In Christ's bosom: how the American Amish live, rejecting modern technology

To live without electricity, gasoline, documents, TVs, modern education… But in nature, in love, one big family, together in grief and in joy

Our US correspondent drove through Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, home to the largest Amish community in America, and realized they weren't pretending. And so they live.

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

The so-called Amish Village is a typical tourist attraction: several houses, a school ( bought from the Amish), something like a stable (where there are buggies, traditional Amish carts) and a small shop with their products – souvenirs, household supplies and food, as well as an office where you can book three types of study tours.

We didn't do it because a local named John, who grew up among the Amish, agreed to drive around the neighborhood in our car and show us around. We drove along the fields and waited for the first village to appear on the horizon, where we were met by men in hats and women in bonnets.

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Road signs

Amish village? Complete nonsense! The Amish never had their own villages! They live among ordinary Pennsylvanians. You just need to learn to distinguish their houses from the rest, – John waves his hand in the direction of a large two-story house: -This is where my childhood friend lives. See the features? First, there are no electric wires leading to the house from poles from the road, that is, there is no electricity supplied by the state. Look at the roof there are solar panels!

Second, there is a rainwater tank near the house. Third, do you see a box on wheels like a trailer in the backyard? It contains a set of benches that are used for prayer. The Amish do not have churches, they pray in each other's houses, according to the schedule, and since there are a lot of people in each family, there are not enough chairs for everyone, so they carry such a cart with benches from family to family.

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

The Amish in America own large plots of land. Often these areas are far from each other. You can't do without horses, every family should have several of them. However, some counties in Pennsylvania have restrictions, such as one horse per half acre of land. Nobody wants the roads to be covered with horse manure, but the authorities are thinking of allowing two horses each.

“I once drove a family of my Amish acquaintances in a car,” says John. “They can drive like that if someone else is driving. We left for 150 miles (240 kilometers) from here, and all the way my passengers commented: this is Anna's house with Norman, she is my second cousin by husband, and here is Joel's household. They know who lives where, what they do, how many children each has. Often, when unfamiliar Amish people meet, they begin to figure out who each other is related to. They call the names of fathers, grandfathers … Unfortunately, all the Amish are kindred to each other in one way or another, because they create families only with fellow believers. Because of this, genetic abnormalities occur.

John's story was interrupted by my husband, sharply pressing the brakes – we almost drove into one of the buggies. The roads in these places are narrow and winding. And it was Sunday: the Amish go to visit each other on weekends. If this is a family or a couple who will soon get married, then on a horse-drawn cart, if just young unmarried guys – on bicycles without pedals.

“Pedals are not allowed,” John explained. “It is believed that you can go too far like that, they say, you will break away from the community …

You have to ride an Amish bicycle like a scooter, pushing off the ground with your foot. All vehicles here are bright colors to be seen from afar; the wagons are lit with lights that run on batteries. But this does not save you from accidents.

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— It's just a misfortune how they drive on the roads. They like to line up carts one after another: try to overtake such a string without leaving the oncoming lane. Recently, more and more people are talking about the fact that buggies should be equipped with rear-view mirrors, seat belts and child seats, and those who drive horses should get rights. Why not? The Amish do not follow the rules of the road, because of this they die … And during the funeral, by the way, the string of buggies sometimes stretches for a kilometer!

For such cases, there is even a special road sign: Slow, Amish funeral (“Take your time, there is an Amish funeral ahead”).

Passing past the Amish cemetery, we noticed how it is very different from other Pennsylvania ones. No flowers, no wreaths -only the name, surname, dates of birth and death on identical tombstones.

“Amish funerals are a mass event, and a very simple one at that. The ceremony is standard, put on stream, everyone in the community knows what to do. A person has died – they immediately take the body for embalming to their funeral home. Members of the community make a pine coffin, they deliver the same wagon with benches to the farewell place, prepare a bunch of food – a lot of people will come. There is no pride in the Amish, they do not consider themselves better than others. On the third day, everyone sits down near the open tomb, the bishop reads prayers, everyone sings a special hymn, they don’t talk about the deceased, they only glorify God. An ordinary van is being transported to the cemetery of the deceased. No family graves, they bury in turn. It may seem that the Amish do not grieve even when a child dies. But it's not. A year after the funeral, family members wear only black clothes. They continue to live with sorrow, but also with quiet joy and hope that their loved one is now in a better place.

In Christ's bosom: how the American Amish who reject modern technologies live

Christ for bosom: how the American Amish live, rejecting modern technology

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

And they always forgive. And they don't hold grudges. Even the one who caused the death. We passed Bartville Amish Cemetery, where we saw many children's graves. The girls who were killed in 2006 in the town of Nickel Mines are also buried there: 33-year-old Charles Roberts, later declared insane, came to an Amish school and shot girls aged from six to 13 years old, after which he shot himself.

< p>Dozens of Amish people came to Roberts' funeral to tell his wife, who was left with three children, that they were not angry with her or the killer's mother, and that they forgive him. The widow was even invited to the funeral of the victims, although the Amish do not allow outsiders to such events.

“That was the first time the Amish accepted outside money,” John said. “There was no way out. After all, their religion forbids not only connecting to the general electricity: this, they say, will somehow connect them with the state, from which they disown, & nbsp; – but also use medical insurance. Doctors are paid in cash when they get sick. And the bills for the treatment of children wounded by Roberts were so high that they had to create a relief fund, where ordinary Americans transferred more than four million dollars.

Usually, the Amish do not need money.

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God-pleasing business

The Amish are very successful entrepreneurs. Their income is almost twice as high as that of ordinary residents of the state. Approximately 95% of Amish start-ups pay off, while, according to official statistics, 50% of startups in the US on average fail within the first five years.

The Amish  is a brand. Buying their products, people are already tuned in to the best quality. If you write “Amish honey” on a jar of honey, it immediately becomes ten times more popular than usual.

There is not a single unsown field along the way: every piece of land is plowed and something grows on each. One by one we pass Amish restaurants, blacksmiths, furniture factories…

– The Amish would earn much more if they opened their establishments on Sundays … Look, there is a tractor near the house. This means that the Amish owner hired a non-Amish. Increasingly, they hire other locals to work their fields, and in this case they buy, for example, a tractor. That is, a simple Pennsylvanian could well work on Sunday, but the Amish do not go for it. But there are a lot of tourists here on the weekends, can you imagine how the same restaurants would earn? Won, for example, a restaurant. That gray shed. But you don't look at the outside. Their food is delicious, just like grandma's. In general, it’s hard to be unsuccessful when you literally have to produce everything yourself: they make furniture, equipment for gardens and fields, their own clothes, and blankets … They study eight classes, but they know three languages!

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

On average, there is a school for three or four Amish houses, because each family has six to seven children. Twenty students are recruited in the district – they are building a school. This is a one-room building with lots of windows to let in natural light. I sat at the desk of a typical school in the Amish Village: the feeling of being in an obscure outback or a museum. In the room on both sides there are glazed shelves with textbooks, a blackboard, chalk and a huge metal stove with firewood near it. School desks, apparently, were made during the reign of Tsar Pea. The toilet, as in any Amish school, on the street, is divided into male and female.


The most conservative direction of Anabaptism, which originated in Europe in 1693 as a result of a split in a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists. The ideologist of the movement was Jacob Amman (aka Amish), a proponent of strict church discipline, especially in terms of excommunication and the practice of “shunning”. In the 18th century, due to religious persecution, the Amish began migrating to North America. Many settled in Pennsylvania.

In Christ's bosom: how do American Amish people who reject modern technology live

The settlement at Lancaster was founded in 1760 and is the oldest and largest in existence. Of the 330,000 Old Order Amish, about 40,000 live in Lancaster. They speak Pennsylvania and Swiss German. They live according to the Ordnung, an unwritten set of strict rules that can vary from community to community.

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< h2>Public Goods

“Amish home toilets were also outdoors until recently,” John said, “but now everyone is forced to connect to the public sewer. To avoid this, the Amish try to prove that they are very religious. Last year, one family lost a five-year trial. The authorities claimed that the family was not so religious, and therefore could connect to the sewer. It happened in Harrisburg, where the authorities were filed several lawsuits at once from different families who believed that connecting to the public sewer was an attempt to interfere with the Amish religion, which is unacceptable in the USA.

We are driving along a very narrow road along Amish farms. Right next to the roadway there are wooden booths that look like village toilets.

“These are not toilets. These are telephone booths! Some have solar panels to charge the mobile. And here -the wires go from the house…

So, the Amish still have telephones. They are needed in case of emergency. For example, call a doctor. But the telephone at home is, on the one hand, an interference with personal life (in order to call an Amish, you need to meet him in person and say: then and at such and such a time I can call you). On the other hand, it is a manifestation of pride. Out of respect for the rules of the community, the booth is placed further away from the house.

“The Amish have what they call bishops who make new rules twice a year. Life is changing. Then mobile phones appeared – and at some point it was allowed to use them. They retell the new rules to each other, going from house to house: the bishops approved this and that, do you agree? So they decided about phones: they say, for business purposes it is possible.

No less surprising than a telephone booth, a bank looks like in these places. This is probably the smallest branch in the US: two employees, one room and a toilet. The Amish don't use credit cards, but they can keep a portion of their income in the bank. Although usually cash is still kept at home. Therefore, Amish houses are a tasty morsel for thieves. The Amish have hunting weapons, but they won't shoot at thieves – they're pacifists! There are no locks on the houses. However, apart from money, there is nothing special to take there.

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

When you see the decor of a typical Amish house, you realize how much junk in your apartment ! The Amish have nothing that cannot be used on the farm. Even the plants on the windowsill: dill, fennel, mint – can be eaten.

The Amish usually wash on Mondays, the machines are very different, but they are all antediluvian, reminiscent of a saucepan with a handle. According to John, many are based on patents from the 1920s. To turn the laundry in the drum, you need to turn the handle. Spin & nbsp; – through two rollers. Wash with lye, do not buy powder. At the same time, the overall impression of the Amish houses is cleanliness.

Having barely left the bank, we once again run into a line of vans.

– They're going to play volleyball!   – states John, pointing to portable poles and a net attached under one of the wagons.

After a while, near someone's farm, we see the game itself: boys in black coats and wearing hats throw a red ball to each other. Volleyball is popular with young people, while girls play softball in schools.

– The main thing is not to drink. It happens to the Amish. Depends on how religious the family is, but those kids who leave home to decide if they want to be Amish or not and drink and try drugs…

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At 16 years old Amish the teenager is allowed to “go on the run”, given the opportunity to test himself by going into the outside world. During this period of self-identification, which usually lasts about two years, Amish boys and girls can do whatever they want, because they have not yet been baptized and church rules about permitted and prohibited behavior do not apply to them.

– Some girls, when they are 18 years old, even rent apartments in a pool separately from their parents. Just like the guys,  – said John. – But more often this “escape” looks like this: during the day they work, and in the evening they hang out like ordinary American teenagers: they drink beer (although in the USA it is prohibited until they are 21), they smoke marijuana having sex. During such “holidays” you can not wear Amish clothes, but girls usually leave the house in their clothes, change clothes somewhere in the bathroom at the gas station. Often, one girl gathers several others in the room, they are waiting for the guys, and then they all leave together to have fun. Parents don't ask their kids how they spent their evening or night.

In Christ's bosom: how American Amish people who reject modern technology live

The problem is that ordinary American teenagers are growing up, and Amish children are suddenly thrown into a world that has always been alien to them. And often this ends with an overdose of alcohol or even drugs, an unwanted pregnancy … In general, it is no wonder that 90% of children remain in the community after the “holidays”. They are not ready for such freedom, they often suffer from it and run back to where it is quiet and calm. The Amish are baptized between the ages of 18 and 22. Each has its own maturity period. Parents are not in a hurry.

“If you lived outside the community and realized that you don’t want to go back, then there’s no problem: go away and live,” John continued. one table is not the fact that they will call. But if you returned “from the run” and were baptized, and then suddenly realized that this did not suit you, here the family can ask to leave with things and not disturb them anymore – depends on the level of religiosity. Parents will still communicate with such children, but sisters and brothers are unlikely. Just last week I was talking to an Amish on business (there's no other conversation with the Amish, they won't suddenly stand in the middle of the road to discuss the weather with you), and his brother was driving by, whom my interlocutor didn't even look at. It turned out that the brother left the community at the age of 27, six years after baptism, settled right there, but married an Englishwoman (as the Amish call the locals), lives like an ordinary person. And that's all – the brothers and sisters no longer communicate with him, they despise him.

* * *

You can stop being Amish. You can become one.

“We had a woman here, Annie. She came and said she wanted to be Amish. They shrugged their shoulders like that – well, live … I began to live. She lived for eight years, but everyone is not accepted into the community. With that, she left. I asked them later, they say, how is it. They told me: according to our calculations, out of three hundred applicants, only ten remain. Still would! Decades of people to check! But in general I agree with the Amish. After all, they do not play the fool, they live by their own rules for hundreds of years. And they don't want another life. And they argue like this: do you want to be Amish? Well, go ahead and live like an Amish!

In Christ's bosom: how do American Amish people who reject modern technology live

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA

Lancaster area 2549 km²
Population553,000 people
Population density 220 people/km²

Area of ​​Pennsylvania 119,283 km² (33rd in the US)
Population~ 13,012,000 people (5th place)
Population density 112 people/km² (9th place)

ATTRACTIONSAmish Village, Dutch Wonderland (Dutch Wonderland), Strasbourg Railway (operating since 1832, oldest in the Western Hemisphere).
TRADITIONAL DISHES chicken barbecue, potato salad, corn soup with egg noodles, pies and donuts with coconut filling.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS birch beer, Amish wine.
SUV ENIR faceless dolls in hats, low sugar jam, bicycle without pedals.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Lancaster ~ 7670 km (from 11.5 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME is 7 hours behind Moscow in summer, 8 hours in winter


The material was published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 10, October 2019, part Personally updated in September 2022

Marina Sokolovskaya

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