Finding community in the Amish culture

courtesy larry slaughterbeck

To some, entering the world of the Amish may seem like an idea too inconceivable to pursue. But to Michael Geller, a fifth-year architecture student, physical barriers were not enough to stop him from spending three days with an Amish family in Lancaster, Pa. last summer.

Although he grew up in the area, Geller never particularly noticed the Amish presence around him. He is not Amish and has no affiliation to their Christian denomination. After four years of architecture study and a desire for a deeper understanding of community, however, Geller decided to try staying with an Amish family.

Geller hoped to stay with an Old Order family, one that traveled via horse and buggy and wore the traditional black and white garb. Instead, he found a Beachy Amish family, who practiced a New Order Amish denomination that is more open to using modern technology.

“I spent three days with [the] family. They had a spare bedroom and basement. I lived with them, I ate meals with them, I went to church with them and since the patriarch runs a wood shop, I was able to help him out during the day and did whatever they were doing,” Geller said.

According to Dr. David W. Kling, a professor in the religious studies department, allowing strangers into an Amish home is a rare occurrence. Members of the Amish community place great value on preserving their origins, which can sometimes make them come across as aloof or stuck in the past.

But what most do not know, and what Geller discovered during his stay in the community, is that the Amish will frequently adopt technology that can aid them in their work. Tractors are often used to stack heavy hay, but Amish children are still required to work on the field and practice farming.

“The fact is that the Amish are not that secretive. They go out into the community and can be found at a McDonald’s,” Kling said.

The Amish refer to the outside world as “English,” but New Order families have more direct contact outside of their community. They are allowed to use telephones, drive cars and wear jeans. Geller’s host family, however, chose not to have a telephone or the Internet, so as to prevent unwanted ideas of sex, violence and drugs from entering their home.

The family Geller stayed with were aware of outside influences, but they did not seem to be interested in leaving their community or exploring a city lifestyle.

“I realized that the Amish aren’t all about not having cars or technology,” Geller said. “It’s about keeping a cohesive sense of community and religion. I ended up learning that it wasn’t really what I thought.”

Jonathan Borge may be contacted at