Ceremonies and Rituals in the Amish Community

by: S.F.

In the Amish community, rituals are an integral part of daily living. These rituals can be divided into tow types, the social and the ceremonial. The social rituals consist of the "routine activities of work, dress, family, relations, child rearing, kinship duties, and visiting" (Hostetler 209). The ceremonial rituals consist of group gatherings for "worship, baptism, marriages, communion, and funerals" (Hostetler 209). Each of these rituals, whether it is social or ceremonial, has special meanings for both the group as a whole and for the individual in the Amish community. The book Rosanna of the Amish illustrates several of the rituals in great detail. In the following paper, I will be describing the ceremonial rituals of baptism, marriage, and death among the Amish using this book. I will also show the impact that each ceremonial ritual has on the individual and the community as a whole.

Baptism is one of the ceremonial rituals that takes place around late adolescence. It "signifies repentance, total commitment to the believing church-community, and admission to adulthood" (Hostetler 11). When an adolescent is ready to become a member, the adolescent attends a class of instruction with the ministers on Sunday mornings during the worship. During these meetings, the ministers go over the Confession of Faith that is used as the basis for Amish instruction (Hostetler 78). The ministers point out incidents in the Bible that suggest the right kind of relationship members should have with God and the right attitudes they should possess once baptized. In Rosanna of the Amish, the bishop instructs the group on "the plan of salvation, baptism, foot washing, communion, nonresistance, nonswearing, nonconformity, separation from the world, and the godly life in general." After six to eight weeks of instruction, a date is set for the baptism for the applicants to be received as members.

The worship is similar to normal Sunday "preachings" at the beginning. At the beginning of the first song the applicants have their last session with the ministers, bishops and deacons. In Rosanna of the Amish, Bishop Shem reminds the group to "dress plainly, abstain from worldly amusements,…avoid profanity, vulgarity, boasting, and gossip,…do not yield to the lust of the flesh." This is the last chance that an applicant has to step away. The minister warns that it is better to not take the vow than to take the vow and end up breaking it (Hostetler 78). Before returning to the group, the young men are asked to make a promise that they will fulfill their duties if the lot should ever fall on them. When the applicants and the ministers, deacons, and bishops return to the main group, the regular sermons and prayer takes place. Then the applicants are asked to kneel and answer a few questions. Beginning with the males, the deacon and the bishop baptize each applicant in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the bishop gets to the female, the wife of the bishop or deacon helps to take off their caps for the baptism. Bishop Shem's wife, Elizabeth, helps him during the baptism. Each of the new members is greeted with a Holy Kiss on their hand by the bishop or his wife. After the service, there is dinner as usual.

This ceremonial ritual is important for the community because it means that with each new group of members, the community grows and gets stronger. The community as a whole is thrilled to see the younger generations accepting the religion into their hearts. For the individual, the ceremonial ritual is one of the rites of passage from childhood into adulthood. It shows that they are able to make decisions and they are willing to live their life as the Amish community dictates. Becoming a member shows the group that they are ready to do "what is required by duty, honor, personal loyalty, and religious calling, regardless of the sacrifice" (Hostetler 77). For both the community and the individual, the experience of baptism is emotional. The community is adding members that they have watched grow up. In Rosanna, there was not a dry eye as the watched their young folks become members.

Marriage is another ceremonial ritual that is important in the Amish community. The ritual is an elaborate affair that takes a considerable amount of secrecy and planning. Before a couple is "published" or their engagement is announced to the church, they have to be secretive about their courtship. To get "published," the male has to find a minister to be the Schtecklimann or the "go-between." This minister goes to the female's house at night and asks her if she wants to marry the man who has sent him. Then the minister asks the parents for permission for the marriage. In Rosanna, Little Crist asks Preacher Crist to go to Rosanna for him. Preacher Crist asked Rosanna and her parents as a formality, so that Rosanna and Little Crist could get "published" at the next "preaching." Once that is all taken care of, the couple begins planning who they are going to invite and what they are going to have at their wedding dinner. Each guest is personally invited to the wedding and the dinner.

The service for the wedding is similar to a regular service. During the first song, the bridal party leaves with the ministers, bishops, and deacons. The bride and groom are instructed at this time about the duties that the wife has to a husband, and the duties a husband has to a wife. After the sermon, the bishop has the couple step forward and make their covenant of faithfulness to each other. Once the service is over, the wedding party leaves for the wedding dinner. The first meal is the formal dinner for the bride and groom. The traditional wedding songs are sung as soon as everyone is finished eating. At Rosanna and Crist's wedding, the couple and their friends went out to the barn for fun and singing until the supper was ready. The supper is a less formal meal with talking and singing and a bit of wine.

The impact that a marriage has on a community is that there is another new home in the community, another place to hold the preaching service, and another family that is committing themselves to rearing children in the Amish way of life (Hostetler 192). A wedding is a special time for a community to get together and celebrate. The community gets a chance to show the new couple how happy they are for them. For the couple, it is another rite of passage. They are entering adulthood from adolescence. It is also a time of great change. The couple gets to publicly show their feelings for each other instead of sneaking around after dark. The couple gets to experience a new start together. The couple's families have to learn to live without their loved ones in their homes and the couple has to learn to live in their own home together. Elizabeth has a hard time with Rosanna leaving home after she marries Little Crist. She has never lived a day apart from Rosanna before this.

The last ceremonial ritual that I am covering is the ritual of the funeral. Depending on how traditional the community is decides what kind of funeral will happen. In traditional communities, when a loved one dies, the community takes care of all the planning and work that needs to be done. When Rosanna dies, the community comes in and takes care of the funeral planning and the house for Little Crist and the boys. The funeral is usually arranged to take place on the third day after death. All day, everyday the body of the dead is sat with by different members of the community. On the day of the service, there is a sermon and prayers said to the congregation. There is no eulogy or singing during the service according to Amish rules. Once all the ministers and bishops have spoken, the body is moved for viewing one last time. The community has a procession to and from the graveyard to show their respect for the dead. Then the friends and family are invited back for a meal.

The Amish transform the act of dying and death into a community event (Hostetler 206). Death of a loved one for an individual is sad and can lay heavy on one's heart. It took Rosanna a long while to come to terms with the death of her daughter Elizabeth and her Momli. The grieving period for the individual varies.

In this paper I have explained the rituals of baptism, marriage, and funerals through a brief overview of each. I have also described some of the effects that each of these rituals has on the community and the individual. As you can see, these rituals are a large part of the Amish tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. With each ritual, emotions are sparked in both the individual and the community.