As we go about our busy lives, it's easy to forget there are people in our midst enjoying a slower-paced, simpler way of life.
They are the Old Order Mennonites of northeastern Berks County, part of a community in seven Pennsylvania counties and eight states that is based on agriculture, faith and family, said James Weaver, a member of the Mennonite Groffdale Conference.
Weaver, an organic farmer in Maxatawny Township, opened a window on Old Order Mennonite society and culture Thursday for about three dozen people at the Kutztown University library.
Weaver spoke at the request of KU librarian Bruce Jensen, who said students had expressed an interest in learning about Mennonite culture.
"Kids come to KU from Philly or wherever and sometimes you wonder what they're thinking when they see horses and buggies on the road and places to tie up buggies outside of the supermarket," Jensen said.
Mennonites are a Christian Anabaptists offshoot, proponents of adult baptism, and got their name from Menno Simons, a 16th-century Dutch-born theologian.
Weaver noted that Old Order children learn Pennsylvania German at home and generally don't start speaking English until they go to school.
Thanks to a successful movement by the Amish, a related faith, in the 1930s and 1940s, both Old Order Mennonites and the Amish operated their own school systems.
Old Order Mennonites have their own teachers, who earn certification after teaching for three years. The community offers ongoing teachers education, parent-teacher conferences and an education board. Students attend school through eighth grade and graduate at age 15.
"Very few people go to college," Weaver said. "But when students get tested, their scores are higher than the national average for education."
Around age 17, children begin to spend more time with friends, attending Saturday evening singing events and meals at other homes in the community. For recreation, there's volleyball and activities such as bicycle trips, hiking, day trips to museums and visiting other plain communities.
Around age 18 or 19, teens begin to study and learn the church's 18 articles of faith.
"Our emphasis is to live your belief, to live your faith," Weaver said. "No tooting of your horn, so to speak."
The young adults are baptized with a sprinkle of water at a ceremony where they promise to abide by the ordnung, the set of church rules.
Courtship typically begins after they have joined the church, usually between ages 18 and 20.
A young man visits his future bride's house to begin a chaste, multiyear courtship.
Weddings are large community events at the bride's house, including a noon meal and an afternoon of singing traditional wedding songs in German and English.
Later, the groom is hoisted over a fence to symbolize the end of youth and the beginning of manhood. The bride is turned upside down to symbolically rid her of nonsense and silliness.
There are two-hour church services each Sunday. Outsiders are welcome, but much of the service is in German. Communion is taken twice a year during four-hour services that include the serving of bread and sweet wine, followed by the washing of one another's feet.
Weaver said the strength of the Old Order is its simplicity. There's progress, but it's selective progress and it's slow.
Old Order Mennonites do not own cars because the community believes that progress might come at the expense of their way of life.
Some do use tractors, but with special steel wheels that are not wrapped in tires.
"It's another way of slowing us down and not falling into temptation," Weaver said. "It's a constant struggle not to lose what we have."
Contact Greta Cuyler: 610-371-5042 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, February 7, 2011
I've created this website out of my own interest in the Amish/Mennonite culture and of living in the country. Its a place for people who are interested in the Amish like myself, and its also a place to share Images of the beautiful country side that is all around me. my name is Richard, and I live very close to an Amish settlement here in Pennsylvania. This site is dedicated to my mother, who had started all of this by taking me as a child to Lancaster,pa from our apartment in the Bronx projects..........THANK YOU MOM............... Richard