Despite constant evolution in the outside world, one of the oldest Amish settlements in the United States attributes its resilience to living faithfully and simply.
Less than 100 miles from the towering skyline of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city once considered an industrial powerhouse and a harbinger of progress and innovation, a quaint settlement of Pennsylvania-Dutch Amish sequester from the 21st century world in their culture entirely dedicated to faith, family, and farming.
In rural southwestern Pennsylvania, children of the Somerset County Amish speak a dying tongue and must quit school after the eighth grade before they become too egotistical or develop curiosity about the world beyond their quiet homesteads. The women don’t wear jewelry or makeup and spend their days farming and cooking, never running errands or leaving home unattended or without the permission of a man. They follow the Bible closely, and though their lives are governed by many religious limitations, one overriding cultural rule dictates the trajectory of Amish life among all others: members of the order must never leave home. Most never even try to do so.
Home to lush, rolling hills and fertile farmlands speckled by grazing Holstein cows, Amish country in Somerset County, PA, dates back to the late 1760s, long before the emergence of early English settlers in surrounding towns. The Old Order Amish adhere to a traditional Christian orthodoxy centered on humility, strict faith, and peace within their tight-knit community. Despite centuries of societal evolution and technological advancements in the United States, the Amish have never wavered from their rigid, conservative lifestyles, as they stifle their own innate curiosities to practice their unyielding faith and strict customs. Summer adventures undertaken by the “English” (what the Amish call the non-Amish) to Amish-owned greenhouses nestled beneath the shadow of Pennsylvania’s tallest mountain teleports visitors to a time before electricity, cars, and the hustle and bustle of life in the modern, materialistic world. Horses and buggies traverse dangerously busy main roads while inquisitive, bonneted children shyly gaze at outsiders glued to buzzing smartphones and dressed in revealing attire on warm July afternoons.
The Old Order Amish settlements of Somerset County are populated by dozens of devout families, which make up separate congregations, each headed by a bishop and governed by a group of male elders. Holy scripture serves as a point of reference for all life principles within Amish culture, ensuring that every new generation lives righteously and humbly, even as the outside world infiltrates deeper with its infrastructure, technology, and worldly goods. The Amish follow a strict set of Ordnun – Orders preaching obedience to God, the church, and the collective community. Their weekly church services are sacred and private, filling quiet country roads with heavenly melodies that echo from the confines of centuries-old church houses packed full of Amish families.
Over time, different sects of the Old Order have approved doctrinal variations that allow for more progressive changes, mostly centered on the allowance and use of modern technology and machinery. Despite the formation of the New Order Amish, who own and use contemporary farming equipment and who are more open and welcoming to outsiders, every branch of this culture remains loyal to the traditions and commandments of the Christian faith.
Also inherent to a culture rooted in centuries-old conservatism is the practice of patriarchal social structures that require generations of Amish women to live modestly, passively, and servilely as they perform domestic chores. A woman’s role within Amish culture is to be a loyal and dutiful wife and mother as well as a faithful servant of God. Women are required to dress modestly, to live plainly, to harness self-expression, and to avoid vanity, pride, and envy. The future of Amish life depends heavily on childbearing and rearing, although gray-haired Pennsylvania Dutch women are the lifeblood of their country homes, all political power and religious authority lie firmly in the hands of their male counterparts.
Over the past decade, the concept of “breaking Amish” has become an intriguing topic in pop culture, with several reality television series further fueling outside curiosities about Amish life, particularly about the Amish practice of ostracizing members who break cultural rules or who commit shameful sins. The prospect of freedom for any young Amish person, however, is marked by much harsher consequences than any TLC show could possibly unveil. Any unfaithful miscreant in Amish culture risks permanent excommunication which involves complete separation from his/her family, from the church, and from the entire community. Those who choose to leave are met with unfathomable obstacles in the outside world, where they struggle to adapt to a foreign society with different norms, laws, languages, and ways of life. The modern world is regarded as sinful and corrupt by the Amish faithful, so outcasts are not only shunned and disregarded, but are also viewed with unforgivable contempt as wicked blasphemers against the world that raised them.
Despite the countless hardships inherent to any modest culture, the Somerset County Amish are commendable symbols of perseverance who teach the English powerful lessons about the beauty and simplicity of nature, family, and faith. Though many invasive forces chip away at their borders and entice their young members, the Amish culture will endure for generations to come, as members further bestow wisdom on curious outsiders who may long for austerity and simplicity in a world which has strayed so far from its natural, humble roots. The Somerset County Amish, quiet neighbors to busy townspeople and city folk alike, shape the region’s rich culture and rustic beauty as well as gently remind the world of days long past.