Our Family Vacation 2007 (Part 3): Lancaster Amish

Click HERE to read Part 1 of this series.

Click HERE to read Part 2 of this series.

We left the sustainable energy festival Sunday afternoon and drove south an hour or so to Bird in Hand, Pennsylvania, which is in Lancaster County. The second largest settlement of Old Order Amish in the US lives in Lancaster County.

As we drove along rural side roads, running through picturesque Amish farm countryside, we encountered a great many horse drawn buggies. The day was beautiful and we noticed that most of the carriages were being driven by younger men, many with a young Amish woman beside them. They were, we supposed, out for an afternoon joyride. I felt bad that so many cars (like ours), and a few semi trucks, were on the narrow roads with them. And, as much as I wanted to take a picture of one of the buggies, I did not.

There was a vacancy at the Bird-in-Hand Family Inn and we checked in. As always, I looked to see if there was a Gideon Bible was in our room’s bedside table. It was not there. The Bible was, instead, prominently displayed in a book holder, upright, and intentionally opened to John 3:16. That was a first and a welcome sight if there ever was one.

Unlike our hotel of the previous two nights, this one had an indoor pool. But the boys did not bring their swim suits, so we got directions to the nearest department store. We found our way to a Target store along a heavily traveled and well developed road leading into the city of Lancaster. There were no Amish carriages on this road.

Not far from the Target we saw a store named, Amish Stuff Etc.. I pointed it out to the kids and made it clear that was the kind of place we would not be stopping at. Robert wondered if there were stores named, Baptist Stuff, Etc. or Methodist Stuff, Etc.. We had some fun discussing that and the absurdity of a store in the midst of a busy urban retail environment selling Amish “stuff” to tourists.

We ate cheap at an Arbys but stopped at a Cracker Barrel restaurant so James could buy a couple packs of Black Jack and Beemans chewing gum at the store. He and Robert couldn’t resist adding more Billy-Bob teeth to their growing collection.

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Monday morning we enjoyed a breakfast smorgasbord at the Bird in Hand Family Restaurant. I decided to try the scrapple. Another first. It was pretty good.

Then we moseyed over to some gift shops, an antique store, and a bakery. We found some Amish “stuff” there, but these stores were not so crass. They were pleasant places to visit. I must admit, however, the boys and I had our fill of shopping long before Marlene.

James asked me if he could buy an Amish straw hat. He likes to wear odd hats and I thought it was a practical purchase. It was also reasonably priced. Here is a paradoxical picture of James in a tie-dyed t-shirt with his new Amish hat:

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That horse was hitched to an Amish buggy outside the antique store. But we did not bother a true Amish horse in the taking of the picture. It was giving buggy rides to tourists. The lady on the cell phone paid for a ride. We did not.

Fed up with our shopping experience, Robert and I sat ourselves down on a picnic table in a central location and watched the world go by. A short while later, James walked up. He said he was ready to go and wondered where his mother was. I informed him that she just went into the candle shop over yonder, He said, “What! Why didn’t you stop her?!” That’s when I took the follwing picture. James was a little exasperated and ran off to fetch his mom.

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Our main objective that day was to visit the Mennonite Information Center before heading home. If you ever visit Lancaster, make it a point to go to this place. They have a Biblical Tabernacle Reproduction (with lecture) that every Bible believing Christian will appreciate.

The Mennonite Information Center also hosts a movie presentation titled, Who Are The Amish, followed by an 18 minute movie about the Mennonites. Again, this is well worth seeing.

We learned that the Mennonite sect arose out of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland. The Amish began later, when a group of Mennonites felt their church was becoming too worldly.

There are many different groups of believers within the Amish and Mennonite sects and it is not easy to explain the differences in general terms. But after seeing the two movies, I think it is safe to say that the fundamental difference is, as it was from the beginning, the degree of worldly involvement. Mennonites have embraced much of the modern world’s technology and ways, while the Amish have not. Nevertheless, according to the movie, the numbers of Amish have doubled in the past 20 years.

Our stay in Amish country was not long, but it was long enough for my boys to see and, hopefully, understand the contrast between cultures. Beyond that, I hoped they were able to see the wisdom of the one over the other.

I pointed out to my sons that we had just spent two days at a sustainable energy festival, where we learned a lot abut how to run a car on used cooking oil, but that wasn’t nearly as economical, ecologically responsible, and sustainable as horse and buggy transportation. No, we sure couldn’t sustain our modern lifestyle with such a simple conveyance, but maybe our fast-paced modern lifestyle isn’t worth sustaining. It’s food for thought.

And here’s something more to think about: I’ll bet that if Baptists (or any other Christian group of believers) lived an exemplary agrarian lifestyle, a lifestyle focused on hard work, simplicity, family, community, and piety, as the Amish do, the surrounding culture would find that curious and interesting and compelling. Why, masses would probably flock to see these peculiar separatists in their communities. Before long, there would even be stores for tourists called, Baptist Stuff, Etc.


Anonymous said...

Your vacation sounds like a lot of fun, and I love the hat!

We live on the edge of the largest Amish community in the country. I hate to sound cynical, but the Amish are not as separate from the world as it seems. Driving the Amish to Walmart or the grocery store or any number of places is a fairly lucrative business for many people here. I know people whose sole income is from driving Amish people around. I also know people who provide electrical outlets to the Amish so they can charge their cell phones.

I just find it slightly hypocritical to suggest, as the Amish do, that not having a vehicle helps keep the family together but at the same time being comfortable hiring the person who owns the vehicle. I guess as long as it's someone else's family that is being separated it's ok.

Marci said...

Alison must live fairly near me. I too lived in the largest population of Amish up in Holmes & Wayne counties in Ohio. I am just about 40 mins. south of that now and live among the most primitive of the Amish now.... the Swartzentrubers. The Amish have many things right, but they are human just like we are. I love the way they work as a family and as a community. I love how they care for the elderly. They take care of their parents. Just like any other group of people, there is a lot to learn and try to emulate and there is a lot to discard.

Rural Utahn said...

I just stumbled upon your blog. It's great! I just ordered your book. Any advice for a young person starting out, trying to switch over to the agrarian lifestyle?

Dreamer said...

"...maybe our fast-paced modern lifestyle isn’t worth sustaining."

Hmmm...I think you're on to something.

Michael Bunker said...

First point, brother Herrick... the Amish are Baptists. The Amish/Mennonites are the original anabaptists from whom we Baptists have derived our name.

As for hypocrisy...

While the Amish are hypocritical like any other Christian, it is hardly hypocritical to pay someone to take you to the store. There are multitudes of advantages in not diving full-on into worldliness, even if you utilize some worldly things. That is like saying that everyone should own their own hair dryer factory just because they like to use a hair dryer. It is common for people to feel defensive when someone else chooses to forego something that they allow. They feel condemned when the Amish refuse to buy cars. The Amish do feel that ready access to an automobile is negative to their idea of family and their way of life. They are correct. Having to rent a ride makes them recognize the cost, and make decisions based on facts rather than on "at the moment" impulses. It always amazes me when people have this "either/or" mentality, like the Amish should completely forego all material things altogether OR they should just dive into the world headfirst and not worry about how it affects the family.

Something to think about,

Michael Bunker

jules said...

You stated in your post: "Nevertheless, according to the movie, the numbers of Amish have doubled in the past 20 years."

I guess my question is: Is this because of them having more children or immigration? I guess I've not heard of people converting, or Amish taking 'outsiders' in marriage.

Can you explain this a bit more from what you gleaned from the movie?

Anonymous said...

Michael, I think I may not have made my point clearly enough. I did not mean to say that the Amish should jump headlong into being "worldly", however that term is defined. Not at all. As a homeschooling mother with 9 children and a small farm, I admire the Amish community's desire to stay family-centered. I don't feel the least bit condemned or defensive, as you suggested, by their lifestyle.

My point was about the driver of the Amish, actually. What about his family? How is he supposed to stay connected to his family when his living (being a hired driver for the Amish) requires him to be on call all day, or out driving all day? Of course, no one is forcing him to do that for a living; I realize that. Is a family-centered life a good thing for everyone, or just certain groups of people? That's the rhetorical question I'm grappling with here.

I guess my point is if family-centeredness is a good thing, then don't engage in activities that would weaken someone else's family. Or, put another way, do what you can to encourage and enable other families to stay together.

I'm sorry I wasn't very adept at explaining myself the first time. I hope I've done better this go round.

Michael Bunker said...


Thanks for the clarification. I guess I was mainly reacting to the use of the term "hypocrisy" because it is so readily thrown about in relation to "anyone who is more separated than me", which is generally the "why" of why the term is used. I am just saying that I can see perfectly good reasons for not owning a car, and for hiring a car to take me to town. It is both logical and rational and not hypocritical. I totally agree that the use of automobiles has been completely detrimental to the idea of family and of right Christian living, which is why I am moving towards not having one as soon as possible.

I guess I didn't know that it was the Amish who were the ones driving other Amish to Wal-Mart (who would ANYONE shop at walmart anyway?). I thought from your original post that it was the "English" who were profiting off of taking the Amish to the store. In that case, it would hardly bother their consciences to make a profit off of the Amish. Now, if the Amish are driving other Amish to town - that really wouldn't make any sense.

Anyway, thanks for the clarification.

Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker said...


The growth in the Amish population is both internal and external. There are a really shocking number of people who convert to the Amish/Mennonite sects every year - most are people who are looking for a more simple and structured way of life. The greatest percentage of the growth is internal as the younger people "join" the Church as young adults. We have to remember that, unlike most nominal "churches" in America, the Amish do not accept babies or youngsters as members, and therefore they are not counted in the membership of the Church. Each individual has to make a decision to join the Church as a baptized adult (usually over 15), at which time he or she is added to the number and the membership. While some Amish communities have had horrible problems with their children, as a whole, they do much better than the world around them in raising up their children to become productive and spiritual members of the Church.

I hope this helps,

Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker said...


I didn't think about it until later, but I think I finally figured out what you were saying. The confusion was likely on my end. I think you are saying that the Amish should not utilize "English" drivers because by doing so they are causing them to do what the Amish reject for themselves and their families...

I don't want to take up Herrick's time and space with a long explanation, but I do understand what you are saying and will post an explanation on my blog sometime today: http://michaelbunker.com/journal.html

If you want to check it out.

Michael Bunker

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks everyone for your comments here.

Rural Utahn--
I will blog in response to your question soon.

The movie did not explain why the Amish numbers have doubled. The movie did say that some people "convert" to being Amish but it is rare.

There is an older man in my church who gives rides to the Amish. He understands their culture very well. He even looks Amish. I asked him if outsiders ever join an Amish community. He said it happens but not often. He knows of one yong man who was from the city who knew nothing about Amish culture or farming and ended up becoming Amish. He had to learn to speak German. Eventually he married an Amish girl and now has a farm in Lancaster. So it happens.

It is more often that people join the Mennonites. I know people around me who have become Mennonite in recent years. The Mennonites are, as Michael says, essentially Baptists.

By the way, I was surprised to learn that the Amish do not play musical instruments. I asked the man in my church about this. He said the Lancaster Amish play harmonicas (but not in church), and they are real good with them.

I asked if he had ever been to a church service. He has and he told me they have church in a different home in the community every two weeks. Church lasts all day long.

I am intrigued by the Amish. I think we can learn from the example of these successful Christian sepratists. But I do not want to be Amish.

Michael Bunker said...

I have finally posted an explanation of the Amish "ordnung" over on my blog... http://michaelbunker.com/journal.html

Herrick, I do not want to be Amish either, but like you, we here in our community have learned a lot by studying them, and if we can be anywhere near as successful in raising our children and holding together our community, we will be pleased.

God Bless