MISS THE FIRST EXCERPT? Click here to read. Below is a scene from deeper in the book where Abe is meeting with his bishop, Monroe Hochstetler .
“Come on in, Abe,” Fannie said, always warm and welcoming
“Would you like a glass of lemonade? It’d go good on a hot evening like this!”
“Sure, I’ll take one. Thanks for inviting me over for supper. This is a real treat,” I said.
And I was sincere. An invitation to supper at Fannie’s was a ticket to culinary comfort. She was known throughout the church for preparing the best casseroles. Not that Mom’s weren’t good, but Fannie’s were melt-in-your-mouth amazing, the chunks of meat and vegetables and sauce would be proportioned just so that you felt as if you were having a four-course meal in each bite.
After supper, the women tackled the dishes and the Hochstetler sons and grandchildren headed out to the hog barns to complete the day’s work. This left Monroe and me alone together. We stepped out onto the front porch, a long wrap-around veranda with a few rockers spaced out along the length.
“Have a chair, enjoy the breeze a bit.”
“Oh no, that’s okay, I shouldn’t stay. I am sure you have work to do,” I said, hoping that maybe this was just a friendly supper invitation after all.
“Abraham, I guess I should get to the point. I didn’t invite you over tonight just for conversation …I’ve invited you over because I’ve been hearing some things….”
“About what?” I asked, trying to seem nonchalant. “About the highway?”
There were rumors circulating for a long time that US 27 was going to be widened from two lanes to four. The expansion would force the state to grab land by eminent domain, and there would be new traffic and growth. Many Amish in the area said that if this highway project were ever completed, they would move before living with the disruptions it would cause.
“No, have you heard more about the highway?” Bishop Hochstetler asked intently.
“Well, I did hear that the state is preparing to start making offers to buy land,” I said.
“Really? That is…no, wait a minute,” Bishop Hochstetler said, seeming momentarily flustered at veering off topic. “No, not the highway…the talk has been about you,” Bishop Hochstetler said, running his hand through his thick white beard.
I set down my glass of lemonade.
“I've been hearing about an English girl you’ve been apparently been spending so much time with.”
“Oh…I…she’s just a friend.”
Monroe Hochstetler looked thoughtful as he sunk his hand deeper into his beard.
“You could have such a bright future in this church, Abraham...”
“I appreciate the love and forgiveness everyone has shown me since...my confession.”
“You keep wanting me to bend the rules for you. I stuck my neck out for you...when no one else wanted to give you a chance, I spoke up...” Bishop Hochstetler said, sipping his lemonade slowly. “If it had been left up to some of the other ministers, you’d still be behind bars.”
“And I appreciate that,” I said carefully. I thought of LeRoy Miller.
“I'm getting too old for this, Abe.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For these games of yours. Fannie says I need to step down, enjoy my health and what time we have left together...being a bishop is a lot of responsibility.”
I nodded, still not quite sure where this conversation was going.
“Is your friend a Christian?” Bishop Hochstetler asked.
I wasn’t even 100 percent certain where Paige stood on the spectrum of religion. I know she had doubts about a Higher Power, but she also didn’t dismiss the notion. I didn’t know yet, so I decided I’d cover for her until I found out for sure.
“She’s a good person with deep Christian values,” I said.
I’m not sure the answer satisfied Bishop Hochstetler.
“I’d like to meet her,” Bishop Hochstetler said, unaware that he already had. “But I do believe the company you keep is important. That’s why I think all the factory work we’ve accepted over the past 20 years has hurt us: the coarse language, the conveniences, the snack machines, even tobacco use…being around bad habits is sort of like being around someone who uses tobacco…even though you don’t use cigarettes yourself, you still come away with the stain and smell of smoke. So…this is how it may be with your friend…spend too much time around her and you may find her influencing you in ways that could be harmful. Am I making sense?”
He was. And, oh, how I wanted to say that I would love for some of Paige’s sweet scent to linger on me in the same way tobacco smoke lingers. But I kept quiet and respectful. “Yes, you are….but, really, she’s just a friend…and I have no intention of doing anything to reflect poorly on the church, to undermine God’s will, or be disrespectful of your authority…I truly love the Amish life and way of worship.”
Bishop Hochstetler looked thoughtful and not completely convinced.
“Are you reading the Bible?” Bishop Hochstetler asked.
“I’ve been a little…lazy…about that,” I admitted.
“You are quite a bookworm, and in the same way one needs to watch the company they keep, one also needs to be careful of the words they read. You must read with an open mind,” Bishop Hochstetler said. “I have my own library and I hear you do, too, but mine’s…respectful of the Lord.”
Most of Bishop Hochstetler’s books came from Amish-owned Pathway Publishing based in Aylmer, Ontario.
“Pathway really publishes all the literature one needs to live a whole, Godly life,” Bishop Hochstetler said.
Now it was my turn to appear unconvinced.
“But I think a variety of voices makes for a more intellectually empathetic person, which is, I understand, a Godly virtue?” I said.
A warm breeze kicked up a cyclone of dust in the Hochstetler’s dry driveway. I think we both felt that we were jousting with no one really getting the upper hand.
“You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever told anyone this before…but back when I was a couple of years younger than you, I was detasseling corn one summer and there was a Mennonite girl on the crew…her name was Amanda…we got to know one another quite well during the …”
Just then, Fannie came out of the house with a plate of cookies. Monroe stopped mid-sentence.
“Sure, thanks,” I said grabbing one. Molasses cookies, mmm, they were one of my favorites. Fannie disappeared into the house.
“Point is, she was going to go away to Goshen College the following year,” Bishop Hochstetler said.
Goshen College is one of the oldest Mennonite-run colleges in the USA. The Mennonites, unlike the Amish, do not have the same objections to higher education.
“Okay, and…?” I asked.
“…She was going to go study, learn, explore, and with it all the modern technological temptations….She asked me to come with her.”
I obviously knew the story’s ending. I was sitting here talking with an Old Order Amish bishop, after all.
“The point is, if you are going to be in the Amish church, you have to be in the Amish church. You have to follow the rules with not just your head but with your heart. I believe that this church offers the most direct way to Salvation, the best way to glorify Him, and in a world full of violence, on a planet being overrun by technology that I fear one day will control us and not the other way around, this church offers the best safe haven,” Monroe Hochstetler said, sipping from a glass of lemonade that Fannie had put out for him.
I considered his words, letting them sink in as we watched some of his grandchildren playing on the front lawn.
“You give me good food for thought,” I said, taking another swig of lemonade.
“Let me be a bit clearer: consider this your last warning. If you break the rules of the church again, you will never be welcome here. Ever. Okay?”
- VELMA’S DOUBLE TREAT COOKIES
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup melted butter
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1 cup M&M’S®
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Mix the ingredients and drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
The following recipe ties into the book: