Our Blue Gate Amish Tours guide, Allen, encouraged us to ask questions of the Amish bishop we were about to meet in Shipshewana, Indiana. “Nothing’s off limits,” he told us. So the twelve guests on the Evening in an Amish Home tour spent the time asking Bishop Monroe Yoder questions. We came away realizing that although the Amish culture is different in many respects from mainstream America, we have more in common with them than we knew.
Thank you to LaGrange County Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting our visit to Shipshewana, Indiana.
Meeting the Bishop
On our way to Bishop Monroe Yoder’s home aboard small bus, Allen gave us an overview of Shipshewana Amish. Having lived among the Amish for almost 40 years, Allen is a wealth of knowledge about the area’s Amish culture and is personal friends with the bishop and the bishop’s wife Susie.
The Yoders live in a daudy house on the same property as two sons. A daudy house is a small addition to an adult Amish child’s home, or a small home on the property where elderly parents live. The evening we visited, Monroe and Susie’s friends Irvin and Viola also joined our discussion.
Some of the things we learned that evening
After settling down on chairs arranged in a circle, Monroe and Susie served us fresh-popped popcorn, everyone introduced themselves, and we started chatting. Here are some of the topics we discussed in our conversation that evening.
Monroe and Susie have 16 children, 98 grandchildren, and 96 great-grandchildren. Large Amish families are common, but even for the Amish, the Yoder family is, no doubt, very large. With so many in a family, it’s understandable how LaGrange County’s Amish population has doubled in the past twenty years, from 8,000 to 16,000. And the Amish predict it will double again in another twenty years.
Wedding Guests Number More than a Thousand
Weddings are huge events, often with over a thousand guests. It starts with a church service around 9 a.m. and runs two to three hours. The wedding ceremony begins with singing, followed by a scripture reading, preaching, and finally uniting the couple in marriage. Usually held in the summer so the reception can be held outdoors, people closest to the couple are invited for the service and the dinner that follows. Later, other friends and co-workers join the reception, and they stay for supper. How many cooks does it take to prepare for a wedding? Irvin told us that at the last wedding they attended, 60 cooks helped prepare the food.
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Amish Community Divided into Districts
The Amish community is divided into districts, with about 40 families per district. As of 2017, there were 181 districts in the Northern Indiana community. The number of families in a district is limited to 40 because the Amish take turns hosting the church services. Given the number of people that may attend (40 large families plus guests), the Amish rarely hold the services in their homes anymore. Rather, they usually hold them in a utility building that’s normally used for storing buggies or as a workshop. With services rotating, how do they know where services are being held? The community has a bi-weekly paper that publishes where the district’s services will be held and which scriptures will be the focus.
The Amish hold church services every other Sunday, with half the districts in the community holding it one week and the remainder the next week. People from districts on “off” weeks often attend services in other districts as guests. Following services, they stay for fellowship for much of the afternoon.
Ministers Selected by Lot
Each district has two ministers, one bishop, and one deacon, who are all selected by lot. There are no requirements to become ordained. “Just behave yourself,” Monroe quipped. People write down the names of those they believe would make a good minister. Anyone with two or three votes is put into the lot. The current bishop puts a paper inside one of the songbooks, on page 770 to be exact, and puts a rubber band around each song book. The nominees then come into the room and pick up a song book. Whoever gets the book with the paper in it is the new minister. “The Lord leads whoever is supposed to have it,” Susie explained. They use the same method to choose the bishop from among the ministers.
Why the Bishop Allows Tour Groups in His Home
One guest in our group asked why Monroe and Susie choose to meet with the tour group. Monroe answered, “We like to share faith and whatever… We are not isolated or anything. We’re open. It’s just your way to do it, and this is our way to do it.”
Why Amish Don’t Use Technology
On technology, Monroe explained, “We like to stay away from technology because I know by experience of our own grandchildren, some of them that are not Amish, what the smart phone is doing. It doesn’t pull together; it pulls apart. That’s why we try to keep us staying together as a whole family.”
A guest asked whether the Amish have trouble with the teenagers that perhaps think that Amish life isn’t for them.
“Don’t ever think we don’t have problems,” Monroe answered. “If any of you raise a family, you know you have problems. You know children, they’re all different, and we got some that like to go out and test the things out there, see what’s out there. But we got great big groups, like 200 in a group that get together some evenings. And they come for supper and the neighborhood comes together and helps furnish the supper. They eat, they sing, and then they go home. Then [there’s a] group that we call the wild group, I guess. They got cars, and they go out and… We feel it’s so dangerous to play with that, but sometime they come back.”
Irvin added, “Most of them come back, and they actually say there’s not anything satisfying out there.”
And then Susie added, “And sometimes you just have to leave them go.”
That’s when I got up my nerve to ask about shunning, which I often heard was a practice among Amish. If someone leaves the fold, the Amish will have nothing to do with that person. Since Monroe and Susie mentioned grandchildren that aren’t Amish and Susie’s brother who isn’t Amish, I asked about it. “Is [shunning] not the case anymore?”
Monroe and Suzie both answered, “No.”
From other stories I’ve heard and read, some Amish areas do still shun family members who leave the Amish community. Each district is different in their practices. All rules on what is allowed or not allowed are voted on by a district’s members. However, I’m glad there are some who don’t shun anymore and remain close families no matter a person’s choice in faith and culture.
Many More Topics
These were just some of the topics we discussed with Monroe, Susie, Irvin, and Viola that evening. We also talked about schools, working life, medical services, and funerals., to name some. As Allen had told us, nothing is off limits, and the bishop really was willing to talk about anything we asked.
About Blue Gate Amish Tours
Blue Gate Amish Tours in Shipshewana, Indiana, offers three tour options: Evening in an Amish Home, Up Close and Personal Tour, and new in 2018, Taste of Amish Country Tour. Locations visited on each tour vary based on Amish availability. Tours are limited to 12 guests for a more intimate experience. Check the website for more details or to make a reservation.
We enjoyed our stay in the patio room at the Blue Gate Garden Inn. Some of the Blue Gate Amish Tours begin right at the hotel Check Blue Gate Garden Inn rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
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