When Bill and Tricia have faced their low points and discussed with their children the notion of changing churches, the kids have always said, “we want to keep doing what we have been doing.” And the older kids who have the choice have said, “if you do that, you will be doing it without us,” Bill says.
The heights of the couple’s spiritual year, and when they feel most immersed in the community, comes during communion service, which happens twice a year, and in particular during a ritual in which each church member washes another member’s feet. The bible encourages the practice, Bill says, but few Christian sects perform the ritual. Church members go up in pairs, men with men, women with women.
“You take turns, you wash and dry the person’s feet and then they do yours,” Tricia says. “It’s an expression of love and service to one another.”
Communion is also a time when the community reviews the Amish statement of faith, a 400-year-old document that lays out what’s expected of community members. They also review what technology is okay and what is not. While there are general guidelines that apply to all Amish, each church writes its own agreement to deal with some particulars. Amish keep their churches small, say fewer than 30 families, so there are hundreds of such statements serving the 300,000 or so Amish in America today.
We have talked a long time, and by now it is mid-afternoon. The youngest boys come home from school. “We had a runaway today,” Jacob says, referring to a horse that spooked and smashed up a buggy—which had no passengers at the time. An Amish girl knocks on the door wanting to buy a headlamp. Outside the window, I see buggies going by driven by kids who look to be about 10 years old. Behind some, boys drag on their bellies on the icy road. I’m reminded of Bill and me at 14, hanging out at stop signs in winter, waiting to grab on to the rear bumpers of cars as they took off, pulling us sliding down Ellen Drive.
Like anyone else in America, I'm curious about the Amish and technology. I think of the forklift, a power saw Timothy used in the shop, the battery-operated headlamp business. I think of the phone network that Amish use extensively to pass news—the couple learned of the Pennsylvania Amish school shooting within minutes of it happening. I ask Bill and Tricia to clarify, because the boundaries seem fluid.
A main defining goal is keeping out technology that weakens the family or the community, Bill says. Cars, for example. The decision to not own automobiles is largely a result of a desire to keep men working at the home whenever possible. But the Amish can hire people to drive them places. Bill concedes that he hires drivers often to take him to Marion or Cadillac.
“I’m at the upper end of the use scale,” he says. He should be riding his bike—the nearest town, Marion, is just six miles away. But he shrugs it off—he is, after all, a son of the Motor City.