Saturday, October 01, 2005

Notre Dame & The Amish

This past week was the first meeting of our second year of the Pastor-Theologian Program, CTI. As always, it was wonderful to gather with a group of theologically minded pastors and nerd out on theology.

Notre Dame is laid out nicely as a campus. Since it is a bit of a distance from downtown South Bend, it has all the amenities of a downtown right on campus- bookstore, coffee shops, restaurants, and a nice old hotel right in the center of campus.

Nota bene: The famous touchdown Jesus is really, really big, painted on the side of the campus library. It's actually only visible from one end of the stadium as you look out, but this indeeds stations Jesus directly above the goal posts in a benedictory pose. Apparently there are two religions at Notre Dame: Catholic and football. We attended Mass (there are two daily masses on campus in the basilica, plus a number of other smaller masses in various chapels), and observed that its a very pious campus. One faculty member described the students as pious, intelligent jocks. we saw the piety very clearly- theology discussion groups, catholic yet charismatic worshippers, bible studies. But the football stadium is located smack dab in the middle of campus as the "Saturday religion", and the academic standards of the university have been going up for years, so it's all three of those things.

Nota bene duo: One afternoon and evening we travelled to Shinsenawa, Indiana, the center of Amish culture in Indiana, and home of the Mennohof, a museum charting the history of the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. We learned a ton at this museum, especially the way these Anabaptist traditions have interacted and developed over the years. At the conclusion of our day, we drove out to an Amish home for a traditional Amish wedding feast (the food without the wedding), and a local Amish bishop ate with us and answered questions after the meal.

I've never been in this situation before- I needed to pass an Amish wagon and horses, but the oncoming traffic was wagons and horses, so I couldn't pass. These wagons were as regular a part of traffic in town and in the country as cars in Wisconsin or bicycles in downtown Madison.

I had also never known that the Amish make a decision at about 17 or 18 years of age whether to remain in the community. If they are baptized into the community, they are then expected to stay, and are shunned if they leave. But, if they leave prior to baptism of their own free choice, they can maintain open communication with the family and community with less judgments and no shunning.

There is a whole way of thinking within this community, collective decision-making and ethics, that is so foreign to me as to be almost incommensurable. They operate out of quite a different horizon. For that reason alone, it's worth a trip to Shinsenawa and the Mennohof to broaden your horizons as to what it can mean to be a Christian in but not of the world.


  1. Anonymous10:07 AM

    The image of Jesus is not "painted" on one side of the Library. It is actually a huge mosaic with thousands of colored tiles [or tessarae, as mosaic tiles are termed].

  2. Thank you for pointing out this error in my post. Obviously, you're correct, and I even remember noticing that it was tile when I was looking at it. Shows how unilluminative I am when it comes to art.

  3. I understand from my years in Gettysburg that the Amish encourage a "worldly year" (it's called something like that) during which a late-adolescent pre-adult young person (age 18) is encouraged to explore life among the "english" (as they call non-Amish) to see whether that's something they want to live with or not. (They are not expected to hold to the Amish way of life or morals, either: Smoking, drinking, maybe even sex are OK.) At the end of the year, the person makes his or her decision whether to return or not.

    Do the Indiana Amish follow that custom?

    And, by the way, what are you doing in the CTI seminars -- reading, writing, etc.?


  4. The bishop we spoke with does not encourage a worldly year, but they do expect that at a certain point, their children will make a decision and possibly experience life outside the community.

    Also, they will not be shunned if they go for experience outside, but then decide to be baptized into the community. Worldliness is only condemned if it happens after baptism.