By Mary Giorgio
Indiana is home to thousands of Amish and Mennonite residents. People tend to confuse the two groups because they share many similarities. However, Amish and Mennonites are distinct groups that practice their religious traditions in unique ways.
Both Amish and Mennonite religions originated with a Protestant sect called the Anabaptists. This group was created in Europe during the 16th century. Anabaptists, whose name roughly translates to “baptized again,” believed that baptism was a choice that could only be made by adults. They disavowed infant baptism and stressed a simple, less worldly, way of life.
In 1693, Jacob Ammann, a Swiss member of the Anabaptist religion, broke away to form the Amish church. Ammann had become disillusioned with the Anabaptist church because, in his opinion, they were not adhering strictly enough to the religion’s doctrine of separation from the world. The first Amish immigrated to America in the 1700s from Switzerland. They settled in Pennsylvania.
In 1839, the first Amish settlers arrived in Indiana, making their home in Nappanee. A few years later, in 1841, a larger settlement of Amish formed near Middlebury. Sixty-five percent of today’s Amish population worldwide lives in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.
Today’s Amish continue to practice separation from worldly pursuits. In general, most Amish live simple lives, disavowing electricity and modern technology. They travel by horse and buggy, dress in plain clothes, and utilize horse-drawn farming implements. Men wear their beards untrimmed.
Mennonites descend from the original Anabaptists. In general, they are less strict than the Amish. Mennonites believe in simple living and stewardship but vary greatly in how they interpret these goals. Conservative Mennonites bare the strongest resemblance to the Amish. They dress in plain clothing and rely on horses and buggies for transportation. However, conservative Mennonites are less strict than the Amish and generally do allow some use of electricity and telephones. Conservative Mennonite families tend to be farmers.
Modern Mennonite communities also exist worldwide. Many modern Mennonites use technology, drive cars, dress in regular clothing, and work in a variety of professions. They tend to be mission-oriented, traveling the world to help others and share their faith. In Indiana, Goshen College was founded by a group of modern Mennonites.
Both Amish and Mennonite populations have had a great influence on the state of Indiana. In fact, Indiana boasts the third largest Amish population worldwide. The largest Amish settlement in Indiana is in Elkhart and LaGrange counties in the northern part of the state. The community is some 20,000 strong, with most adult men employed in factory work for the RV industry. The Amish communities of Middlebury and Shipshewana have become popular tourist attractions.
Nappanee, Indiana, boasts an active Amish community similar in characteristics to the Elkhart-LaGrange Amish. Nappanee is home to Amish Acres, a historic Amish farm – turned museum. A conservative Mennonite community is also located in Nappanee.
Other Amish settlements in Indiana are located in Berne, Allen County, and Adams County. Berne is home to Indiana’s most conservative Amish population, and one of the few remaining agrarian-based Amish communities. In Allen county, most Amish men are employed in the construction industry.
Amish and Mennonite communities play an important role in the Hoosier economy. As factory workers, builders, farmers, and small business owners, these groups entertain tourists, create infrastructure, and assemble commercial goods. Indiana’s Amish and Mennonite residents have made many lasting contributions to the state’s history and development.
Want to Know More?
Read Christianity Today’s article “1525: The Anabaptist Movement Begins” to learn how the Anabaptists sprang from both religious and civil issues.
Check out the Menno-Hof website, which contains a wealth of resources on Amish and Mennonite culture, beliefs, and communities.