Can you join the Amish? In short, yes!
The Amish are well-known for their rejection of modern conveniences and luxuries, and their off-the-grid approach to life may appeal to someone who feels that today’s society is filled with an overwhelming number of obligations and “noise.”
But what’s it like to join the Amish? Can you just say you’ll join and then be in the community?
The long answer is more complex than a simple “yes” or “no.”
In this blog, we’ll examine why there’s more to this question and, following that, what common elements you may expect from joining an Amish community.
Why Would Someone Join the Amish Church?
We’ll be honest — we’re not totally sure. Obviously, this will vary depending on someone’s personal preferences and beliefs, but this decision and process would be similar to going 400 years into the past and deciding to stay there without any of your friends and family.
Becoming Amish after being “English” or “worldly” — their names for people in mainstream society — is more challenging and perhaps even “painful” to some degree because you’re fully aware of what you’re losing.
For an Amish person born into an Amish family and then becoming a full member of his or her church, the decision is less rigorous. They aren’t fully “plugged in” to the workings of society, so they may not be fully aware of what they’re missing.
On top of that, our knowledge is that men are generally the spearheads for families becoming Amish or the individuals who choose to become Amish alone.
While we don’t have any sociological research to back this up, our best guess is that this is because the Amish are vehemently patriarchal in their practices, fully embracing antiquated gender norms and sexist beliefs that place men and women into defined parts of everyday life and forbidding them from breaking those boundaries.
In that respect, the transition from mainstream society to Amish society is almost definitely painful for women, as they must surrender most forms of autonomy and embrace subjugation to the will and decision of the man of the family.
This is most likely why those of us born around the Amish and with Amish family have heard of men joining the Amish every once in a while — but never a sole woman.
To make matters more complicated, joining the Amish is not anything like the admission process to any part of modern society.
This is because Amish communities are generally isolated from one another by geography and limited travel capabilities.
As a result, joining the Amish is not a defined, concrete process.
Why Joining the Amish Is Not a Defined Process
Despite the fact that it’s possible for you to join the Amish as a whole, it’s crucial to understand that it’s much more accurate to say that you’re joining a single Amish community.
This is because the Amish are completely de-centralized as a Christian denomination. In other words, there’s no “pope” of the Amish.
In fact, there’s no governing body for all Amish.
Except for very rare instances of Amish communities traveling to one another, each Amish community is entirely autonomous.
This means they tend to overall follow the tenets set out by Jakob Ammann, but they may also have their own local variants on different ideas.
For example, black-topper Amish in Lancaster, PA are increasingly incorporating electricity into their lives. Their barns may have solar panels, they may use smartphones, and they may sell their farmland at a premium to developers before taking up a new vocation.
Other Amish communities — such as the white-toppers and yellow-toppers in Central Pennsylvania — tend to be more strict because of their cultural and geographic isolation from mainstream society.
In these cases, the traditions that the Amish follow may seem more esoteric and unfamiliar compared to the better-known Amish in Lancaster, PA.
These isolated Amish communities may show stronger signs of inbreeding, lower populations, fewer family names, and other indicators of cultural confinement.
As a result, these communities may be less interested in allowing newcomers, and they’d also be much more challenging for a newcomer to adjust to the community if they did, in fact, join.
With all of that in mind, it’s difficult to define the exact admission process for every Amish community in the world.
However, there are still a few common elements that you could expect:
- Education on the Amish way of life
- Renunciation of prior life
- Commitment to the community
- Participation in the community
- Baptism into the Amish denomination (if You’re an Adult)
Let’s take a closer look at all of these steps.
1. Education on the Amish Way of Life
When you’re looking to become Amish, there’s a certain level of education required on your part prior to making the transition.
This education isn’t academic in nature — instead, it involves meeting community members, learning about the community’s practices, discovering what’s accepted, learning what’s taboo, and more.
It also likely includes learning about Amish tradition and, depending on the community, the history of the Amish faith.
Much of the Amish way of life — including schooling — is dependent on the community it holds. As a result, newcomer education is almost certainly going to be social in nature, encouraging engagement with families, individuals, and others.
You may even learn about how the inner-workings of the community function, like church leadership and voting on community-wide issues.
In a sense, this education is kind of like a reverse rumspringa. Instead of an Amish teen learning about mainstream society and choosing to remain in the Amish faith, you’re learning about the Amish faith to decide if you want to remain in mainstream society.
This education is also a chance for the community to determine your commitment to them and the seriousness of your desire to join.
To tie into that seriousness, the Amish of any given area may also require you to forsake certain parts of your life in order to prove your interest in becoming a member of their community.
2. Renunciation of Prior Life
Regardless of the community you’d like to join, there will be a time when you’re required to renounce certain elements of your life prior to becoming Amish.
This ultimately depends on the community in terms of what you’re expected to renounce.
Most will likely require you to adhere to the tenets of their everyday life, like shunning modern travel conveniences and embracing whatever they consider to contribute to a “simple” lifestyle.
Others may require you to go to extremes, like cutting ties with your non-Amish friends and relatives in a social change similar to meidung, otherwise known as Amish shunning.
Depending on what you do for a living, you may also be required to change that to something that is more aligned with the beliefs of the Amish community. Again, the details of this may vary, but it’s likely that work in fields like IT will require a change to something more analog in nature, like construction or farming.
This renunciation may also require some level of financial change, again depending on the community. The Amish are known to contribute to pools of cash to help provide for their communities, especially when it comes to healthcare and perhaps even taxes.
It’s also the beginning of showing your commitment to your local Amish community as a whole.
3. Commitment to the Community
Community is the central focal point of the non-religious Amish belief system.
While issues of faith will always earn more attention and emphasis than those of individual or interpersonal, the tight-knit community relationship found among Amish families is integral to the faith’s longevity and persistence.
In addition to their personal commitments to one another, Amish communities also require individuals to express commitment to the community as a whole through helping families when in need, financing others’ healthcare requirements, and more.
The idea is that the Amish of any community give what they can to one another when it’s asked because — at some point — you will also have to ask the community for something.
And when you do, you’ll be the beneficiary of the community’s commitment to you.
Does every Amish community function exactly like this all the time? No, probably not.
But this is the idea behind their community-based ideology.
Still, commitment is not enough to prove that you’re ready and willing to join the Amish church.
To be a part of the community, you also have to participate in it.
4. Participation in the Community
Community participation often consists of observing everyday Amish life.
Attending church services, hosting other families, shunning modern conveniences, and more can all play into community participation.
There may also be some Amish communities that don’t allow this participation until you’ve completed your entrance into the community.
Still, you’ll be required to participate in the community at some point, regardless.
The only question is whether it happens before or after the most important step of joining the Amish — baptism.
5. Baptism into the Amish Denomination (if You’re an Adult)
At some point, you will be required to be baptized into the Amish faith, provided you’re a legal adult.
If you’re not yet a legal adult, you won’t be able to be baptized until you are.
This is because the Amish are a member of a Christian denomination called Anabaptists. Anabaptists are significantly different from all Protestants and Catholics because Anabaptists do not baptize children.
This difference is responsible for many years of strife among all three of these Christian groups. While the violence has subsided in modern history, Anabaptists still remain staunchly different from their Christian cousins by requiring someone to be an adult to make the commitment of baptism.
And once you’re baptized, your journey to joining the Amish faith has concluded.
Now, you’re a full member of that particular Amish community.
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