Yesterday, I visited Yoder’s Amish farm in Berlin, Ohio. Curious, I inquired with the tour guide about the possibility of attending an Amish service on Sunday. Historically, the Amish held their services in barns. Each Sunday, a different family would invite the congregation to worship on their farm. They even had “church wagons” to transport the benches from one farm to another. Nowadays, they use “shops” – I believe the guide meant workshops – for their gatherings.
She informed me that the Amish learn High German primarily to read the Bible in church and also sing their hymns in this language. Their hymn book, Ausbund, has the distinction of being the oldest German-language hymnal still in continuous use. However, one needs a personal invitation to attend a service because its location rotates among different farms each week.
I pondered on how to procure such an invitation. Interestingly, Yoder’s Farm also offers insights into the Amish school system. The guide, who happened to be a schoolteacher, educates around 30 students spanning grades one through eight in a single room. Instruction is primarily in English, except for the High German classes. Outside the classroom, the students converse in a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Deitsh/Dutch. Their German textbook, written in gothic script, emphasizes vocabulary from Luther’s Bible translation – the older version, not the revised editions prevalent in modern Germany.
Engaging with the teacher was an enriching experience. Eventually, I gathered the courage to ask her about attending a service. She expressed that while she couldn’t extend an invitation – it being inappropriate for a woman to invite a man to church in their culture – she did suggest an Amish farmer known for his passion for Amish heritage. This farmer, a member of the New Order, was known to be more accommodating to outsiders. Without the convenience of a telephone, she provided directions to his farm, humorously adding, “If you see the chicken house, you’ve gone too far.”
Regrettably, we couldn’t locate the farm and missed the landmark chicken house. As a result, I found myself attending an English service that Sunday morning.