The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a fascinating story recently about the booming Amish population.
The trend piece — much to its credit — contained a fair amount of religion-related details that gave insight into what the Amish believe.
At various points as I read the feature, I found myself both (1) appreciative that the Post-Dispatch delved into the faith of the Amish and (2) wishing that the newspaper had unraveled the yarn just a little more.
The lede set the scene:
LICKING, Mo. — The story of abrupt change in this small south-central Missouri town starts with the water tower. A giant baseball is painted on top as a fading reminder of when Rawlings was king.
As sporting goods manufacturing dried up, a $60 million maximum-security prison opened in 2000. The South Central Regional Correctional Center doubled the local population to more than 3,000 people.
“We just try to go with the times,” said Licking Mayor Keith Cantrell. “Whatever happens, we try to deal with it and go on.”
Unlike Rawlings, the prison hunkers out of sight, just west of downtown. Now, another group has settled that also appreciates privacy, only its members arrived under the shade of straw hats and black bonnets.
The Amish, who are undergoing exponential growth, have chosen Licking as one of many new settlements. Facing overcrowding and increased government pressure in more traditional areas, they broke new ground here in 2009, after buying an 800-acre ranch. They bought another large property a few years later.
Big question: Why is the Amish population growing? Hang on to that thought.
Keep reading, and a few paragraphs later, an Amish bishop offers a colorful quote (see if you can spot it) on what's drawing folks to this small town:
“Here, boys can buy an 80-acre farm for what they had to pay for 5 acres there,” said John Schwartz, 53, a bishop who leads one of two congregations in Licking. “And it was getting so crowded. I couldn’t even go in the back of my house and take a leak. It was like living in a subdivision.”
As the story proceeds, readers are told that the Amish "preach humility" and "live by patience." Good stuff.
And in reporting on a woman's who died after her buggy was struck by a vehicle, the Post-Dispatch notes the forgiveness for which the Amish are known:
Smith said she hit Miller while on the way to town to help her granddaughter. She said a cement truck was coming from the opposite direction on Shafer Road when it happened. She attended Miller’s burial.
“They tell me don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault,” Smith said. “That it was God’s way and just her time to go. I guess that’s their religion.”
What a powerful quote!
But this is one of the places in the story where I wanted more: I wanted the paper to ask the Amish themselves about forgiving the driver.
Instead, readers are told:
Miller was released from Texas County Memorial Hospital in nearby Houston, Mo., several hours after the accident. She died at home, three days later. Miller appeared to suffer a closed head injury with significant trauma to the brain, according to the coroner’s report.
“The hospital didn’t take a CAT scan of her head,” Miller’s mother, Mary Schwartz, said in an interview. “She died right in my hands.”
As for the growth, the story notes deep into the piece:
The Amish population is booming.
“That’s because they have large families and they retain most of their children in their communities,” said Edsel Burdge, research associate at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. “I don’t know of any other group that is doubling every 20 years or so.”
A simple question maybe, but I wish the Post-Dispatch had explained why the Amish have large families. Could their religion have something to do with it?
In another part of the story, the paper again deserves kudos for talking to an expert source who explains:
“They were moving to Missouri not only because of the farmland, but out of Indiana because of school laws and religious differences within their communities,” said Cory Anderson, an assistant professor at Truman State University who teaches a course on the Amish.
What religious differences? The Post-Dispatch doesn't explain.
Newspaper writers have a finite amount of space. A daily news report can't answer every single question that a reader might have. So on the other hand, I'd urge you to read the story because, as a I said way up top, it's a fascinating topic. On the other hand, I wish the story had answered a few more religion-related questions than it did.