We were in Dairy Queen in Belleville last summer when two men, one in coveralls and the other with suspendered trousers, both with brimmed straw hats, came in for a cone. Some teens started sniggering and commenting among themselves about what they felt was odd dress. Like teen boys don't know anything about baggy pants. I knew right away that they were Mennonites or Amish --either that or right off a movie set. I had no idea that folk from these Anabaptist groups resided in this area. Shortly after this incident I was standing next to a similarly dressed young guy at a street corner and asked if he was Mennonite. He smiled and answered "Amish." Apparently there are a number of Amish farms in the Sterling area, about 45 minutes north of Belleville. I have since learned that there are Mennonites ever closer to town. And I always thought they were concentrated in Southwestern Ontario. I live and hopefully I learn.
These groups have their roots in bloody persecution around the time of Martin Luther. They believed and still believe in what is often called "believer baptism" rather than infant baptism. Today that is an individual faith choice. A few hundred years ago it could get you and your family killed. Many fled Europe for religious freedom. Somehow religious identity continued to include rather archaic dress codes for some, and eschewing modern conveniences such as cars, motorized farm equipment, even electricity and phones.
There is pressure on these communities, especially in American states such as Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Dutch are actually Deutsch, of German extraction. All things Amish are part of what is now a huge commercial enterprise, nearing two billion dollars a year. The Amish farm country is like a theme park for tourists, with groups from around the world visiting and actually stopping for planned visits to Amish homes and farms. Of course we have all seen the incongruous neon signs for Amish Furniture in places where no Amish foot has ever trod.
I was emailed an interesting article about the effects of this invasion and appropriation of Amish life. Even the most segregated faith communities are subject to the pressures of the prevailing culture.
Do you admire the chosen simplicity of the Amish/Mennonites, or are they just odd? Have you gone on one of those Amish country tours? Members of my family have and really enjoyed them. Do you think Harrison Ford in the movie Witness was an accurate portrayal of Amish life? Kidding!