Editor’s Note: Teacher Mahlon’s column is very interesting this week because he candidly addresses head-on some of the unique issues that northern Indiana’s Amish settlements struggle with. Unlike most other Amish communities this area has evolved into one almost entirely dependent on factory and day-laborer type jobs. While the Amish used to be a very insular people (and still are elsewhere) the Amish in northern Indiana live very much integrated into the larger society. This makes them one of the most permissive and progressive groups in terms of technology with indoor plumbing, phone voicemail, and a diversity of employment being the norm.
The five mile ride home from town usually takes about 30 minutes but with the snowy roads it took me almost 45 that day. I had plenty of time to think about our conversation in the grocery store.
“Calvin is right,” I decided. “It has all changed now.”
In the first place, over three-fourths of our communities Dads are day laborers. They may have a few animals but their family’s income depends on the day job. Frost-free waterers and self-feeders are a must since Dad is away and thawing pipes and shoveling feed are not women’s work. The families that depend on the farm then have to specialize and contract the milk or pork or chickens or whatever they grow. Milk companies won’t take on a producer without a modern, Grade A set-up. Pork and chicken companies won’t sign a contract unless the grower has automatic feeders, w aterers ,and ventilation systems. The solution the Amish here have come up with is a big diesel generator and a battery pack powering a modern set-up. Contracts bring large groups of animals which need feed and manure handling on a large scale. The solution the Amish here have come up with is allowing skid-loaders.
More and more Amish have businesses at home which has brought more and more of the “phone shacks” a small booth with a landline phone in it shared by several neighbors. Nobody orders feed or fuel or anything anymore with a postcard nowadays. We use the neighborhood phone. Today nearly every Amish family around here has voicemail that they check every day. If the weather is very cold (under 10 degrees with wind or zero) there is no Sam Mast available to fix the top on his bobsled and haul the school-children. The Amish school board decides whether or not school will be cancelled and we leave everyone a message by 7 a.m.
Improvements are constantly being made on the new buggies and most of today’s buggies are quite cozy and comfortable even in sub-zero temperatures. Church enjoys full attendance almost regardless of the weather. After the church lunch we linger for fellowship and popcorn even if the weather is bad. The automatic feeders and frost-free waterers are taking care of things at home. Yes, it has all changed.
Our aged bishop was preaching the opening sermon and he was talking about changes.
“In my life I have seen many changes in our work-week. Nearly everything we do has seen some changes but our Sundays are still the same. Our regular worship services and church structure is unchanged. Our communion services are conducted just like the Amish used to do it in Europe in 1635. When the youth want to join the church we still teach them our doctrine according to the Dordrecht (Confession of Faith) drawn up in 1632. Nothing has changed.”
I looked across the rows of benches where Calvin Miller sat among the other older men and my mind went back to our chat in the grocery store. They are both right, I decided. It has all changed yet nothing has changed.
I think that is important. We need to adapt but we must not change.
Teacher Mahlon is written by Mahlon Miller an Amish school-teacher and father of five in rural northern Indiana.