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Last Updated on December 18, 2023 by Kiersten James

Exploring Amish vs Mennonite lifestyles in the United States: history, beliefs, fashion, education, technology, transportation, and photography.

Plain dress and buggy transportation or modern practices that allow the use of technology? 

Let’s find out!

History of the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church

The Mennonite Church was founded on January 21, 1525 in Zürich by the swiss Anabaptist leader Menno Simons (for which Mennonites took their name). 

The Mennonite Anabaptist movement gained its traction through radical philosophy during the 16th century Protestant Reformation. 

Eventually, global persecution and widespread military-style leadership forced Old Order Mennonite groups to emigrate to North America in search of religious freedom. 

Prior to leaving Europe, one of the main tactics for survival was for the Old Order Mennonites to self-isolate effectively avoiding religious persecution. 

During the early 18th century, Colonial Pennsylvania was home to one of the first Amish settlements in the United States in Lancaster County.

Today, the Amish continue to build homesteads in rural areas as a way to keep themselves separate from an outside world and modern conveniences.

Old Order Mennonites vs New Order Mennonites

2 Amish women on a horse drawn buggy photographed from behind

In the later part of the 17th century, a controversial Mennonite leader Jakob Ammann caused a massive divide in Anabaptist followers with his radical teachings. 

Ammann’s teachings:

  • Men were not permitted to trim their beards
  • Church members should all dress the same 
  • Attending services in a state church was not acceptable or permitted
  • Foot washing became common practice to mimic Jesus Christ’s foot washing in the Bible
  • Social shunning and excommunication was encouraged for violations such as lying
  • Innovation and modern advancements were avoided

What Church Do Amish and Mennonites belong to?

Amish communities that chose to remain separate from modern society and follow Ammann’s teachings for plain people are referred to as traditional Amish or Old Order Amish Mennonites. They are members of the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church.

Other Amish groups welcomed social and advancements in modern technology. They separated to form the “new order”, also known as today’s Mennonites. They are members of the Mennonite Church USA.

Amish vs Mennonite Worship Services

There is no “Amish church” associated with worship. Old Order Amish Mennonites conduct religious services in a community member’s home. 

A church group is generally limited to 75 members due to limited space. If more than 75 members are present, the group will divide into two smaller groups. Every group’s “church members” has an Amish bishop, handful of preachers, and an elder. 

Old Order Amish do not form missionary groups or any other religious group such as outreach programs.

Mennonite communities have meeting houses which are used as a place of worship to attend religious services outside of the house. 

Much of a Mennonite’s life is devoted to missionary work and charity programs to help others in need.

Infant Baptism or Adult Baptism?

Both Amish and Mennonites do not baptize infants as is common in the Roman Catholic Church. 

Members of the church are baptized as adults between 17 and 20 years old. Once they are baptized, they are formally admitted into the church community.

Amish Ordnung and Shunning

rural Amish homestead

The unwritten Amish community code of conduct is called the Ordnung. This code varies among different groups and communities but, as a whole, has the same foundations. 

It is also used for such things as to discipline members of the community who have been disobedient.

The most severe punishment for a violation is shunning. Shunning (“meidung”) is a community wide effort decided by the church to put a member into social isolation for committing a severe act against the Ordnung

Shunning can be in the form of gossip, silent treatment, exclusion from Amish community gatherings, or excommunication.  

Amish vs Mennonite Number of Wives

Both Amish and Mennonite men are conservative Christians. They believe marriage is sacred and only between one man and one woman. Amish and Mennonite men have one wife.

Amish vs Mennonite Marrying Outside of Faith

Both traditional Amish and Mennonites are strictly forbidden from marrying outside of their own faith. Excommunication is commonly the punishment and includes banishment from the community, church, and their own families.

Amish vs Mennonite Views on Divorce

Divorce in the Amish community is strictly forbidden. The sacrament of marriage is taken very seriously and any separation is grounds for excommunication. 

Mennonites have a similar view on divorce in that it is never an option except in cases of prolonged spousal abuse.

Amish vs Mennonite Average Family Size

Amish tend to have large families with 7 to 12 children. Mennonite families are much smaller with 2 to 3 children over the course of their marriage.

Amish vs Mennonite Gender Roles

Amish take gender roles very seriously and believe their duties have been assigned by God in the Bible. 

Amish men are the head of household and handle all financial responsibilities. They work outdoors with their hands either on the family farm or as skilled craftsmen. 

Amish women are subordinate to men but not any less important. They tend to do their tasks indoors caring for children, cooking, homemaking, cleaning, sewing, and washing. 

Conservative Mennonites have a more progressive outlook although traditional gender roles do still apply. If a woman is unmarried, she is to be under her father’s jurisdiction until she has a husband. 

Amish vs Mennonite Education System

Amish woman working in the garden while a young girl and toddler boy look after her.

Amish children are homeschooled through the eighth grade when formal education ends. Rather than go to high school or pursue higher education, the children are released from book studies to learn life skills such as farming and homemaking from their parents.

The Amish eighth grade completion was ruled as acceptable by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Mennonite children attend private Mennonite schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Their curriculum is different from the state mandated education guidelines for regular public schools.

What language do the Mennonites and Amish speak?

Both Amish and Mennonites hold their religious services in either High German or Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a mixture of different German dialects and English. 

At home, Amish families speak English or Pennsylvania Dutch. Children are taught both English and the German language as their primary language during schooling years.

Amish vs Mennonite Clothing

plain black clothing hanging on a coat rack

Amish people devotedly embrace plain clothing and a dress code that is symbolic of their values – simple, non-conforming, committed, and traditional.

Amish Men: dark colored suits, large-brimmed black hats, black socks and shoes, broadcut pants with suspenders, straight cut coats (without lapels), and solid colored shirts. Married men grow a beard. Mustaches are not permitted and beards are never trimmed. 

Amish Women: long Amish dress, capes and shawls over their shoulders, black stockings, black shoes, an apron, and a bonnet. 

Unmarried Amish women wear black bonnets while married women wear white bonnets. Their hair is pulled back securely into a bun and never trimmed. 

Amish women are not permitted to wear any type of accessory or jewelry.

Modern day Mennonites wear clothing that is entirely mainstream. In many cases, they are indistinguishable in a crowd. 

Mennonite men don’t have beards unless they want to and women can choose to wear dresses or other clothing that is comfortable and stylish. 

Women from conservative Mennonite groups can often be seen wearing handmade dresses made from floral or plaid fabric. 

Amish Tourism and Photography

black horse pulling am amish buggy

The Amish don’t like photographs taken of them and do not have any in their homes. Exodus 20:14 in the Bible commands them not to take pictures. A photograph in which a face can be seen goes against this principle. 

According to Discover Lancaster, the Amish “want to be remembered by the lives they lived and the examples they left, not by physical appearance”.

Do Amish pay into social security?

No, the Amish do not pay Social Security tax. In 1965, the U.S. Congress provided a Social Security exemption to the Amish since the members of the church community cover all medical expenses.

The Amish do not believe in accepting any handouts from the government and generally do not partake in any insurance programs – health, home, life, and others.

They do pay all other types of taxes required in their municipality. 

Do the Amish or Mennonites support military service? 

No. Amish and Mennonites are pacifists and therefore non-violent practitioners. Any form of war is strictly forbidden. Amish have been recorded to “pay off” others to serve in their place during historical military drafts. 

What is the Amish and Mennonite Population in the United States? 

As of 2020, World Population Review estimates that there are approximately 344,670 Amish people in the United States. This is spread across 31 states with the highest population residing in Pennsylvania (81,500).

The Mennonite World Conference documented 538,839 baptized Mennonites in the United States in 2015.

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