The Amish and Their Mennonite Neighbors
As with any subculture or group, whether religious or not, there are varying forms of Anabaptism, of which the Amish and Mennonites are most prominent. Those looking in from the outside often find the minute difference puzzling.
Ohio’s Amish Country has as many as ten different groups of Amish that have some distinguishing factors that place them in the Amish continuum. It would take much more than this space to define those differences and the various interconnected elements of the Amish world! The same is true of Mennonites, who may range from those who still drive horses and carriages, to those who are totally assimilated in the modern world.
While there are differences in any group there are several features that are common to both the Mennonite and Amish. First, is their ideal that at its essence Christianity is about a willingness to follow Christ at any cost. Second, is there common idea that non-resistance or pacifism is the answer to conflict. Most Amish and Mennonites refuse service in the military. Instead, during times when the draft was in use they served as conscientious objectors and give meaningful ways without the use of force. These two ideas are the common binding factor regardless whether one is Amish or Mennonite.
How then can someone see whether the person they meet are Amish or Mennonite? For starter, all Amish have eschewed the ownership of automobiles as their primary form of travel. Instead they use some form of horse-drawn vehicle. This is not meant to be old-fashioned, rather, it fosters a sense of community where one connects to the people and the community within a reasonable radius of travel. While there are a few small groups of Mennonites that do not own automobiles, there are none in the Holmes County community that do not permit ownership of the automobile. In the Greater Holmes County Amish Community, automobile ownership is one of the ways one can define whether they are Amish or Mennonite.
Most Mennonites meet for their church services in a church house, and use English for their services, similar to other modern groups. Some of the more “progressive” groups even use such modern practices as worship teams and audiovisual tools in their services. In contrast to this the Amish hold their meetings in in their homes, shops, or barns for their meetings. Most Amish still use the German, or the common dialect of German, Pennsylvania Dutch, as the primary language of the church services. The services themselves follow a form that has been used in some cases, for hundreds of years.
Each family in an Amish Church district is expected to take a turn in holding the service at their home. With this arrangement this limits the size to about 30 households in each “district” that live in near proximity to each other. When a district becomes to large they will often choose a geographical dividing line, such as a creek or road, and divide the district and the two will become two distinct groups that share a common belief, but now meet in two places.
The more progressive Mennonites do not practice this form of replication, and instead focus on missions or outreach and some grow to large sizes similar to the Protestant model of church growth.
If you wish to learn more about the differences between the Amish and Mennonites plan a visit the Amish Country and visit and engage in observing for yourself the difference between the Amish and Mennonites.