During the past couple of months I’ve shared the story of the unexpected phone call when my Amish friend Ruth (fictional name to protect her privacy) invited me to join her family for church in September. In my last blog post, I detailed how my friend Janet and I dressed in plain clothes with Mennonite doilies in our hair and went to Ruth’s home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This month I’ll tell you more about the Amish church service.
Janet and I sat in the back of the barn with the grandmothers when the service began at 9 a.m. The service started with the congregation singing hymns very slowly in German. A male song leader began the first syllable of each line, and then the rest of the congregation joined in.
The married men sat on one side of the barn, facing the married women. Young unmarried men and women sat in separate sections, as well. Many of the youth were gone during the hymn singing while they met with the bishop for their baptism class.
Since the barn doors were open, it was like having church with nature. Pigeons roosted in the rafters, and their musical cooing filled the barn. A cow wandered by mooing loudly. A barn cat also came to visit, and since I’m a cat lover, I gestured for the feline to come to me. I rubbed its chin before it continued to the back of the barn to take a leisurely bath before falling asleep in a warm sunbeam. Later in the service, a dog joined us and fell asleep at Janet’s feet.
The bishop, deacon, and minister had left the barn during the hymns to discuss who would preach that day. When they returned, the hymn singing ended, and the bishop began the service. The youth who had been in the baptism instruction class also joined the congregation when the ministers returned.
The three-hour service was entirely in German, except for one moment when the minister said in English, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” I had hoped to understand the service, but instead, I enjoyed listening to the ministers speak and observing the congregation.
When the service was over, Janet and I helped Ruth and her family set up for lunch. We first set up in the barn, where the benches were converted into tables. Ruth’s husband filled cups with coffee while we helped distribute the meal, which included homemade bread, Amish peanut butter spread, cheese spread, pretzels, pickles, and lunch meat. Delicious schnitz (apple) pie was dessert.
The youth didn’t stay for lunch. Instead, they left to attend a youth gathering at another church district. Everyone was warm and friendly during lunch, and I felt welcome by Ruth’s congregation.
Soon after lunch the congregation began to leave, and Janet and I helped clean up and wash dishes. We stayed and visited with Ruth’s family, and around 3 p.m., we ate an early supper with them.
After supper, Janet and I returned to our hotel room. Later, we sat outside on a bench in front of our hotel and enjoyed the beautiful evening while the buggies travel by us on Route 340. Colorful balloons floated in the sky above us as part of the Bird-in-Hand balloon festival.
The weekend was truly a dream come true for Janet and me. It was a blessing and an honor to experience the Amish church service for the first time. I look forward to visiting Ruth again soon.