Becoming Amish: One Grosse Pointe Family’s Journey to a Simpler Life

Traverse Classics: I met Bill Moser when he was 4 years old. I was 4 years old too. We lived three houses apart in a Livonia subdivision, a new one—most of the lawns were still dirt when we met. If it’s possible for a place to be extreme middle class, Livonia was it back then. No visible poor people. No visible rich people. No visible ethnic people. Even today, Livonia has the highest percentage of Caucasians of any city with more than 100,000 residents in the United States.

Sometimes I wonder if the homogeneous nature of our town, the monoculture, inspired Bill’s curiosity about other people, his desire to look into other worlds and understand and adopt the good that was there. Don’t know, but here’s something I remember. Bill was the first person I knew who was really into soul music. Not in a fake “trying to be a brother” sort of way, but just in a natural “I’m really into this sound” sort of way.

One time, when we were 16, he bought us tickets to a Marvin Gaye concert at Olympia Stadium. We each took dates. This was 1974; the Detroit race riots were just seven years behind us. The racial divide was perhaps greater than ever, and people in Livonia were afraid to go downtown. But Bill loved the music, and he intuitively understood that people getting together for a Marvin Gaye concert—“How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” and “Let’s Get It On”—were looking to make love not problems. And his 16-year-old’s instinct proved right. I remember seeing about 10 white people in the sold-out arena of 15,000, and everybody went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Now follow along as we fast-forward. Bill goes to University of Detroit to study architecture. He graduates. Bill marries Tricia, the Catholic girl he went to the Marvin Gaye concert with. She, by now, is an occupational therapist, having graduated from Wayne State University. I am the best man in the wedding. When my wife and I get married a few years later, Bill is best man in our wedding; Tricia is a bridesmaid.

Now five years further, Bill and Tricia are living in Grosse Pointe Park. Bill has a lead role in designing a building in downtown Birmingham. Soon, he starts his own construction-design company. The couple is becoming increasingly religious, and they join an evangelical church. My wife and I have moved to Minneapolis. We do not become increasingly religious. Due to place and lifestyle, we drift apart from the Mosers.

Skip ahead to 1999. My family has by now moved back to Traverse City. I get a call from Tricia inviting us to visit their small farm near Ovid, east of St. Johns. It turns out I am heading to Detroit Metropolitan Airport in a few days to pick up my kids, who are returning from Minneapolis. It is height of summer, crazy busy, but their house is on the way. I pull off the highway, steer down dirt roads and pull up in the driveway. I see not a car, but instead a black buggy, as in horse and buggy. I get out of my car. I stand for a moment in the lush July dusk. A horse grazes in a small paddock. Chest-high grasses with seed-tops tinged in purple twilight fill a low swale. The orangey glow of propane lamps illuminates the house windows. I hear quiet. I feel peace.

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    How ironic that two people, both so well-educated, would freely choose a life that rejects formal education past eighth grade. I respect *their* choice, but by depriving their children of even a high-school diploma, they’ve effectively chosen for them. The Amish I knew in Indiana and Ohio, while certainly religious, were also prone to the sorts of pitfalls ignorance brings with it — quack medicine and virulent racism among them. We’ll see how the Mosers feel when their grandchildren climb on their knee and ask about their wicked former life among the n—–s in Detroit. (Yes, that’s a word I heard often among the Plain people.)

    • Ann O. Niemus

      I only heard that word once in many years of growing up surrounded by Amish, and driving them. Yes there is some ignorance, but also many who self-educate, study encyclopedias and frequent the Library to learn. This includes the Moser family. I can assure you they don’t talk down of any other races, nor use any racial or ethnic slurs. They have friends of many races, and because of the Love of God in their hearts, they are able to be friendly to those with whom they may not agree on many issues. We really all need to judge ourselves much more than criticizing others, & this is what Jesus taught. Take care of the board in your own eye, before examining the little splinter in the eye of another person. It’s really all about following Jesus- which most of modern Christendom has long ago given up on. I thank God for the examples of Anabaptists who are willing to be inconvenienced, in small ways, for a much larger and eternal gain.

  • Anonymous

    Your comment recalls Bill Moser’s quote in the story, “the Amish are a people like any other, with the same struggles.” For what it’s worth, the Moser family seeks modern medical treatment, and I’m sure would never use the “n” word. But I do not doubt what you describe. Certainly the education situation is something that many mainstream Americans would disagree with. Bill told me the Amish are a remarkably well read culture and that learning continues lifelong, but within a more limited scope, I’d imagine. Yes there are inconsistencies in the Amish culture, but most mainstream Americans have inconsistencies in their own lives, as well.–Jeff Smith

  • http://community.mynorth.com/members/an-old-friend/ An old friend

    The Moser’s are faux Amish. In five, ten years they will be onto something else. In particular, the Moser’s blow like a feather in the wind to the next Christian religious group that will tickle their fancy. In general, I highly respect the Amish but they choose to live in America and Canada where others fight for their rights and freedoms. I too was at the service they spoke of at their old church. The fact is I have relatives and friends, Christians, who fight for and serve their country. The fact is we live in a fallen world, due to Adam, and in fact we have to occasionally stand up and fight for what is right, to fight evil, here and around the world. I too disagree with some of the issues but recognize that overall if we do not stand up, who will? Certainly not Bill and Trish. The Moser’s hide behind the Amish way of life and appear to be simple people but will let others do their bidding. I don’t find their choice admirable but cowardly and personally convenient.

  • Anonymous

    Like the author and some who left comments before me, I too know these people.
    There is nothing noble about the choices the Moser’s are making or have made in the past. I chuckled at the description of “faux Amish” given to them. In fact, they are “faux Americans”. No wait: they are just plain old “faux”. Like so many people in our country today, they are aimlessly searching for some kind of validation that they hope a lifestyle choice or a religious community can give them.
    The writer asserts that Bill demonstrated early-on his understanding of the need to reach out to other cultures and socio-economic groups when he attended a Marvin Gaye concert in Detroit. Give me a break, please. The only reason they can afford to chase their proverbial spiritual tails is because they were born white, are both college graduates, are healthy well-fed aimless elitists who have figured out how to make the system work for them and their spineless empty pursuits. If they had any real working knowlege of the plight and the daily miseries of the sick, deprived, depraved, hungry, homeless, outcast and unloved urban poor in the City of Detroit, they would never ever be so thoughtless as to assert that they were drawn in kinship to them. The church they left is in Harrison Township MI. It is located very near the Selfridge ANG Base. Many fine, unselfish service personnel attend this church. Yes, a color guard did participate in a service during the Gulf War…no, that same guard did not lead the congregation in singing during worship. It is for people like myself, like the urban poor in Detroit, like the Moser’s……it is for all people in the USA that these brave and sacrificial people stand in the gap, and in harms’ way.
    The Moser’s thought nothing of taking serious amounts of financial and material aid from this dear church that they left.I ache for their beautiful children who are growing up with a chronically distorted view of authority, the view clearly described in God’s Word. Bill and Tricia Moser are misfits who have gone into a strange underground called Amish Seekerdom, to avoid the patterns of irresponsibility and financial indiscretion that caused a number of kindly people to lose money and worse.
    Praise God “it is by grace we have been saved through faith and not because of anything we have known or done. It is the gift of God, period, and not something that we can boast in or take credit for ourselves”. That is a paraphrase of Ephesians 2:8
    It is time for Bill and Tricia Moser to “man-up” and follow the example of the God/Man/Savior Jesus Christ.

  • http://community.mynorth.com/members/leavingfalseeden/ leavingfalseeden

    The caustic remarks on here are very surprising to me. Apparently actually LIVING OUT what you believe is seriously offensive to some people. Perhaps the offense is taken because it shows us for what we are as Americans unserious, unthinking, undisciplined people.

    America is caught in the throws of idolatry. One faction favors government as god the other tradition and culture as god. The thinking and repentant Christian belongs in neither category. We have labored to build a false Eden where we can have it all and the effects of the fall will be not felt. However, this has done nothing but increase our sinfulness.

    The Amish have taken a radical view, that technology most often separates us from family and community. I would venture to say they believe like I that failing to learn mature relating skills in family and commmunity seriously impedes our relationship with God.

    Therefore they choose to live in a way that experiences the full force of the effects of the fall. This is a simple concept. Applying it is not so simple. To accuse someone who has worked so hard to apply it of being “faux” is gross and heartless.

    I discovered during hurricane IKE that this belief of the Amish is very truthful. As neighbors gathered to help each other, cooking for each other sharing generators and there was no television so for two weeks we talked in driveways while handwashing laundry and actually GOT TO KNOW each other. That did more to create bonds between the many cultures of Houston than any stupid lecture on diversity will ever do. People are now bonded who once shared NOTHING in common. That is all due to facing hardship and no one-eyed timewasting brainsucker.

    I realized what we need to do is leave this false Eden we have created, because it is unsustainable and is doomed. We must renounce our idols and stop trying to fashion God into an image we prefer. HOW each person chooses to do this is likely going to be very different, but I know of several movements underway that are quite close to Amish philosophy.

    To do this will ultimately cause those who worship big government or patriotism or capitalism or whatever aspect of American or global culture to virulently reject us. So be it.

  • Anonymous

    While I am not as eloquent as some of those who have commented, I would just like to say that from what I have learnt about the Amish culture, I have a deep respect and admiration for them.
    I was brought up in an all-Catholic community and I can very much respect the Amish ways of truly practising what is preached in the bible. The hypocrisies I saw within a supposedly god-fearing community – hypocrisies which were an integral part of the community’s culture, not a small diversion from a path which can be easily repented – made me cynical of the Christian faith. The materialism we see within western culture is destroying communities all over the world for the profit of the few. Rejecting this culture to lead a life more close to that which God dictated could surely only be admirable. It certainly couldn’t be an easy decision to make, given the reactions it has provoked within their own previous – and Christian! – community. At the very least, I would certainly not call it cowardly.
    I feel very sad and frustrated to read that some see nothing wrong with relating in any way the worshipping of God to the practising of war, and the idolisation of a governments decisions. You may think that those young people were protecting the people of America from harm, but even ignoring the fact that is debatable – what about the rights of others to be free from harm? Did God instruct those young people to go harm innocents in other countries, to destroy cultures they know nothing about? If God spoke to you tomorrow would he tell you to kill others in order to find peace or to follow his word to the best of your ability?
    The Mosers are protecting the USA in another way, and one which to my mind is very obvious. Global warming and the resulting changes in weather patterns has already begun to hugely affect the world in both poor and rich countries, but particularly the most vulnerable in all. It is also causing huge proportions of God’s creatures to die. Their chosen lifestyle is HUGELY reducing their impact on their environment and retaining some of the world’s resources for future generations. It is following the seasonal patterns, living as a community and as a family, helping one another to live in a way which does not go against moral codes and does not damage others or the earth. This to me is a very noble and Godly way to live.
    Their chosen lifestyle has many similarities to the permaculture principles which may be one of the ‘several movements’ which the above comment alludes to. Permaculture as a concept has only been around for a few decades, but already has a huge following. It is an approach to agriculture and to living that aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants. Core values are caring for the earth, caring for people and ensuring a fair share among those today and in the future. Many of those following permaculture practises are choosing to live in communities which they see as healthy, ecologically sustainable, self-sufficient, ethically robust and peaceful – much like the Mosers.
    Whether or not you agree with the Amish or permaculture ethics, if current ways of living are not promoting this positive type of community, we must reassess what is wrong with our society and treat those who are seeking a better one with a bit of respect.

  • Anonymous

    Amen to the Mosers for doing what there heart telling them.

  • Anonymous

    I met Bill this past weekend when I stayed with my friends who are also Amish and neighbors of the Mosers. For those of you who doubt their commitment to the Amish faith, go visit first hand and see for yourselves.
    They raised their children in the faith and are living their lives as best as they can like anyone else, just in a different way. If they left the community for something more "progressive" it would be their own mistake

  • Anonymous

    The Mosers have done the most they could do as far as a favorite liberal “issue” is concerned: almost completely reduced carbon footprint. They have also done the most they could do as far as conservative issues: they do not rely on government funded social services and do not practice/condone abortion. Yet they are being skewered by these comments on here by BOTH groups! Shame on all of you who condemn them in the name of your liberal and conservative agendas. Hypocrites, all.

  • Anonymous

    Praying for the Mosers and all whom have posted here. May God Bless You All!

  • Anonymous

    Im 30 yrs old and I have dreamed of being Amish since I was 5…shame on those that cast judgement on others choices in life! Many religions but only one God! Live for you and your family!

  • Anonymous

    it seems to me there are those who do not understand the anabaptist views. the so called “christians”, i ask you, what is it that makes you so? being of god and virtue one day a week and living as you wish the other six is certainly not christian! become amish to hide from war? how about become amish to practice the teachings of jesus about love and peace. if a man strikes you on the cheek, show him your other. to live your life for god and family is far more noble than making rank. i too was a military man, but for what? to protect a society that promotes homosexuality, greed, arrogance, and pride? the only people i have ever found that mocks the amish ways are only afraid of something they are too shallow to understand. i recently had a conversation with a devout atheist who told me of a christmas present, Huh!! this is the society which I am supposed to be endeared to? I choose to worship god now and give a damn less about a flag or a mercedes, and know that I far happier and more at peace for it.. I hope you all can find the same, and be happy for those who have.

  • Anonymous

    May God Bless the Moser Family for their persecutions. I am very proud for them on their journey.
    Hopefully they have lived among the Amish long enough to learn to “offer the other cheek”…. “the world” will criticize because they do not understand.
    I strongly disagree that they are faux or false. A trend would not have lasted this long. They have been living this way since, well it was before 1999 I believe. I will go back and check the article.
    I cannot believe how easily someone else can verbally bash another. Very disturbing and sobering.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone is a wannabe everybody wants to be something. You hear it everyday someone says I wish I was this or that a better cook a better parent and when you become what you Wannabe does that make you FAUX? . Does it matter if they really ever become the real deal if they are happy with what and where they are. Maybe the happiness is short lived but so what they are happy for a time and then they move on. To call these folks Faux has some merit but they are walking a pathway that suits them and where is this unreasonable. Or they really Amish? NO but are they pretending to be Amish or are they emulating the Amish. Either way they are comfortable and should not be judged. Think about all the things you have wanted to be in life and think about what you portray to others and what you really are. They see the person you wannabe but you see the person you really “be”.
    I wannabe living in a country that does not have a 14 Trillion dollar debt and still believes in fundamental Christian beliefs and not in a liberal “I am not responsible for my actions” its all about me society. Does that make me Faux no but it does make me a dreamer of fantasy I guess.

    Etienne

  • Anonymous

    Reading all the comments would seem to be good preparation for one considering what one might expect to hear from people and be prepared to withstand if seeking to become Amish.

    Is there a Christian with any advice how a mother of four ages 10 – 17 might embark upon a journey toward this end assuming that her husband ( a senior software engineer) would find the whole thing absurd.

    My first step is to simply go to visit the Amish part of my state and hopefully speak with some Amish folk a bit-

    Prayers appreciated

  • Anonymous

    I’m coming to this discussion a bit late! I too am shocked at the negative comments posted here. I am an atheist and would not consider joining a strict religious community like the Amish. But I admire the Amish for living a simple life and leaving a small environmental footprint. Okay, some of their decisions on which technologies to use and not to use seem a bit arbitrary. Their carbon footprint is still a fraction of the typical American’s. Despite their hard work, their incomes are very low, so low that they don’t have to pay income tax to the IRS. I guess they would be considered “poor” by most Americans. Their lifestyle is poor in conveniences but seems to be very rich in human relationships. I have read a few articles about sexual abuse being kept secret in Amish communities, so we can assume the Amish are not perfect but then who is. I too strive to lead a simpler life closer to the land, but my wife won’t let me!

  • nancypo

    What a great story! It’s easy to think about a major life change, it’s a lot harder to actually do it. It’s a LOT of work and dedication. Good for them…