Friday, September 5, 2014


Here is Part Five 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 the selection of Amish ministers.


As is the Amish custom, religious services are held in the home, not in a church building. The geographic area where the Amish live is divided into church districts for this purpose. Each district usually has two or three ministers, one deacon, and one bishop, who is usually shared between two districts. Since church is held every other Sunday, the bishop alternates between the districts.

The Amish do not believe in going to a college or seminary to become a minister in the church. No one is "brought in" or feels he has been "called" to serve as a preacher. Rather, ministers are chosen by lot from the men in the church district congregation.

Becoming a minister is not viewed as an honor, but rather as a serious and heavy responsibility. They normally serve for life and receive no salary. In most Amish settlements, a young man cannot be baptized into the faith unless he is willing to become a minister, should the lot fall on him some day.
The idea of choosing a minister by lot comes from Acts 1:23-26, in which lots were cast to decide who would replace Judas as one of the twelve of Christ’s apostles.

New ministers are needed when one dies, or when a district becomes too large and must divide. An announcement that a new minister will be chosen is usually made at least two weeks prior to the communion service, so everyone has time to pray and meditate. (Deacons are chosen by lot, as well, and bishops from among the ministers.) It is normally taken for granted that the candidate will be a married man.

There are not to be discussions among the people as to who they plan to "nominate," not even between man and wife. Nor does anyone indicate his desire to become a minister.
After the long communion service, the selection takes place. Chapter 3 of I Timothy is read to those gathered. This chapter in the New Testament describes in detail the qualifications and character a man should have to hold this position.

Then the bishop and other ordained men go to a private room in the house. Each member, beginning with the men and baptized boys, then women and girls, goes to the door of the room and whispers the name of the man in their congregation who they feel best suited to be the new minister.

When voting is completed, the ministers return and announce each man’s name who was selected to be in the lot. The men who have received three or more votes become the candidates, of whom there may be around six to eight.

As each man’s name is called, he rises and goes to sit at a table on which an equal number of hymnbooks have been placed. Each hymnal has a rubberband around it, and hidden inside one book is a slip of paper. In the Lancaster settlement, the piece of paper has the following words in German, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). This is to remind everyone that the final choice of minister is made by God.

Each man then selects a book. Usually the oldest man chooses first, followed by the other men down through the youngest. There is usually great tension and suspense as the books are opened to see who has been "chosen." Because of the solemn procedure and great responsibility involved, when the chosen man’s name is announced, he and many others in the congregation burst into tears. Everyone is encouraged to pray for him, for he has been selected from among them.

The Amish feel that the hand of God is involved in the selection process. Indeed, there are even some stories of men who tried to pick up a particular book, but felt they were being "held back." The event is one of the most emotional and important to be experienced in the Amish church.

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