Indiana’s Amish Country
Shipshewana and the LaGrange County area are known as Amish Country, Indiana, and are home to the third-largest Amish community in the United States. Although the comparative size of Amish Communities remains small compared to the rest of the United States, the Amish are one of our fastest-growing communities. It’s estimated that the Amish population doubles every twenty years.
The simple and modest lifestyles of the Amish (and Mennonites) are both intriguing and rare and are the reason many people visit the area — to observe and learn about their beliefs, as well as admire their artwork and products, usually created with labor-intensive, old-fashioned methods. We invite you to look inside the Amish culture and lifestyle and get to know our locals a little better.
The Amish Order
The Amish lifestyle is dictated by the Ordnung, a set of rules for Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Conservative Mennonite living. Ordnung is the German word for order, discipline, rule, arrangement, organization, or system. Because the Amish have no central church government, each assembly is autonomous and is its own governing authority. Thus, every local church maintains an individual set of rules, adhering to its own Ordnung, which may vary from district to district as each community administers its own guidelines.
No summary of Amish lifestyle and culture can be completely accurate because there are few generalities that are true for all Amish. Though you likely won’t see many Amish posing for pictures because they’re believed to encourage vanity.
Group rules may differ over matters such as the width of a hat-brim, the color of buggies, or various other issues. The use of tobacco (excluding cigarettes, which are considered “worldly”) and moderate use of alcohol are generally permitted, particularly among older and more conservative groups. The Amish refer to non-Amish people as English, because we don’t speak their original Dutch or German languages. Most Amish speak multiple languages as well.
A big difference between Amish and Mennonites is the use of motor vehicles and electricity. One Mennonite man I know likes to explain it to people by calling Mennonites “Amish on wheels.”
The Importance of Family in Amish Culture
Amish believe large families are a blessing from God. Amish rules allow marrying only between members of the Amish Church. Having children, raising them, and fellowship with neighbors and relatives are the focus of the Amish family, and the families and communities choose to be almost entirely self-sufficient. For instance, the elderly do not go to retirement facilities, they always remain at home. Each family member has their own responsibilities within the family and within the greater community. The women have different chores from the men, with chores within the family normally divided by gender.
Amish children attend their districts school until they finish eighth grade, which is considered adequate for formal education, and then they begin learning more adult tasks and chores. The boys will work with their fathers in the fields, in the barn, and around the buildings. The girls work inside the home and garden, alongside their mother. They also live at home until they eventually marry and start families of their own.
Sports and recreation are enjoyed by most Amish, and many districts have their own baseball fields, and basketball courts. The Amish are also frequent users of public parks, beaches, and lakes.
A church district is measured by the number of households, rather than by the number of baptized persons. Families take turns hosting the biweekly preaching service, and each district is led by their own Bishop, who typically decides what is acceptable behavior and non-acceptable behavior within their own church district.
The common theme among all Amish clothing is plainness; clothing should not call attention to the wearer by cut, color, or any other feature. The historic restriction on buttons is attributed to tradition and their potential for ostentation. In all things, the aesthetic value is plainness. Some groups tend to limit color to black (trousers, dresses) and white (shirts), while others allow colors. Many Amish families will sew their own clothing, and work clothing can become quite worn and patched with use, but there are also many Amish stores that stock pre-made clothes, bonnets, and hats for purchase.
Women wear calf-length plain-cut dresses in a solid color. In the colder months, a long woolen cloak may be worn. Girls in some areas may wear colored bonnets until age nine; older girls and women wear black or white bonnets. Heavier bonnets are worn when Amish women are out and about in cold weather, apart from the Nebraska Amish, who do not wear bonnets. Mennonites will typically be seen in white bonnets, or with white fabric pinned on top of their hair, which women keep long.
Men typically wear dark-colored trousers, some with a dark vest or coat, suspenders (in some communities), broad-brimmed straw hats in the warmer months, and black felt hats in the colder months. However, some teenagers may deviate from these customs to convey their individuality.
Married men and those over forty grow a beard. Mustaches are forbidden because they are associated with European military officers and militarism in general. A beard may serve the same symbolic function, in some Old Order Amish settings, as a wedding ring, and marks the passage into manhood.
Amish Backroad Shops
We have many Amish and Mennonite businesses both in town and along the backroads – if you see a sign, you’re welcome to stop, except on Sundays. Referred to as Cottage Shops, many families run their businesses as the source of their income, while others continue to farm, build, or work outside the home, with the business as supplemental income. Amish shop owners welcome customers and will usually answer any questions you may have.
The cottage shops are also a way that women can contribute income to the household, and a way for artists to share and sell their work. The types of items, art, plants, and food available for purchase are astounding. Many pieces are one of a kind because they are made by hand.
This is just a short overview of the Amish culture, so we encourage you to keep visiting and getting to know our Amish communities.