A question I’m often asked is whether the Old Order Amish are allowed to have private Bible study or group devotionals outside of church. The Amish community is quite diverse throughout the states where Old Order Amish live, so it’s possible there are a few Amish districts who have bishops that do not want their flock to have family or school devotionals, but most Old Order Amish church leaders encourage their schools and nuclear families to begin and, or end each day with some type of daily reading of Scripture.
Most schoolteachers read a few passages from the Bible at the start of every class day, and the church leaders often encourage the dads (*PA Dutch word and spelling for dad is Daed, pronounced dat) to read a few verses aloud to the family at some point in each day. The foundation of the Amish culture, its sole reasoning behind shunning as much modern culture as possible, is for the purpose of keeping their minds and hearts focused on God, His Word, and His ways.
An Old Order Amish person has told me that where the trouble may come in is if a group of families wish to gather to study a specific devotional book that the bishop or preachers haven’t approved. From my personal experience with small or home groups, our churches seem to operate similarly–meaning what will be studied needs to be approved by the church. Most Amish church leaders seem to feel as many of our church leaders did a hundred years–that a person doesn’t need any “man written” books; they only need to read Scripture.
Based on my research, it seems that most Amish districts disagree with any “community Bible study” that doesn’t include at least one church leader being there—bishop, deacon, or preacher. The reason for this is similar to why many faiths only gather to study “church approved” books or devotional type teachings—to keep the body in unity concerning what is being taught.
I usually try to frame my research with my personal life and business experiences to see if what I’m learning is in line with what I’ve experienced or read about. In this instance, I quickly realized that before the United Methodist Church chose Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Homes and the Heart of Two Women to become a part of their 2013 reading list for their women’s ministry, the book had to go through steps to become approved. I wasn’t aware that the church was even considering that book, but I know the steps taken concerning any book a church approves is for the purpose of protecting the church—its leaders and its congregants.
If we add to that understanding the fact that the Old Order Amish bishops, deacons, and preachers are not paid positions and that they hold a full-time jobs in order to provide for their large families, we can begin to understand more of why the Amish church leaders aim to avoid groups within their flock from having organized Bible studies. But the Amish encourage all sorts fellowship gatherings where people feel lifted up and loved, and while at these functions, they discuss the good seeds planted during regular (every other Sunday) church meetings. Most Amish district also encourage school and family devotionals–to begin and, or end each day with a some Bible verses and prayer.
*Glossary words taken from Eugene S. Stine, Pennsylvania German Dictionary (Birdsboro, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1996), and the usage confirmed by an instructor of the Pennsylvania Dutch language.
Below is an excerpt by Miriam Flaud, coauthor of Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women. In it she begins by sharing a memory from her school years.
From Miriam Flaud—Older Order Amish friend and coauthor ~
In our one-room schoolhouse, we start each day with devotions and singing. Our teacher taught us to enjoy singing, but as a ten-year-old I never looked forward to starting a song. So when it was my turn to lead the singing, I always chose the same song, one I was sure I could lead without stalling: “In the Garden.” If my teacher grew tired of me choosing that song week after week, she never showed it.
Thirty-five years later, with a husband and six children of my own, I start my summer days in the garden. My garden, which provides fresh vegetables for my family, is also my little getaway.
With the dawning of a new day, garden hoe in hand, I slip outside for some quiet time among the corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and, of course, weeds. The weeds keep the area private, because the children have learned that an interruption could land them an unwanted job out here. So this is where I meditate.
On one particular morning, with a heavy heart regarding a certain issue in my life, I poured my heart out to God, begging Him for deliverance. I felt His presence, accompanied by a calming peace. With that peace came the memory of a song—my special song from long ago. As I sang, the words had a new meaning that touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
In the Garden
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses.
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing.
And the melody that He gave to me,
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling.
But He bids me go thro’ the voice of woe.
His voice to me is calling.
And He walks with me. And He talks with me.
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
I love my garden because it’s not just a place where vegetables grow. It’s where God meets with me on a personal, individual level.
If you invite Him, God will visit you anywhere. You don’t need a garden or even a yard. Any spot will work, even the bathroom if that’s the only private space you have. Light a candle and talk to God. He’s amazing.
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