By Kevin Williams
Most Plain Mennonite churches are very closely connected to the Amish by family ties and theology. You'll find Yoders and Stutzmans and Millers in the Beachy churches (most, but certainly not all, Plain Mennonite churches identify as "Beachy Amish Mennonite) as much as you will among the horse and buggy Amish. Geographically, Plain Mennonite settlements can be found in far more states than horse and buggy Amish. There is also wide diversity among the Mennonites from the more progressive sects to horse and buggy Mennonites that are almost indistinguishable from the Amish.
LEBEC: I am not sure how long this community has been there but, wow, had I known it was there back when my brother lived in Los Angeles in the early and mid-90s I would have made a point to visit. This small Plain Mennonite community would be fascinating to visit just because of where it is. This is a gorgeous area and being Plain in the southern California melting pot would make for a fascinating juxtaposition. This was an article in the Ventura County paper from 8 years ago, I’m assuming most of it is still accurate….Click here to read.
BANGOR, CALIFORNIA: There is another settlement of Plain Mennonites here. I have corresponded with some of the members of this church and they describe a menu that is very heavy on fish and regional foods. Plus, this is a gorgeous, gorgeous area AND – big bonus – the Mennonites run a bakery there called the Bangor Bake Shoppe. That alone would be enough to persuade me to visit sometime!
WASILLA, ALASKA: This town will always be associated with vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin who enjoyed a tenure as mayor there last decade, but it is also home to a community of Plain Mennonites who started the Northern Lights Mennonite Church. Often the Amish eventually go where their Plain Mennonite brethren go, so I wouldn’t be shocked to one day see Amish attempt Alaska. But for now, you can get a slice of Plain in Wasilla.
FRANKFORT, OHIO: This is a horse-and-buggy settlement that is a “daughter community” of the large, sprawling horse and buggy community of Dayton, Virginia. This is only about 75 minutes from and there is a bulk food store there, so I need to check it out sometime!
BROWN COUNTY, OHIO: Now I am aware of the Plain presence in the southern part of this county near Georgetown, but apparently very conservative horse-and-buggy Hoover Mennonites have recently moved to the northern part of the county only about an hour away from me. That is on my list of one of the next Plain settlements I intent to visit!
LOTT, TEXAS: I really want to make it here some day. In the heart of the Lone Star State you have a deeply rooted, very insular Plain Mennonite community. This settlement and the one in Seminole, Texas are chronicled quite well in the book Quiet in the Land. I have this book and it is a fascinating window into the world of "Plain Texas."
RICH HILL, MISSOURI: I'd love to explore this settlement a bit and really plumb its theological depths. Most Mennonite men, for instance, are clean-shaven, but in this community they are bearded. And the Mennonites here use horse and buggy....I'm just curious as to what, theologically, separates this group from conservative Amish?