Amish at the Altar


A recent National Geographic episode entitled “Amish at the Altar” brought insight into the very private and modest marriage practices of the Amish community. The strict rules of their community have fostered many long, happy marriages. Maybe mainstream Americans could integrate some of these modest and humble practices of the Amish lifestyle into their lives and marriage practices. Although many of these practices may seem extreme and old fashioned, one can’t ignore the extremely low divorce rate. Perhaps the Amish are onto something…

Although different Amish communities vary on their interpretations of the Bible, they all follow the same traditions, more or less, in regards to getting married. Courting can begin as early as 16, when a boy and girl decide to start “dating”. Courting in the Amish world involves going on horse and buggy rides, with the top down, to indicate their courting status. While courting, the couple does not engage in any premarital sex. The boy does not  ask the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage, but instead the couple decides if they would like to marry and together they talk to their parents. There is no exchanging of rings.

If the couple decides to get married in the Amish church and live an Amish lifestyle, there are many steps they must take before they can officially get married. First, the couple must decide if they want to get baptized in the Amish church, which involves a lengthy process of learning, culminated by an adult baptism. If the couple decides to live an Amish lifestyle, they ask their Minster if he will marry them, and once he says yes, the couple is officially engaged; the couple is announcing and choosing to live an Amish life, which means following the rules for life. Second, the couple must go through an intensive 18-week instruction period at the church before they can get married. During this instructional period the couple is under close watch by the community to see if they will adhere to the rules of an Amish life. The couple is only allowed to ride around in a horse and buggy, no cars. They cannot use any radios or computers (the Amish already don’t have TVs).  During this time, the bishop and preachers can call off the wedding at any point if they feel that the couple is not living a full Amish life. Then, once a couple passes all the “tests”, they can announce their engagement publicly to the community, usually 4-6 weeks before the wedding, and the church makes the announcement official by “publishing the engagement”.

The wedding ceremony is very modest, and weddings typically take place in the spring or fall after hunting season so there is more time to prepare. Weddings also always take place on a Tuesday or Thursday so there is a day before and after to prepare and clean up, because the weekends are reserved for church. The bride makes her own wedding dress; dresses are typically burgundy, but more progressive communities have allowed the brides to choose their color. Wedding ceremonies typically begin with certain hymns, followed by a half hour meditation session, then an hour lecture by the bishop. The bishop then marries the couple, but there is no kissing between the bride and groom.  The reception is then usually in one of the couples parents’ home. There has been some dancing over the years, but this is highly frowned upon by the elders in the community.

In the Amish community marriage is for life, and divorce is not an option. Vows are only severed by death. Amish weddings also differ from typical American weddings in that there is no picture taking allowed. The Amish believe it is against the bible to take photographs. There is also no “cake in the face” or cutting of the cake. Most interestingly, rings are not exchange for it is believed that each of their word is good enough. Instead of spending money on rings, the husband will typically make a gift for his bride, like a chest,  that will be useful for the rest of their lives.

Although these marriage and wedding practices may seem old fashioned and strict, perhaps by integrating a version of any of these practices into mainstream America could help defuse the ever rising divorce rate amongst couples.