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The Amish (pron.: AH-mish) Pennsylvania Dutch: sometimes referred to as Amish Mennonites, are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.
In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. Today, the most traditional descendants of the Amish continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch. However, a dialect of Swiss German predominates in some Old Order Amish communities, especially in the American state of Indiana. As of 2000, over 165,000 Old Order Amish live in the United States and approximately 1500 live in Canada. A 2008 study suggested their numbers have increased to 227,000, and in 2010 a study suggested their population had grown by 10% in the past two years to 249,000, with increasing movement to the West.
Amish church membership begins with baptism, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. It is a requirement for marriage, and once a person has affiliated with the church, he or she may marry only within the faith. Church districts average between 20 and 40 families, and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member’s home. The district is led by a bishop and several ministers and deacons. The rules of the church, the Ordnung, must be observed by every member and cover most aspects of day-to-day living, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing. Most Amish do not buy commercial insurance or participate in Social Security. As present-day, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service.
Members who do not conform to these community expectations and who cannot be convinced to repent are excommunicated. In addition to excommunication, members may be shunned, a practice that limits social contacts to shame the wayward member into returning to the church. Almost 90% of Amish teenagers choose to be baptized and join the church. During adolescence rumspringa (“running around”) in some communities, nonconforming behavior that would result in the shunning of an adult who had made the permanent commitment of baptism, may meet with a degree of forbearance. Amish church groups seek to maintain a degree of separation from the non-Amish (English) world. There is generally a heavy emphasis on church and family relationships. They typically operate their own one-room schools and discontinue formal education at grade eight (age 13/14). They value rural life, manual labor and humility.
- The Old Order Amish, who live in rural communities in North America and are famous for their plain dress and limited use of technology.
- Amish Mennonites, a broad term used for churches which split from the Old Order Amish, mostly in the 1880s. Some have a lifestyle similar to the Old Order Amish, while others do not.
- The Beachy Amish (formed 1927), who have fewer limits on the use of technology and do not shun those who join Mennonite churches.
- The New Order Amish (formed 1966), the least restrictive Amish group. They permit the use of electricity in the home and do not practice shunning.
- People of Amish descent. The conservative Amish community has remained largely isolated in North America and can be considered a distinct ethnic group. Many people from Amish families who do not join the church still identify themselves as Amish.
Many churches descended from the Amish now consider themselves conservative Mennonites.
Amish furniture is furniture marketed as being made by the Amish, primarily of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. It is generally known as being made of 100% wood and usually without particle board or laminate.
Because Amish beliefs prevent the use of electricity, many woodworking tools in Amish shops are powered by hydraulic and pneumatic power that is run on diesel generators. Most communities permit some technology, and allowances can be made in the case of woodworking, as the craft often supports multiple families within the community.
Great attention is paid to the details of the wood in the furniture-making process. Each piece of wood is hand-selected to match the specific furniture in mind. Attention is paid to the grain of the wood, both in gluing pieces together and in achieving the desired look of the finished piece. Amish furniture is also valued for its sustainability and is considered a green product. The Amish woodworkers pride themselves in their work and view their products as both a pieces of art and furnishings to be used and lived in for generations.
Amish furniture is made in many different styles. The Mission and Shaker styles share a few characteristics. Mission is characterized by straight lines and exposed joinery. It is often considered to be clean and modern in design. The Shaker style is plain, yet elegant and has a very simple and basic design aimed at functionality and durability. The Queen Anne style is in direct contrast to the Mission and Shaker styles. It is considered traditional, with ornate moldings, unique foot details, and carved ornamentation. Other styles available are Southwestern, Rustic, Cottage, and Beachfront.
Amish furniture making is often a skill passed through many generations. Most Amish children rarely attend school beyond eighth grade, often to help out at home, or in the shops. Many families become known for their specific design details and niches. Some woodworkers focus only on outdoor furniture, others on pieces for the living room or bedroom. No piece of furniture is ever identical because of the care taken to select the wood. The grain is different on every piece of wood, and the craftsmen often try to highlight the features of each individual piece.
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