This is another installment in the Plain in My Backyard series where I explore Amish, Mennonite, and German Baptist communities within 100 miles of my house in Ohio.
By Kevin Williams
Location: Owenton, Kentucky
Distance from home: 88.2 miles
Cincinnati straddles the true border of north and south, the swirling chocolate-colored waters of the Ohio River as it meanders on its course from the Pennsylvania uplands to its Mississippi mouth. 30 miles north of the Ohio River, where I live, is seemingly a world away from the tobacco fields, sweet tea, and drawl of the South, yet in reality it's a drive of only an hour or so. As you travel across the Ohio River into northern Kentucky the Cincinnati suburbs with their big box chain stores and sprawling subdivisions disappear, replaced by bluegrass and burly barns. And if you travel far enough south along US Route 127 where the World's Longest Yard Sale is held annually the first Thursday of August, pumping welcome dollars into these economically parched hills, you eventually arrive in Owenton, Kentucky. This is the seat of Owen County where lawyers and local government officials go about their business of running the sometimes sleepy machinery of local government. Owenton is a quiet hamlet far from any interstate. Everyone knows one another. Sharp-suited prosecutors sit just a few tables away from tobacco stained farmers swapping stories over sasparilla and sweet tea at the local Farm House Grill restaurant during the lunch hour.
These hills haven't been home to a Plain presence until very recently. About 3 years ago the Ambassador Mennonites came to town. They use the term Ambassadors because they consider themselves "ambassadors for Christ." The Ambassador Mennonites are a very small split-off from the main Beachy Amish Mennonite church. There's not much information out there about the Ambassador church as it's still a young church, having formed only in 2007. Cory Anderson, has a section about them on his website about the Beachy church. Click here to read more about the Ambassador Mennonites. According to the site there are six Ambassador churches, mainly in Kentucky.
I met with Michael Coblentz (pictured here) one of the Mennonites in the Owenton church, who runs a metal business with his brothers outside Owenton. He describes the church as being a bit more conservative than some of the other Beachy churches. Internet use is forbidden. Men dress plainly and women wear the traditional kapp. "In some Beachy churches, you can't really tell that the men are Plain by their dress. Here were try to keep it more traditional," Coblentz says.
They do drive cars, have cell phones, and permit themselves to be photographed, something more conservative Amish churches would sometimes prohibit.
He describes their church as being one that tries to provide a strong safety net for its members.
"We should take care of one another," Coblentz says, describing their church's philosophy. This care comes with a bit more involvement than at other churches.
"If someone decides they want to start a business, but the rest of the people in the church don't think it's a good idea, then we'll talk to them and out of respect for the group they'll probably decide against it," Coblentz says.
Only 10 families compromise the Owenton Ambassadors, most run small businesses near or from their homes. Last names like Coblentz and Stoltzfus are common in this church. Such surnames are widely found in the Old Order Amish church which highlights the close ties many still have. The Stoltzfus's, who run a bakery, are originally from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
In part two of this series we'll visit the bakery, so stay tuned until tomorrow!