, Newburyport, MA


January 2, 2013

A trip back to the 1700s

A recent church-sponsored bus trip from Newburyport to Lancaster, Pa., was a return to a “scene” that had changed in some ways for me, but in another was a trip to a bygone era, never to change.

I graduated in 1953, 60 years ago, from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster and returned only for special occasions. Today’s visit by bus through Amish and Mennonite farm communities would not have happened 60 years ago. The two sects were very private and frowned on intruders whom they refer to as “the English.” They choose, in plain words, “to be in the world, but not of it.”

But the outside world wanted to know about the people who were without what many think of as the necessities of life: cars, electricity, microwave ovens, computers, Facebook, Twitter, whatever. This has brought hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to see for themselves how these people differ from themselves, but please do not take pictures of the Amish. They do not believe in “graven images,” in effect becoming idols, which is anathema to their Christian beliefs.

For a proper background of both sects, we must go back in history 600 years. Mennonites are referred to as the Left Wing of the Protestant Revolution. They are descendants of Menno Simon (1496-1561), a Dutch priest who left the Roman Catholic Church and converted through a personal study of the Bible and Martin Luther’s writings.

He rejected infant baptism, holding that a person must make that decision as an adult; as a result, he and his followers became known as Anabaptists, but more commonly Mennonites. Their movement spread from Switzerland, Germany, Holland and France. Wherever they went, they were persecuted for their beliefs, in which they held that the Bible was the inspired word of God.

The Amish also had their beginnings in Switzerland. By 1693, a young Mennonite minister, Jacob Amman, felt that the church was departing from Biblical practice. A return to stricter applications was emphasized by him. Eventually, the church divided and the Amman followers became known as the Amish. They too believed in the Bible, but held to infant baptism.

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