Mennonite vs Amish
The Mennonites and the Amish are cultures that are often confused with each other. This is understandable, as at first glance, they share many traits and characteristics. Both are conservative religious groups, and both wear distinctive traditional attire.
The Mennonites are similar to the Amish, but they’re not the same. They share a common heritage but are two distinct groups. Want to know more about these two cultures? Learn about their history, similarities, and differences in our Mennonite vs Amish guide.
What this article covers:
- Who Are the Mennonites?
- How are Mennonites Different from the Amish?
- Where Do You Find the Mennonites?
- Where Do You Find the Amish?
- How Are Mennonites Similar to the Amish?
Who Are the Mennonites?
The Mennonites are a Christian sect established in Europe during the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. Named after their leader, a dutch priest by the name of Menno Simons, they sought to continue the work started by the radical Christian reform movement known as the Anabaptists.
Originally a Catholic priest, Simons left the Catholic church due to his doubts about certain Catholic teachings. He joined the Anabaptists, but amid differing views on certain points of doctrine, he later left to form his own movement, the Mennonites.
Today, several distinct Mennonite groups live in the US, just as there are both Old and New Order Amish communities. These groups generally don’t socialize with each other, and intermarriage between them is rare.
Despite their minor doctrinal differences and individual attitudes to involvement in world affairs, both cultures have a common cause. That cause is to live a life of faith, peace, and simplicity. Their history stems from a common source, although the Mennonite Church was founded first.
Mennonite history, like Amish history, can trace its beginnings to the protestant reformation in Europe in the 16th century. The Anabaptists, a protestant group inspired by the religious reformer, Luther, were seen as too radical for his followers.
However, it wasn't long before there was dissension among the ranks of the Anabaptists, too. It was usually the result of doctrinal differences. Amid the ongoing climate of a religious revolution, some Anabaptists decided to follow their hearts and convictions and form their own groups.
One of these dissenters was the Dutch Catholic priest-turned-Anabaptist, Menno Simons. He, in turn, inspired other Anabaptists to form their own congregations. And one of those fellow Anabaptists he inspired was Jakob Amman, who later became the founder and leader of the Amish people.
The first Mennonite immigrants arrived in America in 1683. They wanted to preserve their faith in the face of religious persecution, escape the call of European militarism, and create a haven of opportunity in the ‘new world’. The Amish followed, for chiefly the same reasons, in the mid-1700s.
Today, there are a million or more Mennonites in the world. The vast majority of them currently live in the Southern hemisphere. But there are several Mennonite congregations in the US.
The largest Mennonite congregation in the US, the Mennonite Church USA, has more than 60 000 members. More than 300 000 Amish are living in America, and while there are not any Old Order Amish outside of America, smaller progressive groups can be found in other countries.
Pennsylvania and Midwest Mennonite communities closely resemble Amish communities, as they also practice traditions like avoidance of worldly belongings and women wearing prayer caps. But unlike the Amish, most Mennonite congregations have become more and more modern with time.
Church attendance, prayer, and the singing of hymns play a large part in Mennonite life, just as in Amish communities. And, also like the Amish, the more conservative Mennonites refrain from singing to musical accompaniment in church.
But there are different types of Amish and Mennonites, ranging from ultra-conservative to progressive. The more orthodox Amish are called Old Order., while the more liberal Amish are called New Order. Similar distinctions exist within the Mennonite communities.
Crafts & Handiwork
Mennonites practice many traditional crafts, much like the Amish do. The men in both groups are known for their woodworking skills, carpentry, and furniture making. The women of both cultures also share a love of sewing, especially quiltmaking.
Basket weaving, too, is a shared passion among these two cultures. This traditional craft is especially popular amongst the Amish, where it contributes to their community needs and provides a stream of income. Amish Baskets are highly prized across all cultures in America and elsewhere in the world.
Amish Baskets - Weaving American Communities Together
The Mennonites continue to enjoy these traditional pastimes but work mostly outside the communities. The same can’t be said of the Amish. Amish people tend to work within the borders of their own settlements and rely on their generations-old skills like basket weaving to earn a living.
When you purchase a wicker fruit harvest basket, rustic bread box, or rattan dog basket, you support one of America's oldest cultural groups. These products are lovingly made, by hand, through time-honored tradition.
Many Mennonites also practice the art of traditional basket weaving for enjoyment and leisure. But the difference in Mennonite and Amish wicker baskets is how they’re used throughout Amish communities, from the farmhouse to the Amish schoolhouse.
These rustic wicker creations will make a lovely addition to your home, too. And they make thoughtful gifts for the whole family.
How to Recognize Mennonites?
It’s relatively easy to identify Amish people. They have a very distinctive style of dress, which has hardly changed in the centuries they’ve called America their home. But what about the Mennonites? Are they as easily recognizable?
In the more orthodox communities, there are few differences between Mennonite vs Amish clothing.
Many Mennonite groups dress similarly to the Amish, with modest clothing and head coverings for the women.
The degree of conservatism differs widely from one Mennonite community to the next. Some don’t have dress codes, while others have fairly flexible ones. Among more traditional communities, there’s little to tell the difference between Mennonite and Amish women.
Except for the fabrics, colors, and prints that the Mennonite women may wear, their dresses are often a similar style covering the knees and shoulders.
Most Mennonites, though, have adopted a more modern style of dress. This is in stark contrast to the Amish, who have clung to the traditional clothing of their forebears.
Mennonite Hair & Head Coverings
The most obvious telltale sign that you’re looking at a group of Amish people, besides their clothing, is their hair/hat customs. This is also true of the more traditional Mennonites.
- Like the Amish, some Mennonite men usually have beards, although they aren’t required to do so.
- Mennonite women usually have long hair worn up in a bun. In this way, they’re often indistinguishable from the Amish, but more progressive Mennonite communities allow women to have short hair, which the Amish don’t.
- Generally, though, the difference between Amish and Mennonite hats is that the Amish wear plain hats and the Mennonites wear straw hats. The more conservative Mennonite men may wear black hats.
- Amish and Mennonite women all wear bonnets called kapps (which you may recognize as the Amish women's hat name).
Although their clothing may be a bit more modern than the Amish, Mennonite hairstyles and head-covering traditions are similar.
Most Mennonites, like the Amish, don’t drive cars although they may get around as passengers in cars and on public transportation.
The more progressive Mennonites are not as strict, and drive cars as well as use other forms of modern conveniences. There is an important caveat though. They have to be plain. Mennonites who own and drive cars, stick to simple, black cars. And that means even the bumpers are color-coded black.
So, what’s the purpose of this? Plain black cars are subdued and modest and don’t attract much attention. Because even though progressive Mennonites aren’t as traditional as their conservative counterparts, they still believe in living simply and modestly.
How are Mennonites Different from the Amish?
Want to know how to tell the difference between Mennonites and Amish? Here are some of the main differences.
Modern-day Mennonites send their children to regular public schools, although more conservative groups have their own schools. It’s rare for Amish children to attend schools other than their own Amish schoolhouses.
Amish children aren’t educated beyond the eighth grade. They don’t attend college unless it’s a local Christian college or correspondence-based distance learning.
The Mennonites, in contrast, encourage further education of their youth. Seeing Mennonite youth of both genders attending college isn’t a novel concept. Modern Mennonites can socialize with non-Mennonites and live and work in the same communities.
Missionary Work & Proselytizing
In Amish vs Mennonite beliefs, there are very few differences. They both believe in the value of good works.
However, the Mennonites spread their message of faith and peace worldwide in countless missionary initiatives. On the flip side, the Amish keep their charitable works closer to home, in their own communities.
Except in the case of the most conservative Mennonites, it’s generally easier to join the Mennonite Church than to join the Amish. However, a faithful person who sincerely wishes to join either community will not be turned away.
While the Amish tend to congregate in members’ homes or barns for their religious services, the Mennonites have churches.
Religion plays a major role in both Mennonite and Amish communities, but the Mennonite church services are more open to outside attendance.
Bible readings, acapella hymn singing, and sermons are features of both cultures’ church services, although Amish services are longer.
The Amish community is a patriarchal one and gender roles follow strict customs. Men are breadwinners and religious leaders. Women are caregivers.
In Mennonite culture, the division of gender roles isn’t as strict as with the Amish, nor is it set in stone. For example, some Mennonite congregations may have female religious leaders. It is not allowed in the Amish community.
Isolation from the Modern World
One of the main differences between Mennonites and Amish is their different approach to living in the modern world. The Mennonites don’t go to such great lengths to live isolated from society as the Amish do.
Similarly, they’re not averse to technology like the Amish. Many, if not most Mennonites, use electrical appliances and modern equipment. Most also shop at urban stores.
The Amish, particularly the Old Order, are more loyal to the ways of their forefathers. Most Amish still engage in farming, animal husbandry, agriculture, and traditional crafts like woodwork, weaving, and sewing. They eschew modern mechanization, valuing hard labor to do their work.
That said, there are degrees of conservatism amongst the Mennonites, and some do echo the Amish people’s lifestyle, but they’re not nearly as conservative as the Amish Old Order communities.
Same Religious Roots, Different Cultures
The Mennonites and the Amish are both offshoots of the Anabaptist movement. The Mennonites were the first group to branch out under their Dutch leader, Menno Simons. The Amish followed later under their Swiss leader, Jakob Amman (for whom the Amish are named).
Jakob Amman was inspired by the Mennonite views that caused the split from the Anabaptists. These religious offshoots agree on many things, such as adult baptism, pious living, and pacifism. However, the Amish doctrine entails a far stricter approach.
Government & Military Service
As with the Amish, Mennonites are against abuse, violence, abortion, capital punishment, and military action.
That being said, while the Amish have always had a total prohibition on military service, some Mennonites have served in the military in the past, always in the capacity of civilian public servants and never as soldiers in combat.
Gender Identity & Orientation Issues
Like the Amish, the Mennonite Church views homosexuality and LGBT initiatives as sinful. However, certain groups like the Lancaster Mennonite Conference have a more liberal attitude to the world’s changing policies on gender identity and orientation.
Controversial topics like this have caused certain groups to splinter off from the Mennonite Church and form separate congregations.
Where Do You Find the Mennonites?
William Penn was the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania. It was a North American colony of England during the 17th century. He was also a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers),
The first Mennonite settlers made a new life in Pennsylvania in response to William Penn’s offer of 5000 acres of land. It was his kind gesture of peace, friendship, and religious tolerance.
Many Mennonites still live and work in Pennsylvania to this day. But because they aren’t as dedicated to isolation from modern society as the Amish, they can be found all over the US.
At one time, the US had more Mennonites than anywhere else. But thanks to their missionary efforts, Mennonite congregations have sprung up as far afield as Africa and Asia.
Where Do You Find the Amish?
The first Amish immigrants settled in Lancaster and Berks Counties in Pennsylvania. They, too, were responding to Wiliam Penn’s offer of land to live and work on where they could practice religious freedom.
Some of the largest concentrations of Amish communities can still be found in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and also in Holmes County, Ohio. There are also several Amish communities in Wyoming and Nebraska.
How Are Mennonites Similar to the Amish?
There are clear differences between Mennonites and Amish. Most of these differences are related to their degree of conservatism, attitude to modern conveniences, and socialization with secular society.
Very few doctrinal differences exist because of their shared religious heritage. They also have a shared cultural heritage and thus practice many of the same traditional crafts and pastimes.
To recap, let’s look at the similarities between the Mennonites and the Amish.
- The Mennonite and the Amish communities were offshoots of the Anabaptist reform movement in Europe, based in the Germanic countries and the Netherlands.
- They’re both conservative Christian denominations who, disagreeing with Anabaptist doctrine, created their religious congregations.
- Amish and Mennonites believe in the existence and teachings of the Christian God and his son Jesus. They read the Christian Bible, both the Old and New Testament, and take much inspiration from the scriptures.
- Both Amish and Mennonite communities believe in modest, faith-based living. Their degree of conservatism may differ, but they all dress modestly and avoid ostentatious displays of wealth or vanity.
- The Mennonites, like the Amish, are pacifists. They don’t engage in, nor support, violence, aggression, or war.
- Both groups came to America seeking refuge from religious intolerance and settled on donated farmland.
- The Mennonites, and later the Amish, settled in Pennsylvania upon arriving in America. Most Mennonite and Amish communities are in Pennsylvania to this day.
The Mennonites and the Amish are two distinct sects that broke away from the European Anabaptist movement in the 16th and 17th centuries.
While they share a common faith and are both regarded as conservative Christian groups, the Amish are the ultra-orthodox branch of that tree. But despite their differences, they’re both examples of people who put their faith first, settling in America to start a new life.
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