CAPTION: The outside of the Amish church building in Unity, Maine. Visitors are welcome!
By Kevin Williams
CAN ANYONE ATTEND AN AMISH CHURCH?
Man, this is an interesting question.
Paula, on Facebook asked: "Do you know what the policy is for going to their church service?"
From a legal standpoint - and I am just throwing this out there, I don't know the answer - can anyone attend any church service? A church is not a "public" setting is it? So if I wanted to attend the little clapboard Methodist church at the top of the hill outside my town and the ministers there didn't want me there for whatever reason, could they prevent me? I just don't know the answer to that. Does anyone else?
CAPTION: The Amish church building in Oakland, Maryland
Now, let's get to the more practical answer:
You're driving along through Amish country on a Sunday morning, see what is obviously a church gathering, and decide that you want to partake in services. Can you? Should you? Well, again, the legal question is fascinating to me. This service is being held in a private home, it seems like they COULD prevent you from attending. But the question is WOULD they?
Well, first of all, wow, if you decide to do this you are braver than I. I just doubt I would. But, let me say, that if you did want to attend and you were nice, respectful, genuinely engaged in the process, dressed appropriately, I don't think anyone would stop you. In fact, you'd likely be warmly welcomed.
Another wrinkle to this is that there are Amish churches that are very much "open door" to outsiders. These churches are in Manton, Michigan; Unity, Maine; Smyrna, Maine; Pearisburg, Virginia; Pinecraft, Florida; Union Grove, North Carolina; Oakland, Maryland; Belle Center, Ohio; Flat Rock, Illinois, and Partridge, Kansas. There may be others, but those are the ones off the top of my head that I know of.
CAN ANYONE ATTEND AN AMISH CHURCH?
Unity and Pinecraft actually have church buildings. In Unity, not only do they have a church building but services are in English so outsiders can feel comfortable. Some of the places in my list above will switch the services to English if they see a non-Amish person in attendance. Otherwise, most places will do services in German, so you won't understand much, but attending can still be a peaceful and spiritual experience.
I will also say that you can have a similar experience by attending an Old Order German Baptist Brethren service. Outsiders are always welcome at their meetinghouses for services. So, some tips for attending an Amish church service (many of these are commonsense):
1 - If at all possible, try to contact the church ahead of time and let them know you are coming. I don't think you need to ask for permission, but as a courtesy, let me them know you will be attending. Now I know in many cases (find a phone number for an Amish person can be tricky) that isn't possible, but I am just saying to do it if you can.
2 - Important: dress respectfully. If you are female, wear a long dark dress. You don't want to stand out. Visiting a church is different than visiting an Amish bakery. Show respect by wearing something long and dark. Men, wear a dark suit. At the very least, dress pants and a crisp white shirt. I don't think you need to wear a tie, but if you do, make it dark.
3. Don't call attention to yourself: Just sit and soak in the spiritual experience. Sit in the back. Turn off your cellphone. Do NOT look at your smartphone during the service. Just sit.
4. When the service is over, thank the minister for their hospitality and do ask questions. If you have genuine, respectful questions about the service, now is the time to ask.
5. Don't stay for the meal unless you are asked. It just looks back for a stranger to show up, partake in the services, and then oblige themselves by piling their plate at the after-church meal. Now, conversely, if you are invited,if someone asks you to stay (and there's a decent chance that would happen), absolutely accept. Declining the invitation would be rude and you'll miss our on an amazing meal.