The other day I thought I would brush up on my history and take a trip to the Mennonite Information Center. Having worked at the Lancaster County Visitors Bureau, I figured I knew all there was to know about the Mennonite and Amish lifestyle. Turned out, I didn’t know much at all.
Not to steal the Mennonite Information Center’s thunder, but I thought I would share a little of what I learned on my trip, mainly answering the age old question we Lancaster Countians are asked quite frequently, “What is the difference between the Mennonites and the Amish?”
Well, both groups actually stem from the same Christian movement during the European Protestant Reformation. These Christians were called Anabaptists and they sought to return to a simplicity of faith and practice based on the Bible. The Anabaptists also stressed the importance that belief must result in practice, and that idea still holds true today for both the Amish and Mennonite communities.
The split between the two groups started with a gentleman named Jacob Amann who believed that sinning resulting in excommunication should result in a more serious punishment (now known as “shunning”) then what the Mennonite community currently followed. Amann’s beliefs attracted a large group of followers who came to be known as the Amish.
Today, the greatest differences between the Amish and Mennonites stem mainly from practices rather than beliefs. Amish groups tend to shy away from technology and involvement with the greater world, by dressing “plain” and using scooters and buggies for transportation. The Mennonites have embraced some of the world’s technologies and stress the importance of missionary work, helping to spread their faith to over fifty countries around the world.
Mind you, there is much more to the history and beliefs of the Mennonite and Amish than a couple of sentences and there are also exceptions to every rule. So, if you are in Lancaster and are curious to learn more about these two great cultures stop by the Mennonite Information Center and take a tour of their life-sized Tabernacle Reproduction or enjoy one of their many informative movies and documentaries.
Remember the days of being a little kid and having the urge to bang on the keys of any piano you came in contact with, only to be scolded about five seconds later by the nearest adult who, for some reason, was not enjoying the cacophony of sounds you were producing?
Well, thanks to Music for Everyone, the non-profit organization that raises awareness and money for music programs in Lancaster schools, those days of uninhibited piano playing are back, and this time there is no one around to stop you.
Donated and decorated pianos are placed around the city of Lancaster at places like Binns Park and Penn Square for citizens and visitors to play at any time of day, all summer long.
As someone who is not so adept at tickling the ivories, I have shied away from blessing the citizens of Lancaster with my er…piano skills, but I can’t help but be drawn in by some of the colorful and original pianos that are scattered around the city. I mean who doesn’t want to at least go and see a piano that is painted bright pink or covered entirely in pennies?
I love the fact that Music for Everyone is literally bringing their message to the streets and allowing everyone the chance to get in touch with their creative side with this Keys for the City exhibit.
So whether you are in the mood to play, look, or just sit and listen, take a stroll through Lancaster to enjoy the Keys for the City exhibit and remember what it is like to be a kid again.
For more information, or to find out when and where the pianos are placed each year, click here.
A lot of people come here to see the Amish lifestyle, but because it’s against their religion to take photos of their faces, and because it’s not polite to go and knock on their door as if they themselves are a tourist attraction, there are places like The Amish Village that can let you know about their lifestyle without being invading!
I recently went to The Amish Village with some of my friends, and we got to see some really cool stuff in the store, where EVERYTHING is made in PA (a lot of the crafts are made by Amish families here in Lancaster). From there, we took a tour of the house. It’s so interesting to see how they’ve adapted to modern appliances – such as a fridge that is run with propane. They don’t decorate their walls with anything that’s not useful, so you’ll find lots of calendars (because they tell you the date) and things that hold objects such as sewing scissors hung in elaborately patterned holders hung on the wall.
There’s lots to see and learn about at The Amish Village outside the house as well. There’s a barn structure that holds horses, mules, chickens, pigs, and other farm animals that you can see. There’s a one room school house, some different types of farm equipment, as well as some different types of buggies that you can get in and see what it’s like on the inside. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and was able to answer all the questions we had!
One of my favorite things to see was inside the one room schoolhouse, there are some local teachers who bring the artwork of the local students to hang up around the classroom to make it more authentic! Also to see how all the children start out as small children at the small desks in the front of the classroom, and then work their way back to the largest desks at the back of the room when they reach the eighth grade.
To view more photos from our trip, click here.
As someone very unfamiliar with anything rural, the Amish culture has always fascinated me. My experience with them consisted mainly of passing them in my car on the drive back to college. I was curious about their Amish rules and culture, ‘how did they live without electricity?’ or ‘are they ever allowed to shave those beards?’ I always had so many questions about their simple lifestyle, and I finally received some of those questions answered when I took my first Amish Bus Tour.
Passing by all the green farmland made me look past Lancaster as just “cow country.” It was beautiful how many acres upon acres of untouched land there was so close to where I had been living for the past year. This picturesque scene has been in my backyard and I didn’t even realize it.
The bus tour took us through the countryside on back roads you would never think to take if someone hadn’t shown them to you. There, you enter into the Amish’s world of an incredible combination of hard work at a relaxing pace. You pass by Amish homes, one room school houses, and strawberry stands run by children trying to make some penny cash. The bus takes you right up to the barn door of many Amish homes so you get an up close look the family working on the farm or the cows grazing in the pasture. With the help of your tour guide, you learn how the Amish manage to remain secluded from the ‘English’ world and how they thrive in their own communities. Many of the questions you have always had about how the Amish live will be answered throughout the tour, and if they are not, your tour guide is so informative he or she can answer any new questions you may have.
Just from this one hour tour, I feel like I understand this mysterious culture so much better and this allows me to appreciate the how our two cultures coexist even more.