Thinking about joining the Amish?
For as long as I have been editor of The Amish Cook I've had people asking me how to join the Amish. Outsiders can and do join, but it's not easy. And there is this belief that joining the Amish means people are completely disconnected from the modern world, but the Amish are not as isolated as they used to be. This can make it easier for outsiders to join the Amish than in times past.
❓FAQs About Becoming Amish
Short answer: yes. It's not common, but most Amish churches wouldn't not turn away a genuinely interested person. There's a lot of sacrifice in joining, but it happens. Most Amish settlements give a convert a full year to rid themselves of amenities like electricity and a car. At that point they could become a full church member and part of the congregation. Each Amish congregation has about 50 families. Men joining the Amish would be expected to grow a full beard and women would need to dress plainly, including capes, aprons, and bonnets. And the Bible is the central basis of their theology. While Amish views vary from church to church practicing pacifism (non-violence) is central to Amish philosophy.
As a practical matter, one has to do a lot of prayer and research before joining. It's like any religion, one has to do their homework first and make sure it is the "right fit." The Amish are about far more than buggies, butterchurns,and barn-raisings religion - God - is at the center of their existence and if you aren't prepared for the spiritual part of that then the Amish probably aren't a good fit for you. Some people have chosen to live an Amish lifestyle, without joining a church and becoming full-fledged members. This can be a good option for those who just can't come to fully embrace all Amish religious beliefs.
There's not really such a thing as a "sponsor", but find someone in an Amish community who you can connect with, interact with, and who you can get to know. Tell them you are interested in joining their church and then they can put you in touch with Amish ministers and begin the process of becoming a member. If you don't know anyone in an Amish community you can get to know Amish people or an Amish family by visiting their businesses, buying produce, fresh eggs, visit any public-facing Amish business and talk to someone and they'll be able to introduce you to someone.
Surprisingly, it isn't giving up the cars or computers and spending all of Sunday in church that causes issues for outsiders joining the Old Order Amish (or the New Order, for that matter). By the time someone is ready to become Amish they've pretty much made peace with that part of the Amish way of life and are excited to begin the simplicity part of the journey. What trips up outsiders the most is the language. Most Amish still speak German at home as a first language. The language also acts as a social tool. Unless you learn the language, you're always going to be on the outside looking in and for some people learning a new language can be very difficult. Here is how Bill Moser, a convert to the Amish, explained it to a Michigan magazine:
The greatest challenge Seekers face tends not to be longing for artifacts from their former life, like, say, a car or a computer. The biggest challenge is Seekers may feel like ex-patriots from the United States living in an Amish nation; they don’t share decades of life story and customs with the people they live among.
And above all, Seekers struggle with the language, a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch (more accurately, Pennsylvania German) . Language is of course important in assimilating to any foreign culture, but for Seekers the issue goes far beyond learning how to say, “Where is the bathroom?” The Seekers’ new religion is often discussed in the new language, and language becomes a barrier to what the Seekers most seek: a nuanced and in-depth understanding of the Amish faith and continued growth in their spirituality.
In my travels I’ve come across several Amish settlements that are far more open to the idea of outsiders joining and they tend to be more offbeat, obscure communities. Now, does that mean that you couldn’t join an Amish church in Holmes County, Ohio or Nappanee, Indiana? No, not at all, but the ones on the list below are ones that, if I were to join the Amish, I would start with. You’d think that going to a super larger settlement would make sense for an outsider because you could sort of “lose yourself in the crowd” and there’s some logic to that. But the crowd, when you’re Amish, has its rules and ways, so it'd be tough to just slip into Holmes County unnoticed and somehow join. So, if it were me, I’d start in one of the below communities.
Amish Communities You Can Join
UNITY, MAINE This community has perhaps the most marked welcome mat rolled out. They hold church services in an actual church building and will conduct services in English if there are visitors attending. Recently, a celebrity chef made headlines by joining, but he is far from alone, the Unity settlement is growing partly because of converts. This is a video tour that I made of the Unity community.
OAKLAND, MARYLAND: I actually spent some time there last year and there are some converts living in this church. While it is a horse and buggy church, Oakland is a rare "electric Amish" community. Limited electricity is permissible, so the transition from English to Amish is less harsh. One convert I met wished the community were more conservative and she expressed a desire to find one that is. Click here to read my article in The Guardian about the converts of Oakland. Like Unity, Maine, this church doesn't practice home worship, instead holding services in a meetinghouse. Another plus to this place? The western Maryland mountains are gorgeous!
UNION GROVE, NC: This is another Amish church that is very open to outsiders. In fact, they experimented with starting an Amish community just for outsiders in the nearby town of Yanceyville, but that never really succeeded. It's just thought to bring together a bunch of strangers with different ideas and visions of how a church should be and then make it work.
PINECRAFT, FLORIDA: Yes, this is a quirky choice and not what most people think of when they think of Amish. But, sheesh, if you want to join, why not do it under the palm fronts and warm sun of west Florida? Seriously, though, this is a very transient community so locals are used to outsiders, newcomers, interlopers, ex-Amish and the curious hanging around. In the hit Nat Geo show Amish: Out of Order a few years ago part of the show was set in Pinecraft where a young non-Amish woman was taken to experience the culture and religion to see if she wanted to join the church. It's just a very welcoming, non-judgmental place.
HUTCHINSON, KANSAS: This Amish community is a lot like Oakland, Maryland. It is a long-established church that is a bit more modern than other Amish churches. It is still considered a "horse and buggy" church and most Amish here don't have electricity. They do have tractors and some Amish teenagers have been known to go on to college, something unheard of in other Amish settlements where most only attend school through the eighth grade.
There are absolutely others Amish communities open to outsiders, but these are my “top 5.” Others that deserve an honorable mention would be Manton, Michigan and Flat Rock, Illinois.
THE GERMAN BAPTIST BRETHREN AND OTHER GROUPS: If I were going to become Amish I might not become Amish at all. There are other "Plain churches" that offer some of the same simplicity and spiritual richness that don't require one to go quite all the way to riding a horse and buggy. The German Baptists dress plainly but do accept most modern technologies. Their church has a deep sense of community, but is a bit more worldly than the Amish. You can learn more about the german baptists here.
There are also plenty of Amish-Mennonite churches (also known as Beachy Amish), there are conservative, plain-dressing churches, but members usually embrace cars, computers, and other technologies. All of these groups still fall under the Anabaptist umbrella. Anabaptists practice adult baptism, believing that Amish children are not capable of choosing a religion.