Back in April I wrote about my parents visit to the Rich Hill, Missouri Old Order Mennonite settlement. But there was some confusion as to whether they were even at the right place. I figured I'd either never know or know when a letter showed up clarifying everything. Well, the other day a letter showed up from Rich Hill, Missouri. The letter came to my parents address, not my address. So that's another little mystery. I asked my Mom "did you sign a guest book while you were there?"
"I don't think so, but I can't remember." Mom said.
By the way, as an side, many Amish and Mennonites keep "guest books" in their house, similar to the kind you might sign at a museum or a funeral visitation. It's just a sweet little tradition so that one can look back through the years and see what visitors they've had and when. Sort of a bare-bones diary.
One of the things I have learned over the years is that when it comes to the Amish and Mennonites, finding hard and fast rules isn't easy. For instance, it's safe to assume that most Amish don't wear mustaches. And it's true. The upper lip facial hair has historically had military overtones and the Amish have traditionally avoided them so you have the classic bearded/no mustache look. But not always. In some Amish settlements in Maine and near Aylmer, Ontario you'll find the occasional Amish man with a mustache.
I always tell people who ask me how to tell the difference between Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish to look at the men. Are they clean-shaven? Chances are if they are clean-shaven, they are Mennonites. (of course that wouldn't work for the unmarrieds who wouldn't have a grown a beard yet anyway). That was always a pretty steadfast rule I could count on. Not so.
"You'd find us more like the Amish than the Mennonites if you'd visit us. Our men wear the full beard." my friend wrote in her letter to me.
So, another 100 percent truism rule out the window. Some Old Order Mennonite men do wear beards.
She goes on to say: "We do everything with horses or by hand power. No motors."
That is a very conservative Old Order Mennonite church which makes for an interesting question: if you look at the church's as being on some sort of a spectrum, where is the dividing line between being Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish? There has to be some sort of obscure theological or doctrinal philosophy that keeps them in the Mennonite camp. I've found the lines are often blurred around the edges of the various faiths. For instance, I still am not 100 percent certain whether Beachy Amish Mennonites are considered Amish or Mennonites. Some refer to themselves as Amish, others when asked identify with Mennonites, while others choose a middle course description.
So I think that is my next letter to Rich Hill: what makes your church Mennonite and not Amish? I'll await the next letter!