Friday, August 22, 2014


Here is Part Three in the series on Amish Religious Traditions from the informative Amish News based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Today the post deals with the traditions of Amish Baptism.

For the Amish, and others of the Anabaptist tradition, the act of joining the church through baptism has great importance. Over 400 years ago, their ancestors in Europe were often tortured and killed because of their belief in adult baptism. Anabaptist means "re-baptizer." These people were so-named because, although they had been baptized as infants in the State Church, they believed that one became a Christian only by a conscious decision as an adult. A book called the Martyrs Mirror describes the terrible sufferings thousands of Anabaptists endured at the hands of other Christians because of this belief.

It is precisely because you join the church as an adult that you are expected to live up to your commitment and to the rules of the faith. If you do not, church discipline will follow.

Teenagers who feel they are ready to join the church begin the process by attending special instruction classes beforehand. There are usually nine of these, and they take place during regular church services. They study the Dordrecht Confession of Faith of 1632, which outlines the basic beliefs the Amish strive to uphold today. At a service prior to the baptisms, the congregation is asked if they will accept the applicants as brothers and sisters.

The baptism itself is part of a regular church service, normally two worship services prior to the autumn communion. After the service begins, the applicants are asked to leave the congregation for a few minutes. In private, they are reminded that they are making a promise for life. If they are uncertain as to this decision, now is the time to reconsider and turn back. Indeed, sometimes one or two of the applicants decides he is not really ready to become a church member. The boys are also asked to accept the possibility of becoming a minister, should the lot ever fall on one of them. When the applicants return, they often keep their heads bowed through part of the service.

After the hymns and sermons, the young people kneel. They are reminded that this is a promise to God, witnessed by those at the church service. Each is asked four questions, signaling their commitment to join the church. Then the prayer coverings are removed from the head of each girl, and the bishop raises each applicant’s head. He is assisted by the deacon who holds a wooden bucket. With a cup, the deacon pours some water from the bucket into the bishop’s hands and onto each applicant’s head three times, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The hand of each applicant is taken and they are helped to their feet as the bishop, in the Pennsylvania German dialect, says these words... "In the name of the Lord and the Church, we extend to you the hand of fellowship. Rise up, and be a faithful member of the church" The boys are greeted as members with the Holy Kiss. The girls receive this blessing from the deacon’s wife.

This is an emotional experience and tears are not uncommon for the applicants and others in the congregation. While some of these young people may have "sowed some wild oats" prior to their joining the church, the seriousness of the moment must be clear. Now they are members of this congregation, have promised to abide by its rules, will marry in the faith, and assume the duties that the church may ask of them, such as becoming a minister. The consequences of straying from this path are also clear, with shunning and excommunication the most severe discipline for those who stray from the ways of the faith. Like their forefathers, they have made a commitment, but they will also receive much in return from the community of the faithful of which they have become members.

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