On August 20th, a long-time dream of mine came true.
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the Amish and their unusual lifestyle, which is about as far from modern society as one can go in a western country. The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christians, who originate from the Swiss Anabaptists. They are known for simple living, including plain and distinctive dress patterns, untrimmed beards for men, uncut hair for women, horse and buggy transportation, horse-drawn implements for farming and reluctance to modern technology, such as electricity.
The group immigrated from Switzerland to the United States and Canada in the early 18th century, most of them to the state of Pennsylvania. The language that they spoke back then, Pennsylvanian Dutch, is still spoken by the Amish today, as well as German and English. There are over 250,000 Amish in the United States, and the population continues to increase, as it’s normal for Amish couples to have 6 or 7 children.
On August 20th, the day before the Great American Eclipse, we were driving around the area near Carbondale, searching for some beautiful nature spots to explore. We decided to get to the area of the eclipse path early, so we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic and possibly miss the eclipse completely. Now that we were there, we had plenty of time to hang out and explore the area.
While driving through the countryside, we came by an Amish buggy. In pure excitement, we stopped the car, took some pictures and waved as they drove by. More came. And more. They just kept coming. Then I realized why – it was Sunday and they were all on their way to church.
First, we decided to drive on and keep a lookout for their village. When that proved impossible to locate, we turned around and tried to catch up with them, so we could follow them to church, but it was too late.
I then tried to put the word ‘Amish’ in the gps, and it actually lead us to a church, where we found all of their buggies! We decided to wait for them, as we really wanted to talk to them. We ended up waiting for two hours in the burning heat!
We weren’t trying to be annoying tourists or to invade their privacy as a cut-off community, we were just very interested and curious about them and their fascinating lifestyle.
Finally, after waiting for much too long and circling the building a few times, two men with long beards came out. I asked them if we could join their service, and they said yes if we promised to be respectful and dress modestly. Also, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside.
When we first walked in, a lot of people stared at us in confusion. I’m sure they don’t have two young Danish girls come by very often. We were directed to a bench on the women’s side of the church. I sat next to an elderly lady with a sleeping baby in her arms, whom we later got talking to.
All the women were dressed in long, black or dark blue Sunday dresses and white bonnets. The men were dressed in black suits and all had the same distinctive bowl-like haircut and the married men had long beards. We really stuck out in this crowd with our tattoos and sneakers, but we were welcomed with open arms and smiles. There were also a ton of cute children, who were dressed like the adults according to their gender. They were all very sweet and curious.
We witnessed the remaining part of the church service in German for half an hour. Before we came in, there had been an adult baptism, which would have been interesting to witness as well. At the end of the service, the whole community broke into beautiful German song.
After the service, the host of the day served food for everyone. There was meat and potatoes, salads, a rice dish, pies, ice cream and so many different cakes.
The elderly lady invited us to join and stay for the songs after the meal as well. Quite a few people approached us while we ate the lovely lunch. They were very curious and interested in our lives, as we were in theirs. They asked us about our home country, if we understood German, what our jobs were and what we were doing in their area in the States.
A group of 12 had travelled all the way from Iowa to Carbondale to watch the upcoming total solar eclipse with their family and friends. One woman told us how she had travelled for six weeks through Western USA, and how she really loved hiking in the mountains. It’s awesome to hear that the Amish get to experience the thrill of travelling as well.
One family told us about a Swedish journalist, who had lived with them for a week back in 2007. We so wished someone would invite us into their home as well, just for the night, but we weren’t that lucky. Sometime in the future, I would love to spend a month or so living in an Amish community. It has always been a dream of mine to experience their way of life. But this was definitely a good taste of it.
After we had eaten and chatted, it was time to sing the Zion’s Praises, this time in English, so we joined as well. We both enjoyed singing along, once we figured out how to follow the confusing lyric set up.
Many of my prejudices about the Amish were put to shame during our three hours of engaging with them. I learned that they are much more modern than I thought and than documentaries and books make them seem. They may dress differently, ride a buggy instead of a car, leave school after the 8th grade without ever hearing the word ‘evolution’, and spend all of their lives in their own little community doing house work (women) and agriculture (men), but they know a lot about the world around them – and what some people would say they are “missing out on”. I don’t think that missing out on cars, tvs, internet etc. is a bad thing, I think it sounds like an amazing and fulfilling lifestyle. Many older people wore glasses and one guy wore braces, so they don’t renounce everything that modern society has brought to the world, just the unnecessary things.
Also, in some Amish communities they have a chance to experience the outside world at their rumspringa during adolescence, and even then most choose to come back to their Amish community. But despite what the Devil’s Playground film might tell you, rumspringa is not something that most Amish do. They see no need to “test” the outside world, when they are happy and content in their own.
I also learned that all Amish communities aren’t the same. There are several Amish communities spread over many states in USA and in Ontario, and they are all unique, although they believe in the same god and general way of living.
The people of the Carbondale Amish Church were such good people and invited us into their lives for three hours, expecting nothing but respect and smiles in return. What a lovely and enriching afternoon it was!