Thursday, October 16, 2008

Amish Images

I guess my fascination with the Amish and Mennonite cultures started when I was a youngster. At the small Protestant church I attended with my family, a carload of Mennonites would often visit at our Sunday night services. I was told that the reason they were only there on Sunday nights, and not on Sunday mornings, was because they worshipped with other Mennonites at the local Hillcrest Nursing Home on Sunday mornings. This particular nursing home was operated, sort of as a "mission project" by a group of Mennonites. At one time, the men of that religious sect could meet their military requirements (since they were conscientious objectors) by doing two years of service at the nursing home, instead of active military duty. After the draft was discontinued, the nursing home continued to be operated by Mennonites, even though it was no longer a legal obligation to do so. But what fascinated me most about these weekly glimpses at a culture quite different from my own was their clothing. The group of five or six would usually be called on to sing a "special" , where they would go up to the front of the church and with a heavenly harmony (and no piano accompaniment) sing a hymn. I REALLY liked that part of those Sunday night services, because it gave me an opportunity to study those unusual dresses, when they all got up in front of everyone to sign. The womens' dresses were all made just alike, in a very plain fashion, and made of solid colors of various shades of pastel fabric. ---But here's the part that really fascinated me---instead of buttons, the dresses were held together with straight pins! When I asked my mother why they used pins, instead of buttons, she said it was because they believed buttons would be "too decorative" and not plain enough. However, I was pretty sure I knew the REAL reason-----I had been trying to learn to make button holes on the sewing machine, and it was quite difficult for me. I concluded that these ladies, too, had encountered difficulties making button holes, and got around it by saying buttons (and the buttonholes they required) were just too pretentious for their beliefs, and they would use straight pins instead! Well, fast forward several decades to when I worked as a Registered Dietitian consultant for nursing homes. I actually became an employee (more like an independent contractor) of this very nursing home, still operated by Mennonites. For that reason, they gave me the rules to read that the young Mennonites who also worked there were to follow. The ones that stick in my mind were the admonition that there would be NO public display of affection, including holding hands; also, when they had a day off, all leisure activities were to be done as a group, no boy-girl couples pairing off for a day by themselves. I learned some about Pennsylvania Dutch cooking when I worked there as well. One of my duties was to review the menus the Mennonite kitchen provided, for nutritional adequacy. There were some items on those menus that were completely new to me, but there was no doubt that the food that came out of that Mennonite kitchen was the best tasting of any of the six nursing homes where I consulted. Fast forward a few more years, and I no longer worked for the nursing home, but I still found myself there---this time as a regular visitor to my uncle who was a resident (translate patient) there. Then in a few more years, my mother was also a resident there. And how fitting it was that a new batch of Mennonite voices harmonized together to provide special music when they sang for my mom's funeral services. All this leads me up to why I have for so long wanted to get a glimpse of the original U.S. location of the Pennsylvania Dutch traditions, which would include a look into Amish culture. Well, that wish came to "fruition" finally as the photos at the beginning of this blog can attest to. I spent a week in Pennsylvania, and a wonderful Mennonite lady named D.J. Kling take me on a tour of the backroads of rural Lancaster County, where many of the Amish and Mennonite families live. This was "a longing fulfilled" for me which means (according to Proverbs 13:12) it is a much-appreciated new branch on my "Tree of Life".
It is my prayer that whoever reads this post, will take the action steps to fulfill a longing that will add new branches to their "Tree of Life"!
Posted by Picasa