Who are the Amish and Mennonites?
Before you visit Kalona, you may want to read up on the unique customs and characteristics of the Amish & Mennonite people. The links below give tips about safe and polite ways to interact with the locals and tips on the best times of the year to view some of the interesting, picturesque and often backbreaking agricultural methods still used by farmers in the area.
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The roots of the Amish and Mennonite beliefs and practices extend back hundreds of years, to the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. In 1525, the Anabaptist movement began. Eventually, the first Amish immigrant left Switzerland and came to America, where they settled first in Pennsylvania and as numbers spread, came to Iowa, bringing some customs with them and leaving others behind.
One thing the Amish brought with them was the Ordnung, or rules for living. These rules explain the reasoning behind living the plain life, and forbids many things, including color in clothing or on walls, and other material things in life. The Bishops of each district also give members another set of rules. As of 2010, there are seven districts in Kalona. The Amish have their own schools that are supervised by the consolidated district of Mid Prairie Schools.
Those outside the faith, referred to by the Amish as “English,” are often curious about the Amish and why they forego modern amenities? The most important thing to remember is they are a people of faith and their practices reflect their beliefs.
The Differing Orders
Kalona Amish, or Old Order Amish, came to the area in 1846, and though the practices of the Old Order Amish have changed little since that time, there have been some fragmenting from the original order. In recent years it has been more common to see the Amish mixing with the general public, as more are opening small businesses.
Today, there are 5 main degrees of conservatism in Kalona. In order of most conservative, the divisions are locally known as Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Beachy Amish, Conservative Mennonite, and Mennonite. Amish people refer to the non-Amish as English and we will use that distinction for clarity.
There is a wide range in what the different orders allow in their acceptance of modern conveniences. The most conservative still live as they did in the 1800s with no electricity, phones, or tvs, while most Mennonites, while practicing traditional religious beliefs are more like the English and enjoy the modern ways. Old Order Amish still use horses to farm and travel, while the Beachy Amish can only drive tractors with steel wheels, and cars that are black, and Conservative Mennonites and Mennonites drive cars of any color. So when discussing the Amish of the area, it is very hard to make generalities.
Kalona’s Old Order Amish dress in a unique, symbolic way, which requires that women should dress in an attitude of prayer. Prayer caps are worn by females of the Old Order through Conservative Mennonite sects. These caps are starched white caps, which tie under the chin, or beneath the hair at the nape. They are given to girls at the age of accountability and must be worn at all times. The more conservative divisions wear these under their more public black bonnets and shawls.
Their dresses are simple, without ornamentation and the more conservative are made of plain fabrics without any prints, while Conservative Mennonites may wear small prints and zippers. Married women wear dark colored long dresses pinned on the bodice with straight pins. Unmarried women wear white half aprons, changing to a colored half apron matching the dress after marriage. White aprons are also worn for religious occasions, like weddings and funerals, and sometimes by the women who work in shops or bakeries.
Men wear black suits with buttons, which is a departure from the eastern traditions, which allow only hooks and eyes. Their long sleeved shirts are generally chambray blue for everyday, with white fabric being reserved from religious occasions. Neckties and bowties are taboo.
Adult men wear long beards to symbolize their married state but mustaches are not worn, possibly due to their historical association with the military, as the Amish are a pacifistic people. Amish people will not take up arms to go to war, in an effort to follow the teachings of scripture to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Many Amish are bi-lingual and even tri-lingual. For everyday, they speak a Low German, similar to Pennsylvania Dutch, among themselves. High German is reserved for church services, and English is spoken with outsiders.
Most Amish have religious objections to being photographed. The Ordnung, or rules for living do not allow photographs for two reasons, first, it’s forbidden to show pride in one’s appearance and secondly, the bible forbids making graven images.
The more conservative of Kalona’s Amish order’s forego modern amenities, such as telephones, electricity, and automobiles for two reasons: 1) the desire to be separate from the world to obey the Biblical mandate to be “in the world, but not of the world,” and 2) modern conveniences detract from the solidarity of their community.
The Amish settled into farming because this rural lifestyle made it easier for them to keep their distance from non-believers, referred to simply as “The English.” You may also wish to take an agricultural tour to view close up.
Visitors may notice different types of buggies when driving through, or taking a tour through the countryside. There are single buggies, family style buggies, and the church wagon. The church wagon is very important to Kalona’s most conservative orders of Amish. It carries the benches for their church services, which are not held in a separate building, but alternates amongst their homes. Old Order Amish are married on their farms, and visitation or those of the faith who pass on is held at home.
In Kalona, there are Sunday School houses where young people attend classes of faith. On some Sundays, one may view buggies parked side by side by this small building. Inside, the young people sit on backless benches, to hear an elder teach them lessons about their faith. These young people also have “sings,” a time to get together and sing hymns for an hour or two, and of course, it provides some opportunity for some “courting.”
Quilting is a common social activity for the women, sitting around quilt frames, although some do “one needle” quilts as well.
Amish homes are also plain and modest, though they tend to be sprawling to provide for extended family. Most are painted white, and old order homes are devoid of pictures on the walls and usually have no window curtains. Amish give their main house to the oldest son, when they retire, and, if there are children at home yet, there is a fairly large grandpa house built or if they don’t retire, the son will more than likely buy a farm or stay on the family land. It is not uncommon for three and sometimes, four generations of a family to live under the same roof.
Amish in Kalona, as in other areas, take care of their own and provide for their elderly. They do not have insurance, but rely on the Amish community at large to contribute to those inpacted by illnesses or accidents. They are very forgiving people. Auto and buggy accidents have occurred and while saddened by the death or injury, the Amish have held no blame to either party.
Interestingly, Amish in Kalona do practice shunning, a very sad time for everyone involved. Shunning is when someon is not not allowed to converse or to share bread with the rest of the order because they have broken from the ordnung. This does not happen very often, but when it does it is very emotional and is a sad happening.
No matter the season you visit the Amish countryside, there are always wonders to behold where the hard working farmers are busy year round. We encourage you to travel out to view these wonders for yourself, but strongly caution drivers to travel slowly on the gravel and black topped roads as they are filled with slow moving buggies.
Early Spring Field Preparation
As soon as the spring thaw and moisture conditions allow, you will see industrious farmers readying ground for spring planting. This dirty and taxing labor has been somewhat curtailed by newer no till techniques in modern farmers, but since the Amish do not use chemical herbicides, soil preparation to reduce weeds is still necessary.
Late April through May is planting season. You may see farmers drilling oat or grain seeds in horse drawn planters like the one above. Oat seed may also be spread on top of the ground.
Late May and June will find farmers cultivating to keep the weeds at bay. The Beechy Amish, who use more modern farming equipment, will have metal wheels that limit their ability to travel very far beyond the boundaries of their neighborhood.
Regardless of the season, the livestock on any farm continue to produce natural fertilizers which needs to be spread over the ground to enrich the soil.
The Heart of the Amish Farm, The Hard Working Horse
No Amish farm would be able to survive long with out the assistance and hard labor of the horse. Whether it is a draft horse hauling a plow in the field or a carriage horse pulling a buggy to services, the horse is invaluable to the Amish farmer.
Summertime. . . and the living is not easy
July and August in Iowa are often hot and humid, but that doesn’t mean the Amish take it easy. Clockwise photos show women busy weeding gardens, picking, canning garden produce, and selling surplus on roadside stands, afer rising early to milk the cows or hang the laundry on the clothesline.
A farmer disks out weeds in a field, oats and hay are cut, raked into rows, bundled into shocks to allow the grain to dry, then transported via haywagon to the barn.
And remember, all of this is done without electricity and air conditioning to cool off when they are finished with the work.
Fall Harvest. . . Fruits of the Labor
Late September and October is the season for harvest and everyone is involved in seeing to its completion. Whether it is the garden crop of pumpkins and squash, or the corn in the field, the season is a bittersweet mix of long hours, hard labor, and the satisfaction of full corn cribs, bins, and hay lofts for the cold winter ahead.
Since the Anabaptists broke from the Catholic Church around the time of the Protestant Reformation, many religious orders have fragmented from the original movement. Those that have settled in Kalona and the surrounding countys include the Mennonites, Amish, Dunkards, Landmark Baptists, Beachy and Brethren groups. The most prevalent in the Kalona area are the Mennonites, who have built many congregations of differing levels of conservatism, and have established their own private schools in the countryside.
Anabaptists practice believers baptism, which means they believe the true baptism should be reserved for when a person is old enough to choose to follow Christ on their own. Mennonites base their interpretation of the Bible on the teachings of Jesus, so when there is a discrepancy between different teachings in the Bible, Mennonites defer to what Jesus said on the matter. This has led them to holding beliefs such as pacifism (non-violence) and simple living which distinguish them from other Christian denominations.
In Kalona, there are many congregations of Mennonites, with varying degrees of conservatism. The more conservative group, referred to locally as Conservative Mennonites, wear simple clothing which may be made of plain fabric, or small prints, with minimal ornamentation. Their clothing, unlike Old Order Amish, may contain zippers. Women wear longer dresses, and white starched prayer caps or scarves, as a way of maintaining an attitude of prayer. They live in modern homes with English conveniences, like electricity, and telephones, but may not have TVs. Less conservative members, known simply as Mennonites, wear regular clothes, and live similar lives as their English neighbors.
According to MennoniteUSA, singing is the most important thing that happens in Mennonite worship. They gather as a community by singing, offer their prayers and praise through song, proclaim the Word with music, and leave worship singing. Music is the thread that holds a service together. It is their most profound connection with God. For many years, Mennonite churches were not allowed to have any instrumental accompaniment in worship because it was considered too worldly, so they sang a capella in beautiful four part harmonies. Though many Mennonite congregations today use instrumental accompaniment on Sunday morning, the human voice is still the most important instrument. Song leaders often direct congregational singing in four parts, with the whole congregation functioning as a choir does in other denominations. The different orders of Mennonites sing a wide variety of music. The more conservative sing only traditional hymns, anthems, and gospel songs, while less conservative congregations allow the singing of folk songs, international music, Celtic songs, and even jazz and rock. Visitors interested in local mennonite music can witness several local groups at the Gospel Sing held at Windmill Ridge Campground each summer.
Two Unique Cultures in Southeast Iowa
By Rod A. Janzen ©1988
A Confusion of Identities
Two unique religious groups were attracted to the fertile agricultural soil of southeast Iowa in the mid-1800’s: the Old Order Amish, in 1846, and the Amana Society, in 1855. Both groups sought isolated, sparsely-populated areas with adequate economic opportunities, to preserve and develop the respective separatist communities.
But the Amana people and the Old Order Amish are two distinct groups with very different historical traditions and religious teachings. There is, furthermore, no ethnic relationship between the two groups, nor has there been much interaction over the years.
Still the fact that these two groups settled within 50 to 60 miles of one another, eight years apart, held separatist viewpoints, spoke German and dressed in uniformly outdated styles, has caused numerous visitors to confuse the two groups. This confusion has been accentuated in recent years as both the Amana Colonies and the Old Order Amish have become major tourist attractions.
Many people think that the Inspirationists and the Amish are one and the same ethno-religious group, or that they are two denominations of one major religious affiliation — the Amana Colonies representing a liberal assemblage, the Old Order Amish, the conservative wing. Others have decided that the word “Amish” is simply a form of the word “Amana.” The two names certainly sound familiar. This only adds to the dilemma. The Amana Colonies and the Old Order Amish are, however, not really related at all, not in any historical or contemporary sense. Let us define the differences.
The Amana Colonies
The Inspirationists emerged in the early 1700’s as part of the Pietist and Spiritualist movement within the Lutheran Church in Germany. Eberard Gruber and Johann Friedrich Rock were early spiritual leaders in this Community of the True Inspirationalists. The Inspirationalists placed a great deal of emphasis on the development and the nurture of Inner Life via direct mystical contact with God. A strong commitment to church discipline and close community relationships also characterized the Inspirationists.
In 1842, 800 German Inspirationists settled near Buffalo, New York, and began to practice full communal life institutionalizing precepts concerning dress and lifestyle. For economic and spiritual reasons, however, the group bought 18.000 acres in Iowa in 1854 and called their new home “Amana” a word taken from the Old Testament Song of Solomon, which means “to remain faithful.”
In 1932, the year of the “Great Change,” community of goods was discontinued. Strict regulations on dress and lifestyle have also been gradually eliminated. Church life itself however, continues with its spiritualistic pattern and simple form of worship. in unadorned meetinghouses.
Despite the large number of visitors who come to the Amana villages each year, many unique cultural traditions remain and are, in fact, affirmed and passed on from generation to generation.
The Older Order Amish of Kalona represent a very different cultural-religious movement of the early 16th century. Jacob Ammann, an early leader of the group, established an Anabaptist church with a much more negative view of the “world” than that held by his spiritual cousins, the Mennonites.
The Old Order Amish are biblicists as opposed to spiritualists. They recognize the authority of God’s Word as written down in the Bible and place less emphasis than do the Inspirationalists on God’s giving direct enlightenment to Christians through his Spirit. In addition, the Amish come from Swiss ethnic stock and speak a completely different German dialect than members of the Amana Society.
Old Order Amish
But most importantly, the Old Order Amish maintain their theology and lifestyle intact, almost the way it was believed and put into practice 300 years ago. The Amish have experienced no “Great Change” in the 20th century. The Inspirationalists in the Amana Colonies also continue to worship God in the same manner that they did 100 years ago. Theological changes are minimal. But whereas residents of the Amana Colonies dress in the latest fashions, outside of the Sunday morning services, the Old Order Amish maintain strict dress requirements and insist that no member use electricity or automobiles. There are no telephones in their homes.
Tradition and Innovation
Thus, the Old Order Amish continue, almost unchanged, the cultural-religious traditions of their ancestors. The Inspirationalists, on the other hand, have allowed some changes in the traditional beliefs and practices, at least outside church life itself.
An example of this openness to change on the part of the Inspirationalists is their acceptance of military service. The Amish remain strict pacifists, conscientious objectors to war.
Another major difference which historically separated the two groups was Amana’s communal way of life. Though the Old Order Amish believe in mutual aid and assist one another in various ways (including the famous barnraisings), they never practiced community of goods.
Also, whereas the Amana Colonies early on established a variety of craft, appliance and furniture industries, which today are famous throughout the world, the Old Order Amish have insisted that members stick to farming for the most part.
Two People, Two Unique Cultural Traditions
Thus, Southeast Iowa has – in the Amana villages and in the Kalona countryside – two very different, very unique religious-cultural groups, both with rich traditions, both extremely interesting for visitors to interact with.
Isn’t it interesting that today the descendents of the early Inspirationalists and the progressive decendents of the Old Order Amish (many Mennonites in the Kalona area are decendents of Old Order Amish families) compete with each other in athletic events (Amana High School versus either Iowa Mennonite School or Mid-Prairie High School).
No, do not expect to find any horse and buggies in the Amana Colonies. And no, the Old Order Amish do not make wine for public sale. Each group has developed its own unique heritage. Both traditions enrich the lives of all who come into contact with them.
Many Amish by their own rules do not interact with the outside world, and as such, appreciate not being approached and questioned by strangers about their lifestyle choices or religious beliefs.
Many Amish object to having their photographs taken, as they consider it against the mandate of the Bible to have no graven images. If you must photograph them, they would prefer you do so from the back so their faces are not shown, or you may photograph their buggies and horses.
Their buggies travel between 5 and 10 miles per hour, and while many of the main paved roads in the area have an extra lane on the outside to allow them safe passage, the secondary roads do not. Therefore if you travel on gravel or blacktop to visit the Amish stores, PLEASE drive slowly and stay to the right, especially as you approach the crest of hills.
Delicious Family Style Meal with Program
Experience a culinary adventure in a country setting, a meal served family style in a conservative Mennonite home. From home-baked bread to fresh fruit pies, we ensure you never leave hungry. Choose from breakfast, brunch or lunch. A program about the Amish and Mennonite way of life will accompany your meal.
Adult: $23.00 Plus Mandatory Tips for Cook & Guide ($3.95)
Minimum of 10 Adults are necessary to reserve a date. There are no outside stops with this tour.
Two Hour Tour & Family Style Meal
Our step on guide can offer an interesting and informative dialogue about any of the locations you choose. (Reserve approx 1 hour per stop) Then return to a Mennonite home for a home cooked family style Meal, sure to delight your taste buds. Meal takes 1.5 hrs.
Adult: $30.00 Plus Tips for Cook & Guide ($4.50)
Minimum of 10 Adults are necessary to reserve a date.
Full Day Tour & Family Style Meal
Start your day at the Village welcome center with Coffee and Strudel. Then visit your choice of three -four destinations in the Kalona countryside.* Our step on guide can offer an informative facts about any of the locations you select. Then return to a Mennonite home for a home cooked family style meal, complete with dessert. Tour and meal take approximately 5.5 hours.
Adult: $35.00 Plus Tips for Cook & Guide ($5.25)
Minimum of 10 Adults are necessary to reserve a date.
Large groups may be limited to 3 stops as they require more time for unloading at each site.