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“Becoming Amish” by Jeff Smith

Bill and Tricia Moser lived a charmed life in one of America’s wealthiest communities, Grobecomingamishfrontcoversse Pointe, a tony suburb of Detroit where they drove BMWs to their well-paying jobs as an architect and occupational therapist.  Questioning the meaning of it all, they began a personal and spiritual journey that eventually led to a horse-and-buggy life in an Amish community.  The book relates their fascinating quest for faith and community.

When they made the transition, everything changed dramatically: simple living, plain dress, and a prohibition against most technology.  The mode of transportation was a horse and buggy or bike.  They grew their own food.  Tricia traded her professional life for a traditional domestic role: she and her daughter were responsible for making the clothes for the family, doing the laundry with a tub washer and ringer, canning food for the winter, and preparing meals.  Bill and his sons built wooden pallets for money, chopped wood for heat and cooking, and farmed with a horse and plow.  Women wore long dresses, smocks and head coverings.  Men wore work pants, suspenders, shirts with vests, hats and grew long beards.  No more individuality; everything was uniform.

The book draws back the curtain on their intriguing way of life.  We experience a typical 3-hour church service with 45 minutes of singing at the start of the service, the message in the middle and more signing at the end all in German (or Pennsylvania Dutch) – translators were provided for the Mosers.  Men sit on one side, and women sit on the other.  They take turns holding services in each other’s homes.  Amish communion services are held twice a year, and it is a whole community, full-day event.  Services begin at 8:30 in the morning with Scripture readings until a short break at noon for lunch, then more Scripture until about 3:00, the hour tradition holds that Jesus died.  Bread is broken, and then a foot-washing ceremony takes place with men pairing up with men and women with women, all taking turns washing each other’s feet, just as Jesus did to his disciples.

Formal education ends at 8th grade around age 13 or 14.  Until they are 16, the children apprentice with an adult for whatever means of earning a living they will be going into.  When the young adults are ready to testify to their faith, they become baptized and join the church – usually age 18 through early 20s.  The Amish and Mennonites were descended from the Swiss Anabaptists.  They fled persecution and settled in America.

Communities are limited to about 20-40 families (families are usually 6-7 kids).  When a community grows too large, they split off some of the families and move them to another area to start a new community.   Bearing children, raising them, and socializing with neighbors and relatives are the greatest functions of the Amish family. Their life is designed to serve God and neighbors.  Barn raisings and work bees are community events that everyone partakes in.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the Amish lifestyle is that it is regulated by the Ordnung  (German, meaning: order), which differs slightly from community to community. What is acceptable in one community may not be acceptable in another.  The community norms are decided and adhered to by the members of the community.   Some norms seem arbitrary and inconsistent – you must drive a horse, but you can charge a high-tech lithium battery with a generator.  You can’t use buttons (clothing has hooks rather than buttons), but you can use a fully automated pallet maker.  You milk your cow by hand and then go to the local library to surf the web.

The author, Jeff Smith, writes with a straightforward journalistic style with frequent highly descriptive scenes about the people and the countryside.  Meet Jeff in person at the Book Nook at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 5.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, November 7.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, November 2 for a discussion of Becoming Amish at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.