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Often we look into a community like the Amish and everyone seems to be dressed alike, look alike and live alike. It is easy to assume that there is little diversity and that everyone believes the same thing and all the community agrees about issues and doctrine. While there is much that the community agrees with and believes together, there is also a wide diversity in both belief and practice.
The best way that we observe this is to look back into history and the early years of the community. The Holmes County Amish community began in 1809 when several Amish families moved into the valleys and hills along the Sugar and Walnut Creeks. Here they found security, land and place to raise their families and practice their beliefs. One of the early settlers was a young man named Jonas Stutzman. After settling along Walnut Creek, Jonas married Maria Gerber and they began to raise their family and establish their farm.
Sometime in the 1840s, Jonas began to embrace some views that were not a part of the historic Amish belief system. His views were centered around a prophetic view of the end of world and Jonas actually set a date for the return of Jesus to reign on the earth. He built a large chair for the Lord to sit on upon his return. This chair was made of wood without nails and is about twice the size of a normal chair. He was adamant in his predictions and he wrote his views and had them published in a local paper. While the world did not end as Jonas had predicted, there is no record that Jonas was ever ostracized from the Amish church. While his views were not embraced by the church, they were also careful to not cut him off from the community.
Jonas also wore white or "fawn colored" clothing in the latter part of his life. This was different from the normally black or dark colored suits and clothing that the other Amish men wore. He became known as "white Jonas" because of this practice. He also saw the wheel as a vehicle of progress and therefore problematic, so he spoke against the use of wheeled vehicles to convey people and goods. When Jonas died in 1857 he was buried about six miles from his place of death. In respect of his views the Amish men carried Jonas's coffin six miles on their shoulders. As a result of the cold rain that was falling that day, one of the men developed pneumonia and later died.
In history, we see that in practice and doctrine Jonas was not a typical Amish man. Yet there is no record that he was ever excommunicated or silenced. In fact, we know that he was a school teacher and gave to needs within the community. While the Amish have often struggled with diversity, there are differences that exist that are not so easily seen by those outside the circles. While communities vary, the Holmes County community has much diversity and is not as easily categorized as the media and the modern world have often portrayed them. Historically this community has focused on relationships and hearing in such a way that is often not seen.
If you wish to learn more about the Amish, or their place in history, or to see the chair that Jonas built for the Lord, plan a visit to 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.