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While there are various groups, or layers, of Amish, each with a different application of the Amish lifestyle, there are also commonalities that exist across the spectrum of the Amish world. The worship service, and especially the singing is one of these commonalities. Any religious group is defined by how they meet and worship, and a basic understanding of the Amish services offers a window into the culture and history of these people.
The Amish do not build church buildings, but rather meet in homes, sheds, shops, and barns for their service. The Amish meet in districts, which range in size from about 10-40 families. When a district has more than that it divides using geographical markers, i.e. creeks, roads, etc. to define each district. In that manner, the groups remain compact enough to fit into the meetings spaces. It also serves to keep people engaged, since you are neighbors too and often live within walking distance of your fellow parishioners. This keeps members engaged in the needs and lives of each other.
There are typically at least four men chosen as leaders for each district; three ministers and one deacon. One of the ministers is then chosen to lead the team and is called the bishop. They are chosen from within the district and are bi-vocational and serve for life, or until their health fails. They are responsible for the spiritual oversight, preaching and leading of the district. The deacon takes care of physical and financial needs and assists the ministers in the services.
Each worship service begins in the same manner with several songs sung by the congregants from a small, thick, black-covered book named the Ausbund. This collection of hymns has no notes and the words are hundreds of years old, written in German. The singing is followed by a short sermon, a Scripture reading, the main sermon, and a final song. This format is something that has developed over the years and the continuity often brings a sense of security and strength as one hears the same songs that our grandfathers sang, and their grandfathers sang. Amish singing is slower and the music is not written down, so the tunes are passed down in orally from one generation to another. Often an older man will teach a young man how the song is to be sung. Not only are the words hundreds of years old, some of the tunes are three to four hundred years old. In this way they are able to pass on a heritage that reminds them of their past and allows deep connections to happen between the generations.
Passing on a good heritage to their children and grandchildren has always been of great importance to the Anabaptist people. One of the ways the Amish are preserving their heritage is through the use of the Ausbund, the oldest continually used hymnbook in Christian circles today. Like many other items we use in our daily lives, this book has a bigger story behind it. Even its design tells a story. You will notice red ink droplets on the page edges. This red-speckled edge is not the result of a sloppy printer. Rather it is intentional. The red droplets are there to remind us of the blood of the martyrs who died for their faith and to encourage believers today to not give up in their faith. Many of the songs in the Ausbund were written by people who were chained in prisons, and some who were martyred for their faith.
A collection of rare editions of the Ausbund is one of the prominent displays in our exhibit area and is of interest to both locals and visitors alike. You will find other local artifacts, Anabaptist books, and locally made crafts in our museum, bookstore, and gift shop. We love to share our story with those who visit the area and strive to answer the most commonly asked questions about our faith, history, and way of life to help you engage with your visit to the area. If you wish to learn more about the Amish, or their place in history, plan a visit the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center. The Center offers guided tours of "Behalt" - a 10 ft. x 265 ft. cyclorama oil-on-canvas painting that illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland, to the present day. Behalt means "to keep" or "remember." The Center is open Mon-Sat 9:00-5:00 and is located near Berlin, OH at 5798 County Road 77, Millersburg, OH 44654. Please call (330) 893-3192 for more information or to schedule a group tour.