|Swartzentruber Amish attending Sunday services in Ashland County, Ohio, thanks to AmishAmerica|
As people arrive, someone may be in charge of taking the horses to the barn. People tend to congregate by age and gender, young boys often in the barn, women in the house, etc. When church begins, women are usually seated in one area, and men in another. Seating is on backless benches, which each district owns and transports from house to house in a bench wagon. There are more comfortable chairs for some of the older members and the ministers.
Worship begins at about 8:00 a.m. and usually lasts over three hours. Hymns are sung from the AUSBUND, a special hymnal used by the Amish. There are usually three to seven preachers and bishops at a service. These men retire to a room during the singing to decide who will be preaching the two sermons that day.
Around 8:30 a.m., the first sermon begins. Since people may be seated in different rooms, the ministers may move about somewhat as they preach. Some ministers present their message in a sort of chanting, sing-song manner, in the Pennsylvania German dialect, with Scriptures in High German. It is not unusual for much emotion to be shown, and tears are not uncommon. The pitch and tone of the voice vary for emphasis. As in any church, different preachers have different styles. This first sermon may last about thirty minutes.
Scriptures are read and they kneel for silent prayer prior to the main sermon. This sermon is longer, sometimes over an hour. Ministers often quote a passage from Scripture and then talk about it. Sermons are not written in advance. It is quite amazing that these "untrained" clergy can deliver such powerful, emotional messages to their congregations. Leading a right life in the eyes of the Lord, resurrection, and the idea of "judge not that ye be not judged" are some common themes. Some also like to preach from the Old Testament.
After the main sermon, the other ministers usually make short statements that add to or emphasize what has been heard. There is about another half hour of prayer and singing. The Amish have a booklet outlining the hymns and Scriptures to be used at each service. Readings from the New Testament chapters of Matthew predominate, with Luke and John rounding out the year.
During the service, a wide range of responses are noted, as at a church service anywhere. Some people may be dozing off, others shaking their heads in agreement. Children behave remarkably well. Mothers often bring Cheerios, candy, a toy animal wrapped in a hanky, or a picture book. Sometimes a child walks from his mother in one room to his father in the other. Noisy children are usually disciplined. After the service concludes, the rooms are cleared of people and some of the benches are now converted into tables so that a light lunch can be served.
Because there may be over 150 people, men and women eat in shifts, oldest through youngest, usually in separate rooms,. Each place setting usually has a knife, cup, and saucer, with a glass of water. The meal may consist of coffee, bread, "church spread" (a combination of peanut butter and marshmallow), jam, apple butter, red beets, pickles, cheese, and sometimes snitz (dried apple) pie. A silent prayer is given before and after eating.
Afterwards, there is time for socializing among the adults. Children might play outside or in the barn. People stay into the afternoon, but dairy farmers must soon return home to milk the cows.
The Amish church service is an act of worship, a preservation of tradition, a renewal of faith, and an affirmation of community.