Many gain insights into a closed Amish culture

A variety of congregants from churches in Allegany and surrounding counties, along with government and community services representatives and the general public, learned about many aspects of the increasing Amish population this weekend during an Amish Awareness Conference in Friendship.

Nearly 100 individuals from three states gathered Friday night and Saturday for a regional Amish Awareness Conference in Friendship while, below, Toby Travis, head of Houghton Academy, highlights opportunities for a low-cost Christian education at the Academy and Houghton University.

A full house was present for a Friday night dinner and sessions which introduced educational components that extended for a full day Saturday in regard to how to connect with the Amish and other cultures which are increasing throughout the area.

Samuel Girod of the national nonprofit Mission to Amish People (MAP), a former member of the Amish religion, presented several sessions tracing the persecution which the culture has faced over the centuries, along with their beliefs and many myths associated with their basic lifestyle.

The purpose of the event, co-sponsored by the What God is Doing in Friendship ny alliance of churches, Allegany Hope and Family Life Network radio, and held at the Friendship Bible Baptist Church, was to provide background about the heritage and how to connect with Amish and other cultures.

Girod noted that Amish beliefs are grounded in ordinance letters which govern “every life detail,” including exacting clothing specifications, types of home furnishings, and other requirements which can vary from religious communities to communities, depending on each local church controlling body.

Scriptures are used to defend beliefs, which result in a legalistic environment, he said.

Testimonies were provided by a pastor who reaches out to Amish populations in Pennsylvania, along with a former Amish couple from Southwestern New York who described major differences between harsh and loving family upbringings.

Similarities exist, however, if someone wants to leave the Amish culture in that they face total shunning from family members and other Amish and major difficulties in being able to live outside the religion’s community due to a lack of basic life skills to cope within a different environment. The intent of the shunning is to create an environment in which an individual will return to their Amish roots, the speaker said.

Conference attendees were encouraged to demonstrate Christian love to those who want to leave or have left the culture by assisting, when possible, in locating or helping to identify resources to assist with housing, obtaining personal records such as a birth certificate and social security card, and developing money management skills, a driver’s license, and other supports.

Understanding and assistance in helping meet physical, mental/emotional and spiritual needs with both Amish and other cultures is important in helping stabilize their situations, according to Girod.

In a related track, Toby Travis, head of Houghton Academy, presented information on new initiatives at both the Academy and Houghton University which can provide a low-cost Christian education from middle school through the first four years of college, all at nearby Houghton sites.

Some half of all Academy students and a significant portion at the University currently are from other countries, which provides a significant advantage for area students to broaden their learning opportunities, he said, noting that Academy students can gain college credits through attending a selection of on-site University classes.

Many free cultural activities also are available to the public on the University campus.

Additional information about the Amish culture, including personal testimonies and how Mission to Amish People provides assistance, is available through the MAP website at