Over the recent summer break between my fourth and fifth years of architecture school at UM I endeavored to learn more about local people from my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There is a very large population of Amish (you know, the “Plain People” who don’t use electricity and wear funny hats) concentrated in Lancaster, yet I had always dismissed them as a sort of background noise to my life as I grew up in this county covered by cornfields and cattle. I felt their decision to reject modern technology to be backwards logic and dismissed it as nothing more.
As I have grown through my years of architecture school, both as a student and a person, so have my ideas on architecture and lifestyles. It was because of this growth that I sought out the Amish in an attempt to survey what I had begun to consider the last remaining vestige of a past era. I wanted to really see these people, in their natural setting, in order to gain a greater understanding of how and why they live the way they do. In my mind the only way to accomplish this goal was to live with an Amish family.
While it was not as difficult as I expected to contact Amish families (the Beachy Amish, or second most strict order, are allowed to have telephones in their house), it was quite difficult to schedule something concrete. I wanted to live with an Old Order (strictest order) family to get a true sense of these people and their customs, yet I had to organize the arrangement through a Beachy Amish man. After many weeks of back and forth communications, it became apparent that an Old Order home stay would not be possible. However, my Amish liaison generously offered to let me stay with his family which I graciously accepted.
My time with this family was an eye opening experience to say the least. While not with an Old Order family, I learned much about all Amish people and their lifestyle. I attended an Amish church service, “met” with other families during Meeting Time in the evenings, helped clean up the church’s elementary school for the upcoming school year, worked in the patriarch’s woodshop, helped take care of the family crops, interacted with adults and youths from the church community and overall I just soaked in an Amish environment.
After I had said my goodbyes and left my family to return to my societal realm, I thought back and reflected on what I had just experienced. I went into my time with the Amish expected to be taken back to a different era technology-wise, and while that wasn’t exactly what happened, I was certainly taken back to a seemingly forgotten era of tight-knit communities that I haven’t experienced in today’s modern world. I concluded that it was this permeating sense of community that enabled the Amish society to hold to its beliefs when faced with the pressures of modern society and that it was this sense of community that was in the back of my mind when I decided to seek out these people.
Less about the absence of technology and more about the the presence of community.
Michael Geller is a fifth year architecture student. He may be contacted at the firstname.lastname@example.org.