Have you ever wondered, what is the difference between the Amish and the Mennonites? What are their similarities? How can I tell the difference?
When I first came to live in Ontario, I saw groups of people in St Jacobs, Elmira and Aylmer, who dressed in a plain, old fashioned way, and who drove horse & buggies - when I asked who they were, I was told - "They are the Mennonites ... or maybe they are Amish".
In fact, I never met anyone who was quite sure which they were, so I set out to find out the difference.
Here is what I learned about the Amish!
Both Amish and Mennonites are Anabaptists, which means that they do not practice infant Baptism, rather, when adults feel called to profess their faith in Jesus, they are then Baptized into their Church.
Both follow the teachings of Menno Simons, after whom the Mennonites were named, however, the Amish group split from the mainstream Mennonites and took as their leader Jakob Ammann (born 1656) who believed that the Mennonites of the time were drifting away from the teachings of Menno Simons.
The majority of the Mennonites who were followers of Ammann primarily were from Switzerland, and came to North America in the early 1700's.
Ammann believed that there should be stronger Church discipline, and he insisted that the practice of "Shunning" be carried out for those whose misbehavior required that they be socially isolated from the rest of their group.
This created a divide between those who followed Menno Simons (Mennonites) and those who chose to follow Jakob Ammann and this divide still exists today.
The two groups still share many similarities including their rejection of many conveniences of the modern world, such as electricity, TVs, radios, and automobiles, and even a tractor for farm work is not permitted.
Telephones are also not permitted in the home, although sometimes one is connected and used away from the house, often in the barn.
At home, a dialect of German is spoken, with High German being used for worship, and children learn English at school.
Schools are often a one-room School-house, where children are taught up to grade 8, where their formal education ends. Thereafter, boys will learn a trade, or farming and girls will follow their mothers and learn household skills.
Women wear plain long-sleeved dresses in a variety of colours, an apron and bonnet - a white prayer cap if they are married, a black one if they are unmarried.
Beards are worn by the married men in the community, but moustaches are not allowed.
Marriage to a person who is non-Amish is forbidden, and weddings usually take place at home during November or early December - probably because that is when the harvesting season is over.
Church services and weddings are held in the home - with the marriage being held in the home of the bride, and is where the newly married couple will usually spend the first few months of their marriage.
During this time, they will visit relatives for short stays in their homes, and will set up their own home in the following Spring.
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© Istockphoto.com - Amish Farmer with Mules
Both groups come from a Protestant tradition known as Anabaptism, and they both believe that they should live out their beliefs in daily life. It can be difficult to distinguish between them, but this site can help you learn the major differences.