Outsider's Guide to America's Anabaptists
Tourists in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania tend to assume that they are at the center of the Anabaptist world (not true—more Amish live in Ohio today than in Pennsylvania) and that the Amish are the largest and most significant group of Anabaptists (also not true—Mennonites and Brethren are actually more numerous than the Amish). As a service to the uninitiated, here are some key distinctives of these groups.
Conceived in a dispute between Swiss Anabaptist leaders in the 1690s (pp. 14- ), Jakob Ammann's following is in many ways the most conservative of the "plain groups." The Old Order Amish—roughly 180,000 strong or 16 percent of American Anabaptists—spurn motor vehicles, refuse public utilities, educate youth only up through the eighth grade, and meet in homes for worship. Most Amish dress in "plain" or uniform clothing to emphasize order, modesty, and humility in the community. Men are expected to grow beards, while women cover their heads. All of this is governed by the Ordnung, a mostly oral set of behavioral expectations passed down through generations.
But over 15,000 Amish belong to branches (Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites) that do use public electricity, worship in meetinghouses, and drive automobiles. These separated from the Old Order in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as they accepted mainstream Protestant forms of ministry (missions, Sunday Schools, etc.) and appropriated new technologies.
The Amish are also decentralized. Except for a loosely organized National Amish Steering Committee, they do not run bureaucratic organizations that oversee denominational programs. Individual congregations or "church districts" enjoy significant autonomy and exhibit variations in dress and practices. For example, ...