Written by Michael Miller
There are 4 main affiliations of Amish in Ohio’s Amish country. Some of them have several sub-groups with different church standards and practices. We won’t be talking about these various sub-groups because most of the differences are minor and not trivial enough for extensive analysis. Instead, we will be focusing on the 4 main affiliations of Amish in the northeastern part of Ohio, with our primary focus being on Holmes and Wayne county. Let’s get right into it!
We start at the very bottom of the order of Amish affiliations. Formed in 1917, the Swartzentruber Amish are the most conservative in terms of living standards and church practices. Ever since Bishop Samuel E. Yoder and his church district refused to adopt more lenient church guidelines, they have clung to their strict shunning beliefs. Any ex-members of the church who refuse to recant are shunned for life. They stand firm in their beliefs, resisting many innovations in household appliances, farming, and worship practices. Needless to say, this has lead to many differences in how they associate with other Amish affiliations, or the outside world, for that matter. They do not have running water. Their dress customs consist mostly of dark blue and green colors, with the exception of black, depending on the occasion. Swartzentruber buggies are unmistakeable (except after dark), since they forego even the most basic safety measures. Their buggies do not have orange triangles on the back, and they have limited reflective tape. They do not have mirrors and are only allowed to have kerosene lights; which results in them becoming nearly invisible at night. This might be hard for some people to understand. But it’s just another example of how much they cherish their traditional values and are dedicated to keeping them. Anyone traveling to rural Amish country should drive cautiously at night. Swartzentruber Amish buggies can be difficult to spot for people unfamiliar with the area.
Dan Church Amish
Next on the list we have an interesting group, called the Andy Weaver Church, (or the Dan Church). Known simply as “Danners” by the community, their name is derived from 3 ministers, all named Dan. These 3 men didn’t agree with the church guidelines at that time, so they started their own affiliation. Today, they are the second most populous affiliation of Amish in Ohio. Although they are stricter than Old Order and New Order, there is still quite a difference between Danners and Swartzentruber Amish. The Dan Church are allowed to have running water and gas stoves and lights, but no refrigerators, thus requiring them to keep food cold in root cellars. They also dress more moderately, with a little more variation of colors and different dresses and caps for the women. The men cut their hair a little shorter than the Swartzentruber Amish do, and their hats also differ slightly. They are permitted to have phone booths at a designated location for multiple families to use. Their buggies are equipped with battery lights,and they have orange triangles and reflective tape, but no mirrors. It can be very confusing for non-Amish people to discern what is or isn’t acceptable, with so much seeming to fall into a grey area. However, it is important to keep in mind that this way of life has certain standards that have to be kept. Otherwise it would take merely a few hardships for the traditional values to start eroding.
Old Order Amish
The largest group of Amish in Ohio belongs to the Old Order Amish. Having become more liberally progressive in recent years, in some areas they have ventured farther into mainstream society than the New Order Amish have. Their church guidelines are not as strict, with shunning ex-members virtually a thing of the past. However, this is not a free pass for anyone wanting to test the boundaries. Ultimately you still choose whether you want to be Amish or not; but if you choose not to stay with the church, the Old Order are more forgiving than than the Dan Church or Swartzentruber Amish are. Old Order Amish dress quite plainly but with visibly brighter colors. Their overall dress code is much more relaxed with more freedom to wear certain clothing that might be off limits for the more conservative affiliations. The men have shorter haircuts than the Dan Church, and the women wear slightly different head coverings. Old Order Amish buggies are easier to spot at night, as they have adopted many safety features that allow for safer travel at night. LED lights, reflective tape, mirrors, etc…, they are equipped with all the bells and whistles. Their homes are also more lavish, due to their adoption of solar power as a permittable energy source. They have gas stoves, refrigerators and freezers, light switches; basically any home appliance that can be powered by solar (within the church rules). Old Order Amish are allowed to have cell phones(flip phones), albeit to some extent. This has definitely caused major controversy under this affiliation as well as Amish affiliations in general, as the rapid advancement of technology (smart phones in particular), has caused churches to re-evaluate their lifestyle and culture.
New Order Amish
Although there are some differences between Old Order and New Order Amish, not much separates these two groups. New Order are permitted to have rubber tires on their buggies and Sunday School for their youth. Other than that, they are somewhat similar in lifestyle. The main reasons for their split from the Old Order were due to different opinions among church leaders on religious matters, and also on certain moral values and traditions. They believe it is best if children are introduced at a younger age to certain group activities to keep them closer to the community. This is a stark contrast to the other end of the spectrum, where the Swartzentruber Amish reject Bible study, Sunday School, and tractor farming, among other things. The New Order focus more on spiritual growth instead of relying on traditional values to educate their youth. New Order Amish are allowed to have a phone in the house(some Old Order church districts allow it as well). Trying to preserve the simple Amish values and traditions whilst still giving their children equal opportunity to grow spiritually and morally is the focal point of the New Order.