Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Reformation Heritage of the Amish
Chapter 2 - Amish Beginnings 1693-1711
Chapter 3 - Maintaining the Church: The Amish in Europe 1693-1801
Chapter 4 - Settlement and Struggle in the New World: The Amish in Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania
Chapter 5 - A Time of Testing: The Amish in Europe 1790-1861
Chapter 6 - Prosperity and Promise in North America 1850-1878
Chapter 7 - Years of Division 1850-1878
Chapter 8 - The Merging of Two Peoples: Amish Mennonite Union With the Mennonites in North America and Europe 1870-1900
Chapter 9 - Preservation and Perseverance: The Old Order Amish 1865-1900
Chapter 10 - Challenges of a New Century 1900-1945
Chapter 11 - Peoplehood in a Changing World: Amish Life Since 1945
An Excerpt from Chapter 1
The Amish Story
The twentieth century dawned bright and clear in America. A pervasive spirit of optimism buoyed hopes for a better, brighter future. The advances of science and the wonders of technology which had amazed Americans at the 1892 World's Fair disappointed no one in the decade that followed. On the international stage, the United States was fast becoming a "great power," and at home its efforts turned more and more toward social and urban reform and renewal. Western civilization offered itself as the world's salvation for the arriving hundred years. And with the moral and emotional catastrophe of world wars and a Great Depression still several decades away, even America's churches were confident that 1900 marked the beginning of a new "Christian Century."
In McVeytown, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, sixty-four-year-old Amishman Johnathan K. Hartzler was not so sure. Hartzler was a rather progressive-thinking man himself but as he thought about the state of his own Amish people at century's end, his progressivism could not chase nagging questions out of his mind. Would his people survive the next hundred years? Why, he wondered, were a number of Amish congregations close to his home declining almost to the point of extinction? And why, he also asked himself, were some members of his church so prone "to look upon the dark side" of their own people and "upon the bright side of churches in other denominations?" Such "unfavorable comparisons" were driving some Amish to predict the doom of their own group.
Mustering all of his own optimism, Hartzler decided "to get at the truth" and "seek for the causes of the decline and by the help of God remove them." Carefully, he gathered detailed information on Amish church membership and migration bracing himself for whatever conclusions he would discover. Happily, he found that the Amish churches in his home state, far from declining had actually grown by nearly three-quarters in the last half of the 1800s. Now Hartzler, too, could be optimistic about the coming century.
As he reflected on the drama of God's activity in the world Hartzler began to see in Amish history more than a human story. "Persecution drove our forefathers from their homes," he remembered. But despite the difficulties of those days, "they became one of God's means to carry the gospel from the old world to the new." As later generations of Pennsylvania Amish moved westward, they too, "probably far more than they were aware" were "led by the hand of God," he concluded.
Yes, Hartzler could also see his people playing a part in a God-ordained manifest destiny, as many American politicians were their own nation. Yet Hartzler's bright vision was also tinted with typical Amish humility, a distraction which never bothered the leaders in Washington. God's "goodness has been so great," the old man realized while his Amish church had been "so wayward and so unworthy." But therein lay Hartzler's faith: God would be as faithful in the twentieth century as he had been "in Bible times. His compassions fail not; they are new every morning."
Nearly a century later the Amish remain an alive and growing group in North America. Studied and observed by millions of tourists and academics each year, the Amish are the world's fascination. Rejecting automobile ownership, public utility electricity, and the fads and fashions of Madison Avenue, the Amish at first glance appear to be timeless, frozen in the past. In fact, the Old Order Amish are a dynamic, vibrant people, a committed Christian community whose members have taken seriously the task of discipleship and group witness. From their background in the Protestant Reformation, to their 1693 beginnings in the Swiss and south Rhine Valley, and from their immigration to North America, to their struggle to remain a people in the midst of incredible social and cultural pressures, the Amish have persevered through an amazing past. Migrating, dividing, struggling and standing together, the Amish people have lived a story which is rich and deep.
Still firmly rooted in the same faith which encouraged Jonathan K. Hartzler, the Amish have persisted and changed and continued their story. Like Hartzler's turn-of-the-century progressive musing on westward expansion, the Amish story at times seems to be a very North American tale. But it is also a different story from that of its host societies, as the Amish faith has led its communities on a strikingly divergent path through modern Canada and the United States.
Understanding the Amish story requires the breadth of vision of Jonathan K. Hartzler. Hartzler understood that he needed to look both to his people's faith and to their European origins in order to make sense of their life in 1900. That Hartzler had remembered the persecution of his people in Europe is no surprise. The Amish are one of several spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformation's Anabaptist movement and the strength of Hartzler's faith had its roots deep in turbulent sixteenth century Europe.
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