Part II: An Amish Church Sunday

Recently, a local woman attended an Amish church service, and recorded her impressions. We’re so pleased that she has agreed to share them with us–and with you. This is the conclusion of a two-part article.  –Editor

According to the “Ohio Amish Directory” there are around two hundred church districts in Holmes County. Around one hundred of these have services one Sunday and the other one hundred held the following Sunday. This is intentionally scheduled to encourage visits to neighboring districts on the “off” Sunday. After 4 songs, the bishop and ministers come back and take their seats prepared to deliver the day’s sermons.

The first minister speaks for half an hour. This part is called ‘Anfang’ meaning ‘beginning’. His graying hair and level voice beg attention. The tears slowly trickle down his cheeks as he teaches God’s word. He brings his sermon to a close and we all kneel in silent prayer. The room is hushed except for the occasional babble from a baby and the cry of an impatient youngster.  With the clearing of his throat, the bishop signals the prayer is over and the people rise to their feet, some slowly, willing their feeble knees to work, others are young and bound to their feet. Everyone stays standing while one of the ministers reads a chapter of scripture.

The next speaker is a middle aged bishop, visiting from a neighboring church. His ability to use stories and illustrations to teach the people about the grace of God, kept everyone in rapt attention except for several young men who looked to be around seventeen and eighteen years old. They sat with their heads resting on their knees and only on occasional looked up to make sure church wasn’t over yet. Their drowsy faces revealed the effects of being out late the night before. The youngest ones and the babies busily entertain themselves with carefully selected toys that didn’t make a noise.

On a six foot table, a large bowl with pretzels sticks packed in individual baggies, Ritz crackers and an assortment of delicious looking cookies are set out for the childrens’ mid-morning snack. Around 10 o’clock, the snack baggies start coming out of pockets and children start munching on the various treats; some pausing to take a concentrated look at the icing on their cookies before biting into them with relish. Here and there a young mother rises to take a little one to its daddy on the men’s side of the room. After being with their daddies a while, some fall asleep in their daddy’s arms, lulled by the voice of the preacher and the warmth of the room. Others get fussy and are hastily brought back to their mothers. A warm bottle or a diaper change usually cured the crying.

The minister starts reading another selected scripture, signaling the church service is winding down. The lady of the house, along with some young girls, leave the room to finish preparing the noon meal. After the scripture is read and explained, the two ministers who haven’t spoken yet, comment on the sermons and verified they were biblical. At this point, the young people start getting fidgety; the clock is dropping toward 11:30, and the stomachs are growling. The service has been going on for three hours now and I too, start to shift around to find a more comfortable position.

After the final prayer is read out loud from a prayer book, the bishop announces a young couple’s engagement and who will be hosting the next church service. We sing the parting song much faster than we did the earlier ones.

The moment the song is over, the fidgeting boys and girls file out as fast as they dare toward the house where they eat their lunch. The tables are spread with ham, cheese, bread, strawberry jam, pickles, red beets and various kinds of pies; butlers with coffee and tea are scattered across the tables. You stand to eat this meal. Boys have their designated table and girls have theirs. The youth left as soon as they had their meals gulped down. They appear to be in a hurry to get their afternoon activities going.

Out in the shop, in a flurry of activity, tables are created with the same benches used in the service. Some benches are inserted into special table legs designed for this particular purpose then covered with a tablecloth. Here the married men and women sit down to eat.

Throughout the meal and into the afternoon, chatting and laughing is heard among the people. They stay for this reason: they stay to strengthen the bonds of friendship, to catch up on the news, to share in the laughter. This has been a tradition for years, this fellowship together, and somehow it is a comforting thought.

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