The Amish separate themselves from others for a variety of religious reasons, often citing the following Bible verses in support of their beliefs.
* "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (II Corinthians 6:14)
* "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord." (II Corinthians 6:17)
* "And be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:2)
Because of their religious beliefs, Amish try to separate themselves from "outsiders," in an effort to avoid temptations and sin. They choose, instead, to rely on themelseves and the other members of their local Amish community. Because of this self-reliance, Amish don't draw Social Security or accept other forms of government assistance. Their avoidance of violence in all forms, means they also don't serve in the military.
Each Amish congregation is served by a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon -- all male. There is no central Amish church. Worship services are held in community members' homes where walls are designed to be moved aside for large gatherings. The Amish feel that traditions bind generations together and provide an anchor to the past, a belief that dicates the way they hold church worship services, baptisms, weddings and funerals.
The Amish practice adult baptism, rather than infant baptism, believing that only adults can make informed decisions about their own salvation and commitment to the church. Prior to baptism, Amish teenagers are encouraged to sample life in the outside world, in a period referred to as rumspringa, Pennsylvania Deutsch for "running around." They are still bound by the beliefs and rules of their parents, but a certain amount of disregard and experimentation is permitted or overlooked. During this time many Amish teenagers use the relaxed rules for a chance at courting and other wholesome fun, but some may dress "English," smoke, talk on cell phones or drive around in automobiles. Rumspringa ends when the youth requests baptism into the church or chooses to permanently leave Amish society. Most choose to remain Amish.
Amish weddings are simple, joyous events that involove the entire Amish community. Amish weddings are traditionally held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in late fall, after the final autumn harvest. A couple's engagement is usually kept secret until just a few weeks before the wedding when their intentions are "published" in church. The wedding usually take place at the home of the bride's parents with a lengthy ceremony, followed by a huge feast for the invited guests. The bride typically makes a new dress for the wedding, which will then serve as her "good" dress for formal occasions after the wedding. Blue is the typical wedding dress color. Unlike most of today's elaborate weddings, however, Amish weddings involve no makeup, rings, flowers, caterers or photography. Newlyweds typically spend the wedding night in the bride's mother's home so they can get up early the next day to help clean up the home.
As in life, simplicity is important to the Amish after death as well. Funerals are generally held in the home of the deceased. The funeral service is simple, with no eulogy or flowers. Caskets are plain wooden boxes, made within the local community. Most Amish communities will allow the embalming of the body by a local undertaker familiar with Amish customs, but no makeup is applied.
An Amish funeral and burial is typically held three days after death. The deceased is usually buried in the local Amish cemetery. Graves are hand dug. Gravestones are simple, following the Amish belief that no individual is better than another. In some Amish communities the tombstone markers are not even engraved. Instead a map is maintained by the community ministers to identify the occupants of each burial plot.
Shunning, or meidung means expulsion from the Amish community for breaching religious guidelines -- including marrying outside the faith. The practice of shunning is the main reason that the Amish broke away from the Mennonites in 1693. When an individual is subject to meidung, it means they have to leave their friends, family and lives behind. All communication and contact is cut off, even among family members. Shunning is serious, and usually considered a last resort after repeated warnings.