Random Inspirations

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How the Amish Choose their Ministers and Bishops

on March 2, 2015

Awesome news! I now have a title and a release date for the upcoming Amish book that I mentioned last blog post. The book will be titled Amish Gossip, and will be released this Friday, March 6th!

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I decided upon the title because of all the various gossip that circulates throughout the story. Between Mercy’s secret, the new elder’s mysterious history, and his crazy proposed changes to the Ordnung (the set of rules governing Amish living), the rumor mill is churning out of control.

The story centers largely upon the selection and ordination of a new bishop and minister, which is an interesting process in Amish culture. The Amish have no concept of the separation of church and state; their church is their governing body, and the elders (ministers, bishop, and deacon) are their leaders.

While researching my story, I delved into the intriguing methods that the Amish use to choose their holy leaders. One of my favorite books was The Amish by Donald Kraybill–it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the multi-faceted life of the plain people.

In Amish Gossip, the old and esteemed Bishop Zook has a stroke, and must be replaced. Bishops are at the top of the pecking order for Amish elders, and like all other elders, they serve for life. When a bishop is unable to serve, one of the three ministers will take over–generally the most senior one. Once this happens, another minister must be chosen.

Church services on the day of the ordination are lengthy and solemn; in addition to the normal three hours of hymns and sermons, there is communion, after which the elders retreat into a private room for the nomination process. During this time, all baptized members of the congregation, male and female, pass by the cracked-open door in turn, whispering the name of the candidate they wish to nominate. Then, the elders tally the votes and return to the congregation to announce the names of the chosen lot. In order to be considered, each nominee must receive at least three votes.

The acting bishop calls the nominees forward, and each man grabs a copy of the Ausbund, the Amish hymnal. However, these are special Ausbund; they’re all sealed shut with rubber bands, and one of them holds a slip of paper with a biblical reading. One by one, each candidate hands his copy to the bishop; the man whose Ausbund holds the reading has been chosen by Herr Gott to be the next minister!

In Amish Gossip, Jakob and Samuel are both nominated, and the men have mixed feelings when they consider how their lives will change if Herr Gott chooses them. Ministers have no formal training, yet they must speak before the entire congregation. Also, being a minister is like a full-time job without the pay, so many of them struggle to perform their duties to their church, community, and family.

Did you know about these peculiar customs? It was all new to me, and I was stunned by what I learned. It was so much fun to incorporate these themes into my novella, and I’ll keep you posted on upcoming promos as the release date approaches!

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