Born sometime between 1644 and 1656 (scholars are still debating the actual date of his birth) in or near Berne, Switzerland, Jakob Ammann became the namesake of today’s Amish.
Ammann moved from Berne and lived in the Alsace region. He was a member of the Reformed Church through his 20’s. He became a known Anabaptist when he was approximately 35 years of age.
On February 27, 1696, Ammann signed a petition against compulsory military service. He was also most likely the leader of his congregation until his death. His date of death is also unknown, though records indicate it occurred after 1708 and before 1730. Ammann’s name was located on a 1708 list that Mennonites were required to sign by Alsace authorities.
Jakob Ammann had disagreed with some of the Mennonite practices. The Anabaptists offered communion once a year. Ammann advocated that communion should be held twice a year.
Ammann believed the Mennonites were not following traditional Anabaptist doctrine concerning separation from the world. He also favored foot washing.
Ammann vehemently disagreed about punishment for non-conformity. To Ammann, the Mennonites were too lenient. Shunning practices among the Anabaptists were not strict enough, he reasoned. He advocated shunning those that did not practice or strayed from the faith. He sought a return to a more conservative doctrine. He also differed over other matters, such the lack of rigid regulation of clothing.
In 1693, a major split occurred when Ammann called for a meeting of all leaders of the churches in the region to argue his issues and advocate for a stricter stance. Hans Reist was the senior church leader in the area and he had decided long before that he would not practice shunning. Reist decided not to attend the meeting and ignored it.
Ammann called for another meeting. The second meeting would give Reist another opportunity to agree or disprove Ammann’s views on the issue. Again, Reist refused to attend or participate. In what became an intense argument at the meeting, about half of the religious leaders in attendance sided with Ammann. The others aligned with Reist.
Amish history – or the beginning of it -- was made when an incensed and determined Ammann excommunicated Reist and all the other leaders who supported his views. Reist and his followers remained identified as Mennonites. Followers of Ammann were soon referred to as Amish.
As news of the split spread to other areas and other Mennonite communities, both sides were debated. More conservative Mennonites began to follow the Amish ways. The Amish movement grew.
After several years of turmoil in the congregations, some Amish leaders reasoned that they might have been hasty in splitting off from the Mennonites and sought reconciliation. Some, including Jakob Ammann, even excommunicated themselves as an act of humility.
The response from the Mennonites was indifference. In the end, neither side would concede to the other on the divisive issue of shunning. The split between the Mennonites and the Amish become permanent.
This was a true schism, the formal separation, or division from a religious body. The Amish church was established.
### Special Note: Amish Wisdom is an ongoing feature of various entries about the Amish on George Sheldon's website and blog. Written and produced by George, it is intended to provide information about those of the Amish faith.