Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Living with The Ordnung

“We just know it,” a middle-aged Amish man tried to explain. His chin sported a bristly reddish beard. “It is not written down. It does not need to be.”

The Amish live by The Ordnung. It is a set of rules for proper Amish behavior. A German word, Ordnung means order, arrangement, or system.

There is no central Amish church. Unlike other organized religions, the Amish do not have a central church government or a head spiritual leader or governor. Each Amish church district is autonomous. It is its own governing authority. Accordingly, every local church maintains its own individual set of rules, adhering to its own Ordnung.

The Ordnung is established twice each year in Amish churches. At a special meeting called The Ordnungsgemee, the rules that represent the consensus of the church leaders and the members of the congregation are discussed. The Ordnungsgemee is held before communion Sunday.
Each Amish community defines the proper order, which can vary among church districts. Each Amish church administers its own guidelines for what it sees as suitable conduct. These rules –which are The Ordnung -- are mostly unwritten. However, they define the very essence of Amish living.

Most of the rules of the Amish church are taken for granted. For example, there is nothing written down that a person of the Amish faith cannot be tattooed, yet it is understood by the Amish that getting one is strictly forbidden.

Other things may not be so clear. The Amish could debate the use of a new technology or product, such as wearing shoes that have Velcro straps. The problem is what effect the use of such an item might have on their congregation. A small thing such as this could lead to bigger concerns. It is where to draw that line between the outside modern world and their community that concerns the Amish. At The Ordnungsgemee, they openly discuss these sorts of things, and often are unhurried in deciding whether to ban or allow the item. They are quite conscious of the fact that is difficult to ban something that has become widely accepted in use. An individual wearing shoes with Velcro straps would be easy to stop, but if over half of the congregation is wearing them, then it becomes much more difficult to ban their use.

New tools, equipment, methods, and technology for agriculture are also discussed. Simple items such as updated milking equipment can cause deep concern and much debate. Compliance with new government regulations, which might require new technology, is also discussed and how it might affect The Ordnung. The Ordnung is the oral rules for living.

The Ordnung is, by its very nature, the actual identity of the Amish. What they, as a society accept or reject and make part of their Ordnung, is who they as a God-fearing people are.
It governs their behavior, and grants an authority to the church leaders over their individual lives. What they decide The Ordnung is determines how they will live.

“Because it’s not Amish,” is often the answer given by the Amish when asked why they do not use or do something. Their Ordnung guides the use and direction of all things Amish.
Each Amish church district has its own Ordnung. This is the simple explanation as to why groups of Amish do things so differently. To the outsider, it is why the Amish lifestyle is so confusing. It explains why some Amish do some things that others do not do. For example, two Amish farmers may live on neighboring farms, but belong to different church districts. One farmer may use a battery-powered electric fence charger to confine his dairy herd, while the neighboring farmer is only permitted to utilize a barbed-wire fence. In this example, The Ordnung of the second church district prohibits electric fences.
Should they not obey The Ordnung, they face excommunication and shunning from their church. What is permitted or not permitted is not neatly written to be later interpreted by teams of lawyers. It is what the Amish believe is the guide to a simple, plain life, dedicated to Jesus.
An Amish church district’s Ordnung is meant to convey the community’s unyielding traditions. Whenever church members begin exploring new things, which raise concerns among them, the local church decides if such activities should be allowed or banned.
Twice each year, the Amish bishop holds a council meeting with his district. After listening to a discussion on the issue, the church members vote. Both the men and women participate in establishing The Ordnung. All of the church members are expected to attend the council meeting. Illness is the only valid reason not to attend.
Change in The Ordnung is difficult, because once a rule has been adopted, it is nearly impossible to have it rescinded. If two or more people reject the change, The Ordnung remains intact. The Amish system of governance allows for change, but their emphasis remains on their long-standing tradition.
The Amish do not allow any non-Amish persons to attend their church council meetings. It also seems that most Amish are hesitant to discuss the details of these meetings with outsiders. This makes it a bit hard to comprehend the exact reasons why something is permitted or prohibited.

The Amish establish their rules based on whether something is compatible with their shared values. If a particular decision about allowing something new might disrupt their religion, tradition, community, or families, they are most likely to prohibit it. They often use The Ordnung to create a boundary between themselves and the non-Amish.
The Rules of The Ordnung are not precise, nor do the match among other Amish church groups. Should an Amish family move and relocate to another settlement governed by a different church, they must immediately become familiar with their new church’s Ordnung. There could be idiosyncrasies that they must reconcile with their daily lives and activities.

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.

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