A few weeks ago I wrote about an increase in coverage of the "diverse Amish" lifestyles and found it curious that there had been a great deal of minor news articles on various legal conflicts the communities were having with the governments around them. An answer to my curiosity arrived in the form of an Associated Press article on the fact that the Amish have nearly doubled their population in about 16 years. The article bases a lot of its facts on an upcoming book by a leading Amish expert from Elizabethtown College Professor Donald Kraybill. The book found that the states of Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky have had Amish populations jump by more than 130 percent and now number 227,000 across the country. New Amish communities have been planted in about 28 states and a lot of this movement is due to their desire to acquire inexpensive farmland.
The article is a bit short on the theological aspects of the Amish (or Anabaptist) faith, but the description of the group is pleasantly descriptive, neutral in tone and accurate:
Also known as Anabaptists, most Amish reject modern conveniences and rely on horse-drawn carriages. They began arriving in eastern Pennsylvania around 1730. Along with English, they speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German.
Amish couples typically have five or more children. With more than four out of every five deciding in young adulthood to remain within the church, their population has grown steadily. More than half the population is under 21.
A small portion of the increase is also due to conversions to the faith.
The Amish are attracted to areas with relatively cheap farms, a rural lifestyle and nonfarming jobs such as construction or cabinet making that fit their values and allow them to remain independent. In some cases, they have migrated to resolve leadership problems or escape church-related disputes.
More could be said of course on the issue of church-related disputes, but that is probably a subject for another in-depth article on that particular subject. Note the typical size of Amish families and the high rate of decisions to remain in the church: what goes unsaid is that one does not become Amish until the point of baptism. Baptisms do not happen until the person is older (think 18 or 19) and understands exactly what they are committing themselves too. (Thankfully the article doesn't attempt to blame global warming on large Amish families. Horse and buggy communities don't emit many fossil fuels)
The article notes the conflicts that arise when the Amish move into areas, but the article also notes the benefits of having Amish in a community.
Journalists in communities with an influx or new community of Amish should look to this article and this book (when it comes out) when reporting on the issues. I suspect that the book provides an excellent resource for reporters looking at these issues.
Photo of Amish children playing baseball used under a Wikimedia Commons license.