I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published July 21st 2013
Life in the Past Lane - The Indiana Amish
It comes as something of a surprise to find in the middle of what is arguably the world's most developed nation, a thriving community with a lifestyle virtually unchanged for centuries. But that's exactly what you'll find in northern Indiana, the heart of America's Amish country.
Black horse-drawn buggies are everywhere in the Amish areas
Like most first-time visitors to the US the Amish came to my attention by virtue of the number of horse-drawn buggies vying for road space in rural Elkart County.
The first Amish came to America from Europe at the invitation of William Penn in about 1755, sought by him for their farming skills. Today there are about 100,000 Amish throughout the northern United States and Canada who literally live in the past.
Pacifists, they reject cars, radio and television. They don't use electricity or telephones in their homes and there no tractors on their farms.
They're totally committed to the family and their Christian values and whilst the Bible is the foundation of Amish life they don't build churches. Instead they worship in the home of a community member, led by elected lay clergy who receive neither training nor salary.
Parking at the local General Store - Elkart County, Indiana
The strength of the Amish stems from their faith and an intense community spirit.
By comparison with outsiders they're best described as non-conformists but they are not a reclusive people. They live and work within the general community, in many cases working side by side with non-Amish. They are not averse to modern medicine but don't believe in an extensive education. Amish children are educated in Amish schools by Amish teachers, their education limited to the extent necessary to live the Amish way of life.
Having had the privilege of meeting an Amish family and being invited into their home I can tell you that they are industrious, warm, friendly and above all normal people who simply have a totally different set of values than we in our materialistic society. An Amish man will talk just as proudly of a new foal in his barn as you or I might about a new car or boat in the garage. When he takes you for a ride in his horse & buggy he'll discuss its 'performance' and compare it to the souped-up version with the livelier horse and flashy harness driven by the young single men. Amish women are keen to talk cooking & needlework while the kids are as bright as buttons, just as interested in you and your lifestyle as you are in them and theirs.
Hard at work on the family farm
The Amish work from sun-up to sun-down. The kitchen is the focal-point of the Amish home and the family wardrobe is basic and mostly home-made. You'll often hear it said that an Amish woman only needs four dresses – one for wash, one for wear, one for dress and one for spare.
Out and about in Shipshewana, Indiana
A great way to gain an insight into the Amish way of life is to visit Menno-Hoff, a non-profit Mennonite-Amish information centre in Shipshewana, north-central Indiana. Here the evolution of the Amish faith is graphically documented, highlighting the search for a simple, prosperous and peaceful life in the New World. And who knows, if you're really lucky you may come away from an Amish encounter with a little of the humility, faith and contentment which, combined, are the hallmark of the Amish way of life.