Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Meet the Mennonites - my personal journey

January 1999

By the time we had reached 1999, I had:
1. Read all the tracts;
2. Started wearing a covering;
3. Been corresponding with Mervyn and Fannie for 8 or 9 months;
4. Seen three films on TV about the Amish; and
5. Written to Rod and Staff, asking for my nearest church.

I had also received a letter from Kenneth and his wife, Anna, from Wisconsin - and they wanted to visit me in the UK!

In the middle of January, they arrived. There were four of them altogether - Kenneth and Anna, and Kenneth's Uncle, James and his wife, Judy.

Right away I knew they were different. They dressed differently; when we went to church, they sat so that they were not seated next to anyone else's wife or daughter; and they went out of their way to be helpful and to join in our activities - not like 'guests' at all! I did not undrestand all these things at first, but I mention them as they are the things I noticed about them.

It turned out that Kenneth was Mervyn's grandson. I hadn't known that before I mentioned I had been writing to Mervyn and Fannie for some time. It also turned out that James was Mervyn's son and Judy had seen a letter I had written on Mervyn's desk. She had been curious as to why he was corresponding with someone in the UK and how he had come to find out about me.

They only stayed a few days; I wished it had been longer. Their visit only served to renew my enthusiasm and pursuit of what I later came to understand were anabaptist teachings.

Over the next few years, I met several other Mennonites, including one whose parents had been Amish (that explained why he wore a beard when mennonites are normally clean shaven). They helped in my garden, and the remodelling on our house; they loved to travel around the area looking at the countryside. There were one or two funny conversations too, like the time I was asked 'what are these little heaps of dirt beside the roads?' It took a moment to realise they were talking about mole hills - common to us, but unknown in Wisconsin! One time, I met a woman who brought her young son with her. I asked her if this was her first baby; she looked so young! Turned out he was baby number twelve - the Mennonites, as the Amish, do not believe in birth control!

We talked and asked questions of each other and it soon became apparent they were inclined to start a church in the UK. It would be the first Mennonite church in England ever. While the Reformation had caught the UK by storm, the anabaptists were virtually unknown - not only then, but also now. Finally, it seemed there might be a church in the UK and that it might even be in my own back yard.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Amish and halloween

Do the Amish celebrate Halloween?
31st October is traditionally celebrated as a night when children go from house to house chanting ‘trick or treat’. If you give them a treat, such as some sweets, then they will go away happy; if you don’t, then you might have some trick played on you. Where did the custom come from and do the Amish celebrate it, along with the rest of America, Britain and other places?

Where does the name come from?
November 1st is All Saints’ Day, when those martyred for their faith are remembered. The day was also known as ‘All Hallows’. The night before, therefore, was All Hallows’ Eve or Evening, contracted to ‘Eve’ and further contracted to Hallowe’en (though the apostrophe has fallen prey to modern grammar and so it is more often written as Halloween).

The custom goes back to Celtic Britain and Druid pagan worshippers. The end of summer signalled the beginning of winter and was known as ‘Samhain’ (pronounced sow-en). It was the time of year when everything in nature was closing down and therefore the ‘death’ of the year.

The Druids, whose religion and life revolved around the seasons, ever anxious that the Spring would return, held a festival to their gods, around roaring bonfires to encourage the sun to return to warm the land the following year. They would dance around the fire to keep away evil spirits, because it was believed that this night especially, the souls of the dead awoke from their graves and walked the earth. These spirits would play pranks and tricks on people as they walked about the earth. It was also thought that some of these spirits were looking for a host body so they could live again. To confuse these spirits, people would dress up in ghoulish costumes so that the spirits would think they too were searching for a host and would then not possess them.
It was a night when it was  easiest to consult the dead and work magic spells. Sometimes crops were burned, animals sacrificed and it is thought by some that there were also human sacrifices made.

Pumpkin lanterns/Jack o’ Lanterns
The folk tale of the origins of the lantern carved out of a pumpkin or (originally) a turnip has to do with both the devil and the ‘undead’. It was said that a man, named Jack, who lived in Ireland, was a mean and unpleasant character. He loved playing nasty tricks on people and one day, he managed to trick the devil into agreeing not to take him into hell, should he die. On the day he died, St Peter refused him entry into heaven on the grounds that he had been too mean while alive. He sent him to hell, where the devil kept his promise and refused him entry. So Jack was condemned to walk the earth forever in darkness. On lamenting his fate, the devil threw a burning ember from hell fire to him and it landed on a turnip that Jack was carrying. That turnip Jack used to light his way while roaming the earth until the end of time. Ever after, children have carved turnips or pumpkins with crude face shapes and lit them with candles. In times past, on 31st October, Catholic children used to go from door to door, begging for food, carrying a Jack o’ lantern to represent the souls of the dead.

Halloween today
One might be forgiven for thinking that there are no ghoulish or devilish connotations to Halloween today. However, it is still considered by some to be a particularly appropriate time to practice the black arts. Covens still meet under cover of darkness; animal sacrifices are still made; fortune telling is still practiced. And Halloween is still known as ‘witching night’ in some parts of the world, including Britain.

Some of the old traditions have continued to the present day too. People still dress up in costumes representing death, devils and ghosts; they still perform tricks and make mischief, as the spirits were supposed to have done in times past; lanterns are still cut and lit.
Just a bit of fun

Many parents will justify allowing their children to partake in Halloween activities because they see the celebration as an excuse for a party and a bit of fun. They ask what is wrong with dressing up? What is wrong with ‘trick or treat’?

Of themselves, there is nothing wrong with dressing up, or having fun. But the background of this particular ‘bit of fun’ is rooted in the occult and witchcraft. The costumes the children wear are particularly horrible – ghosts, the dead, devils and so forth. This is nothing less than witchcraft dressed up as ‘fun’. Do parents really want their children involved in such things?
The Position of the Church

There are some churches that will have nothing whatsoever to do with Halloween. Some will allow it, though they do not celebrate it themselves. Yet others put on an ‘alternative Halloween’ activity, in the hope of keeping their young people away from the more sinister Halloween activities around them.
What about the Amish?

The Amish do not celebrate Halloween, though I am reminded of a story I read recently of one Amish man who said he did celebrate 31st October. When asked how he celebrated it, he replied ‘with candles and cake’. 31st October was his daughter’s birthday! [The Amish also have a sense of humour!]
Their stand against this particular holiday/celebration is firmly rooted in the Bible. The Amish are well aware of the pagan and satanic origins and practices of this night and for that reason they will have nothing to do with it. They base their thinking on such passages in the bible as:

Deuteronomy 18v10-12:
"There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord”

and Ephesians 5v11:
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness”.

The Amish hold to a policy of separation from the world and its practices, based on 2 Corinthians 6v17:
"Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you and be a Father to you.”

Anything to do with witchcraft, even if it is dressed up as ‘fun’ is to be avoided. God calls it an abomination; how can the Amishman call it anything less. For this reason, the Amish will not have alternatives to Halloween either. They consider that Halloween is getting as close to witchcraft as most people dare, without actually indulging in the dark arts themselves. If they are not even to touch what is unclean, they reason, how can they dabble with the fringes of witchcraft, when God Himself has declared it unclean. In a nutshell, when a person plays with a little bit of fire in the name of ‘fun’, they still get burned. In keeping himself pure and unspotted from the world (James 1v27), the Amishman steers a course as far from spiritual danger as he possibly can. Oh, that more Christians would do likewise in this day and age!


Coverings - objections and excuses

Most people today do not wear a covering, not even when they go to church. There are a few churches where a hat is required when in church, but there are virtually none where it is required all the time. So what are the reasons women today do not wear a covering?

From the Amish perspective, wearing a covering holds significance in three respects. First, they want to obey the commands of Scripture; second, it ensures they are separate from the world, which, in itself, is being obedient to a Scriptural injunction: 'do not be conformed to this world', Romans 12v2 and third, wearing a covering gives the Amish woman an added sense of identity - all the other Amish women wear one too. So have they got it wrong? They are, after all, in something of a minority.

Let's look at some of the common objections and excuses that women today use for failing to adhere to this particular Scripture, as found in 1 Corinthians 11v2-16.

It was only for Paul's day.
This is the cultural excuse. But if we can write off this passage on the grounds of culture, then which other passages can we leave out as irrelevant today? Perhaps the one about loving your enemies? Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1v2 to see to whom Paul addresses this letter:
"To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours"
Clearly Paul did not intend his letter to be confined to just those in Corinth. Does that sound like it was meant only for that culture? I don't think so.

If we ought to wear a covering, then it is only for church.
Why do we think that to be the case? Well, Paul himself in the very passage under discussion says that women ought not to 'pray or prophesy' with their heads uncovered. Surely that indicates that he is talking about the church meeting. Really? Are women not supposed to pray at other times, apart from in church? Are they not also bound by the injunction to 'pray without ceasing' 1 Thessalonians 5v17?

Let's take a look at the following verses:
"For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you" (1 Corinthians 11v18). Paul has now changed the subject; he is going to address the way in which the Corinthians are misusing the communion service. And he prefaces it with the words "when you come together as a church". That seems a clear indication that everything that has gone before is not confined to when they come together as a church. Therefore it can be concluded that coverings are not just for times of corporate worship; they are to be worn at all times.

'Let her be covered'. The Greek tense of the verb is 'present continuous'. This means the verse could be written 'let her continue to be covered.' Again, this would indicate that Paul intended women to continue the practice of wearing a covering. And not only to continue the practice, but also to wear a covering all the time - continually.

Furthermore, if we confine the argument of coverings only to prayer or church, we are missing the point about coverings. They are not coverings for prayer only; they are a symbol of women's acceptance of the divinely appointed order, where man is head of woman, Christ is head of man and God is head of Christ: "For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head" (v10). Is Christ only man's head when he is in church? Are women to be submissive only when they are in a church meeting? If submission is for all time, then so is the covering.

We are not under law but under grace.
This is the excuse that suggests we have no rules to follow as New testament Christians. If that is the case, then what did Jesus mean when He said, ' If you love me, keep my commandments' and 'He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me' (John 14v15 & 21)?
On the other hand, it is true that we have freedom in Christ. No longer do we have to try to fulfil the law in order to please God. However, if we love Him, we will want to please Him and we will want to keep His commandments. We are free from the power of sin, death and Satan. We now belong to the Kingdom of God; we are free to follow our King. We do not have freedom from God's order; we have freedom in God's order. God's Kingdom is not anarchy. Before we were saved, we were slaves to sin and death; now we are free to follow Christ and keep His commandments. Why should the commandment regarding coverings be an exception?

It seems that the Christians in Corinth were so enamoured with their newfound freedom in Christ, they were throwing off everything that pertained to their former lives. Paul is writing this letter to correct their errors. Therefore, if they had ceased to cover their heads, then there was something amiss.

Hair is the covering.
I have some sympathy for this view, given that Paul states, "her hair is given to her for a covering" (v15). However, let's look at the logic of that idea. If hair is the covering, then we should be able to replace the word 'covering' with the word 'hair'. This is what the passage then looks like, starting at verse 4:

"Every man praying or prophesying with hair on his head, dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies without hair on her head, dishonours her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman has no hair on her ehad, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her have hair on her head. For a man indeed pought not to have hair on his head since he is the image and glory of God."

I have stopped there because already we can see that this is nonsense. If a woman has no hair let her be shaved? Men ought to have no hair in order to pray?

Furthermore, the word for 'covering' in this verse (v15) is a different word in the original Greek from the word used for covering elsewhere. If Paul were saying that the hair is the same as the covering he has just been talking about, surely he would have used the same word? Had he done so, there could be no ambiguity - clearly the woman's hair would have been sufficient to cover her. But as it is a different word, it is clear that Paul is talking about something different, a different type of covering.

We have no such custom.
Ah, surely this final comment of Paul indicates that there was no such custom of wearing a covering in the rest of the churches and therefore Paul was making this rule especially for the Corinthians, to take it or leave it as they chose? I don't think so! For 14 verses (v2-15) Paul has been at pains to explain as logically as he can the reasons why a covering is necessary. Is it likely that he would then contradict himself in his last sentence? In point of fact, the most simple understanding of this verse is that if anyone is contentious, ie they oppose the wearing of coverings, then 'we' (the apostles) and the rest of the churches of God do not have a custom that supports that opposing view. The custom is that the churches were following already what Paul has been saying in the previous 4 verses.

For some further reading on the subject of 'no such custom' see:



Monday, 29 October 2012

Coverings – Prayer and Headship

You will have noticed in my last post, I mentioned that the coverings worn by the Amish are sometimes called prayer coverings and sometimes headship coverings or veils. This gives an indication of the two reasons Amish women wear a covering.
Headship: The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, starts out by explaining the different roles between men and women. He sets this in the context of the relationship between God and Christ: But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Therefore a woman wears a covering to indicate her voluntary submission to her husband or her father, or the elders of the church. The passage does not say ‘husband’ specifically; therefore it can be assumed that as men are given roles of leadership in the church and family by God, that women are to submit to that authority and leadership.
Many women today do not want to accept this teaching. They say they are not inferior to men and therefore why do they need to submit? No-one would state that Christ is inferior to God; they are equal. Yet the passage clearly states that God is head over Christ. This is not a statement of superiority/inferiority, but is an indication of the differing roles that each has. This is also true of men and women. God has given them different roles within their relationships.
A woman who wears a covering does so voluntarily and by wearing it, she indicates her acceptance of her different role and her voluntary submission to husbands, church leaders, fathers and, ultimately, to God, as it is He who said she should wear a covering.
It might be said that the Amish teach their daughters to wear a covering all their lives. Indeed, when baby girls are first taken to church at the age of about 6 weeks, their heads are covered. The practise differs between the different Amish groups – some have their children wear coverings all the time; others have them wear them when they are out and about in public; yet others do not have their children wear coverings at all, except for church. So how can it be said that an Amish woman takes the covering voluntarily?
Most people, even in British society, have heard of the rumschpringe, though what is seen on our televisions is not the whole story. When she reaches the age of about 16, she is allowed more freedom to explore the beliefs and practices of the Amish faith and culture. As the young girl matures, it is for her to make her own decision as to whether she wishes to be baptised or not and join the Amish church. If she does, one of the things she agrees to is wearing the covering. The vast majority of Amish youth do get baptised into the faith and the Amish church. Those who do not are free to discard the wearing of the covering if they so wish.
Prayer: the passage under consideration also states: every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head.
Now this verse can appear complicated at first – until it is realised that two types of ‘head’ are meant here. She “dishonours her head” indicates that she dishonours the man who has been given the position of leadership or authority over her. She “covers her head”, indicates that she is wearing something on her physical head. It would be absurd if it were to mean she covers the man! Or even that she dishonours her physical head!
Because the covering is mentioned here in the context of 'praying and prophesying', many today have concluded that the covering, or the wearing of a hat, is only for such times as a woman is in church. [More of that on another occasion]. The Amish woman clearly wears her covering all day long, whether it is Sunday or some other day of the week; whether she is in church or not. That is because she has learned from the Bible that she should always be ready to pray, always in an attitude of prayer: Pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5v17.
Culture: There is a cultural element to wearing a covering too. Ever since Bible times, women have covered their heads. It was only in the 20th Century that women began shaking off the so-called shackles of former times. Even as late as the 1940s, women were rarely seen outside their homes without a hat on their heads. And right into the 60s, 70s and even today, many women will not go to church without wearing a hat, though they may never wear one at any other time.
If you want to read a brief history of coverings, see Head Covering Through the Centuries
In my next post, I will take a look at some of the reasons it is not more widely practised today.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Coverings - the reasons why

One of the things the Amish are known for is their distinctive way of dressing, in particular what they wear on their heads – a little white cap, made in a lightweight fabric in white, black, or sometimes navy blue, known as a covering, a prayer covering, or sometimes, the headship veiling.
Since the Amish are so keen not to draw attention to themselves, there surely has to be some reason why they would wear something like a covering which only seems to serve to get them noticed. So why do they wear them? Is it just cultural? Or is there something deeper? Has the church today missed something, or has the covering been rightly discarded as irrelevant to modern Christian life?
Over the next couple of posts, we will explore the custom, if it can be called that, of coverings, the reasons for wearing them and the reasons Christains today who are not Amish give for not wearing them.
To begin with, we need to take a look at the particular verses from the Bible which speak of coverings one’s head:
1 Corinthians 11v2-16 (NKJV)

"Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed oufgt not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but the woman for the man. For this reasonthe woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonour to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."
We will look further at what the Amish believe in future posts. In the meantime, what are your views on this passage? Is it for today, or was it something cultural for Paul’s day only? Do you think the Amish practice of wearing a covering is outdated, or quaint and oldfashioned, or is it a vital part of their faith?

Sunday Focus

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise,
In deeper reverence reverence, praise
In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee,
Rise up and follow Thee.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love,
Interpreted by love.
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down,
As fell Thy manna down.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace,
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe trough the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm,
O still small voice of calm.
by American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Coverings - my personal journey

In my last post, I mentioned head coverings – and the fact I was wearing one. In this post, I want to share just how that came about.

When I ordered some curriculum and story books from Rod and Staff for my children, one of the things I noticed straight away was the odd little ‘hat’ things the women wore on their heads in the pictures. I later discovered that these were called coverings, prayer coverings or headship coverings. There were also some leaflets/booklets about it in the pack of tracts. One of these was called ‘The Significance of the Christian Woman’s Veiling’ by Merle Ruth, which explained in clear detail the reasons behind having one’s head covered.

There is an online copy of that leaflet available here:

I had always followed the custom of wearing some kind of hat at church on Sundays. Many years earlier, while on a summer evangelistic team, I had come across one person who put on a headscarf when she read her Bible in her private study times too. Having moved house several times, I had also moved churches and some encouraged wearing a hat, some didn’t. In like manner, I sometimes had and sometimes hadn’t.

 While reading the booklets, in conjunction with the Bible, I became convinced that not only should I wear something while at church, but that I should wear it all the time. Of course, I did not have a ‘proper’ covering, like the ones I had seen in the pictures, and I had no way of getting one at that time, either. So in an attempt to be obedient to what I had read in the Bible, I compromised and started wearing a beret. The Bible clearly taught that a woman should be covered, in 1 Corinthians 11.

 I guess I could have timed it better from the family’s point of view. Our daughter was away on a summer evangelism team and our son was in Sweden with the scouts. That meant I had no opportunity to explain to either of them what I was doing and why. It came as a complete shock to them. When we went to visit our daughter on the team, I was wearing the beret. As a teenager, she was less than impressed. It is always harder to explain why you are doing something after the event than before; I don’t think our daughter ever really accepted me wearing a covering. In more recent years, there have been times I did not wear it, but when I reverted to wearing it, I explained to her what I was going to do and her reaction was one of dismay, saying it was a symbol of repression and oppression. I assured her I was wearing it because I wanted to and believed it to be right and she was satisfied with that response, but she is clearly still not happy about it.

After some time, I was sent a pattern for a hanging veil type of covering and also one readymade in white. That brought with it its own problems – for one thing, I was often mistaken for a Catholic nun. Being firmly of a Protestant persuasion at that time, it was unhelpful to be associated with a different way of thinking. My husband asked me to do something about it, so I made some coverings in navy blue and started pinning them at the back so they covered my hair even when the wind was blowing.
What I wear now is a snood type of covering, made from a pattern I found on the internet. It is basically the same as before, in navy blue, but I don’t have to pin it at the back any more. I and my husband are both happy with this form of covering. I get my patterns from Candle onthe Hill

Soon after I started wearing a covering, circumstances meant we moved churches. The new church did not encourage even wearing a hat for prayer on Sundays, which meant I really stood out. It also soon became clear that I did not just wear it at church, but was wearing it all the time. They began to get a bit funny with me because of it, to the extent that I began to feel criticised and pressured to stop.

One deacon commented what a shame it was that no-one could see my ‘lovely curly hair,’ while the minister frequently preached about not drawing attention to ourselves for the wrong reasons, for example by the way we dress, and not setting ourselves up as better than others! When we spoke about it, he simply said that I ‘must be under conviction’ to stop. He even suggested I had fallen prey to some kind of cult. Yet I was absolutely certain that God meant what He said in the Bible and that we could not just decide to ignore subjects because they didn’t fit with our preconceived ideas, or were uncomfortable for us. I didn’t make a big deal of it and, unless I was asked specifically, I did not speak about it. It was not my place to convince people of what I myself had been convinced of; the church did not teach the wearing of a covering and I did not want to undermine the church leaders. So I kept quiet.
The church we now attend teaches that women should be covered for the church services. They know I wear my covering all the time and they accept that I do. Again, I don’t emphasise my own convictions; it is not my place to teach them, or to criticise them for not wearing a covering.

But how I long for a church or community like the Amish, where everyone wears a covering all the time and support one another in so doing. It is very hard being ‘different’.I can well understand how the Amish must feel when tourists stare at them, as if they are exhibits in a show of some kind.

Friday, 26 October 2012

A Stoning in Fulham County – my personal journey, part 4

Fulham County is a fictional representation of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, where you will find the oldest Amish community in America. The film, for the title is that of a film, was based on true events. [See].

Some local youths were indulging in a new ‘sport’ – that of ‘clayping’. It involved riding fast cars past slow Amish buggies and throwing stones or lumps of hard clay at the occupants. On this particular occasion, the stone found its mark, hitting the head of a six month old baby and killing her. The baby’s older sister witnessed who had thrown the stone. The film explored the response of the Amish family to the loss of their child and the pressure they were under to testify against the youth in court. The film starred Ron Perlman, (more recently of Sons of Anarchy fame), and featured a young Brad Pitt as the offending youth, distraught by what he had done.

This was the first time I had come across the Amish and although I knew the film was a fictionalised account, it did give a glimpse into Amish life and practice. As many before me, I was enthralled by the simplicity of it all, the dignity of the grieving family, their forgiveness of the youth concerned, and their total acceptance of God’s will for their lives.
At the end of the film, the older sister, Rachel, told her father she wanted to go to the court to testify so that something like this didn’t happen to anyone else. Clearly he finally relented, even though it was against their practice, because the film ends as Rachel and her parents enter the courtroom and Brad Pitt changes his plea to guilty. Even though I had not come across the Amish before this, I was acutely aware that they would be unlikely to have changed their minds about testifying, as it went against not just their practices but also their beliefs, which were firmly rooted in the Bible and faith in God.

In the real life story, the family did not testify,
The Amish did not wish to testify against the boys, and never did, saying that "their punishment is not up to us. We didn’t want to file charges." In the end, the four boys involved ended up receiving suspended jail sentences and fines of $2,000...for killing a baby.”

...but that doesn’t make for good television.
Not long afterwards, I also happened to see two more films: Witness, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, and Harvest of Fire. These three films inspired in me a great longing and desire to know more about these quiet people, the Amish. There began a long pursuit for knowledge and understanding of these people. I read everything I could lay my hands on and watched everything the TV brought my way. Not long after an airing of a reality show about the Rumspringa (the Amish youths’ time of ‘running around’, where they can experience non-Amish life first hand), I was asked if I was Amish, probably because of the head covering I was wearing. People were beginning to learn about the Amish and associated a covering with them.

The Amish, of course, don’t have television. They don’t even have electricity, so they couldn’t watch TV if they wanted to. So it was rather peculiar really that I was finding out what I most wanted to know from the television. And books, of course.

Baking Day

There are some things for which the Amish are rightly famous: their woodworking skills, their quilts and their baking. In this age of economic downturn, the Amish are affected just as we are – diversification is the name of the game. All over America, Amish bakeries are springing up, selling homemade goodies, such as cakes, cookies and bread.

And now one in England, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

To be brutally honest, I dislike baking with a vengeance. It uses too many pots and pans, makes too much mess and creates too much washing-up (my other pet hate). Not to mention, it gets eaten faster than you can blink an eye, so you have to start all over again.

On the other hand, I do enjoy the satisfaction of taking something tasty and homemade out of the oven and the wonderful smells it generates while it is cooking. So, all in all, I bake, on a regular basis.

Friday is baking day. I have lots of Amish recipe books, but my family still prefers the English cakes, like Victoria sponge (in its many incarnations), so those are what I make more often than not. Today, for instance, I have made a chocolate and coffee cake (bottom half is chocolate; top half is coffee, with coffee butter cream filling) and some queen cakes (small buns with sultanas in them) and chocolate chip buns. Those should last us all week. There may be only the two of us, but my husband has a remarkable appetite for baked goods.

So how is that Amish, you might ask? Well, the Amish, as you are probably aware, don’t have electricity; they do everything the hard way – by hand. And so do I! There is enough washing up to do using bowls and spoons, without complicating it by using an electric mixer. So when a recipe calls for ‘cream together the butter and sugar’, out come my big glass bowl and a wooden spoon. There is something quite satisfying making cakes by hand, the ‘old-fashioned’ way – and it’s good exercise too, burning up in advance all those calories that I am bound to gain by eating the finished products!

I can't pretend to be the world's greatest baker, but I think they turned out okay, don’t you?

Letter to America - my personal journey, part 3

After reading the tracts, I wrote a letter to Rod and Staff, asking where my nearest Mennonite church would be. I had thought they might say one of the major conurbations near where I lived (you can see how far I was from understanding the Mennonites, who mainly prefer to live in rural communities). It was some time before I received a reply. Unhappily, they said I would need to relocate to the United States as the nearest church would be there. That meant my nearest church was around 3000 miles away! To say I was disappointed was an understatement.

However, unknown to me, my letter was making the rounds of Mennonites in America and elsewhere.

Some weeks later, a letter dropped through our door, postmarked Canada and addressed to me by name. I knew no-one in Canada at that time, so I wondered who on earth could be writing to me from Canada. It was from an elderly gentleman (in his 80s or early 90s) and his wife, Mervyn and Fannie Baer. One way or another, through his own association with Rod and Staff, my letter had ended up on Mervyn’s desk. We corresponded for a short time, until Fannie became ill with dementia and he became too frail to continue.

I am no longer sure whether it was my original letter, or a subsequent one to Mervyn, that was later seen on his desk by his daughter-in-law, who came to clean for him and Fannie. Whichever it was, that daughter-in-law, Judy, and her husband Jim, were added to the growing number of people who were praying for me in the UK. My letter was being seen as similar to the plea of the Macedonians to Paul, 'Come over and help us' [Acts 16v9]

Several months after that, I received another letter, this time from Wisconsin in the far north of America (though they call it the ‘mid west’!), from a man called Kenneth and his wife, Anna. It appears they too had an interest in Rod and Staff and had seen my letter. Kenneth was making arrangements to come and see me and to bring his Uncle and their two wives with them. They wanted to meet this English woman who had written, seeking a Mennonite church in the UK…

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Becoming 'Almost Amish' - my personal journey, part 2

The tracts duly arrived, all the way from the United States. I devoured them eagerly and realised that this was something – no, the thing – I had been looking for all my life. They taught moral purity, high standards, solid Christian teaching, Bible study, and a complete way of life, which not only encouraged the individual Christian, but added a real sense of community and outreach. 

There were tracts on:

Family life

Church life

Relations with other Christians

How we relate to the world around us


Personal life and devotion to God

Obedience to Christ’s commands

…and many other items.

I will be addressing some of these issues as time permits. If you would like a set of the tracts yourself, then you can order them from the bookshop I mentioned previously, or else write to Rod and Staff direct at:

Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc.
PO Box 3,
Hwy. 172
Kentucky 41413-0003


It was a funeral much like any other in the Amish community. People gathered to give their condolences at the home of the deceased; they baked and cooked and helped out the bereaved family. They attended the service together and hugged those who were grieving. There is nothing unusual in that - except this was not an Amish funeral.

'Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you' Matthew 5 v 43

In the film A Stoning in Fulham County, the sherriff says to the English (the Amish term for all non-Amish) lawyer, 'These people don't just read their Bibles; they live them'. Never was this more true or obvious than when, three years ago, a milkman walked into an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot dead 5 little Amish girls, wounded several others and then turned the gun on himself. He wanted, he had said, to 'get back at God' for taking the life of his own daughter.

The funeral was that of the man who had so brutally treated innocent Amish children and their families, murdering them in the name of 'getting back at God'. The families of the girls who died opened their hearts in forgiveness towards the family of the man who had done this evil deed. They told the family it wasn't their fault; they freely forgave him.

How could they do this? The Amish are keenly aware that God's Son, Jesus Christ, freely gave His own life to save those who were unworthy of His love and compassion. While hanging on the cross, He prayed 'Father, forgive them; they know not what they do'. The Amish are also keenly aware of their own failings and take to heart the words of Jesus when He said, 'Pray after this manner...forgive us our trespasses as we also forgive them that trespass against us' and went on to explain, 'if you forgive others, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you don't forgive others, your heavenly Father will not forgive you'. The Amish believe that in the same measure they forgive others, they will be forgiven.

Forgiveness is an act, not a feeling. Inside, the Amish families were asking 'why?', just the same as you and I would. But what set the Amish apart from most of the rest of us is they put aside their feelings, accepted that the deaths of their children were part of God's plan, and reached out in acts of kindness towards the family of Charles Carl Roberts IV. Only by the grace of God could they do this.

This event has inspired a book Amish Grace and now a film of the same name. But more, the tragedy aroused in people, once again, a deep interest in the lives of the Amish. Yes, there is something attractive about the Amish faith and way of life that draws people to itself.

Becoming 'Almost Amish' - my personal journey, part 1

Longer ago than I care to remember, I was a young wife and mother. Our first child was born in 1982 and we had already decided that any children we had would be home educated. That of course meant finding suitable curriculum materials and making sure what we taught was compatible with our way of life and our Christian faith.

It wasn't until around 1990 that I was introduced to another home schooling family that were using Rod and Staff curriculum - an American company that produced material for home educators and small parochial schools, with a solid Christian base. On receiving their catalogue, I discovered they also produced tracts, doctrinal books, family helps and a whole lot more. I also discovered that they were Mennonite.

That reminded me of a book I had read when we were first married, called Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger, by Ronald Sider. That too had been connected to Mennonites. It taught that we as individuals all had a part to play in reducing world poverty. Saying 'what use is doing my little bit?' simply perpetuated the problem. The philiosophy resonated with me and I had tried in vain to discover more about the Mennonites. With no internet and no-one nearby who knew anything about Mennonites, I eventually forgot about them - until the Rod and Staff catalogue arrived, that is. Now was a renewed chance to find out more about these people who combined their Christian faith with a strong sense of social responsibility.

Without further ado, I ordered a complete set of their tracts and booklets, thinking that here I would discover directly from these Mennonites what it was they believed and how their faith was lived out in their everyday lives.

Note: Rod and Staff books are available in the UK from:
Shepherd Hills Retail 3,
Station Court,
Craven Arms,

Phone/Fax: 01588 661117

If you pay them a visit in person, they also produce hardwood furniture and have a tea room where you can buy homemade tea and cakes.

Almost Amish?

There is a book on the market by the same name, ‘Almost Amish’, by Nancy Sleeth. She and her husband decided it wasn’t good enough just to talk about saving the planet – they decided to do something about it too. That included moving to a smaller house, reducing their energy consumption and cutting their waste by 90%. She wrote ‘Almost Amish’ to show people just what we can learn from these simple religious people; how we can incorporate more peacefulness and reduce stress in our own lives, by adopting a more simple lifestyle.

On ‘Sojourners - faith in action for social justice,’ Nancy has written an article which offers comments on the book’s ten most important things the Amish can teach us in our fast paced 21st Century lives:
  1. Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean; the outside reflects the inside.
  2. Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master.
  3. Saving more and spending less brings financial peace.
  4. Time spent in God’s creation reveals the face of God.
  5. Small and local leads to saner lives.
  6. Service to others reduces loneliness and isolation.
  7. The only true security comes from God.
  8. Knowing neighbors and supporting local businesses builds community.
  9. Family ties are lifelong; they change but never cease.
  10. Faith life and way of life are inseparable.

To me, this list distils the essence of what people find attractive about the Amish. They live simple, uncluttered lives, mixed with a faith on which everything else in the universe depends. Technology does not rule their lives; in fact, they manage quite well without it. They have strong family values. Their simple lifestyle gives them stability, an inner peace and a sense of purpose towards both God and man. Isn’t this really what most of us are looking for in life? Could it be that the Amish have an understanding of life that has eluded the rest of us? Or are they a culture that is outdated and has little if anything to say to us today?