who happened to be in the congregation that morning. Within a few days this young minister was silenced and forbidden to preach again. When he asked the bishop what heresy he had spoken that was against Scripture, he was told that although he spoke no heresy, he should not have said what he did. Once again, the whim of one powerful bishop sealed the fate of this preacher. Once again Satan accomplished his goal by removing a godly man from the ministry.
I often pray that the leaders of the Amish church districts would follow the humility that was shown by Christ himself instead of being puffed up with their own selfish pride, and that they would display the same love and forgiveness to their members that our Lord taught us to show to others.