Although we were very busy while we were in Shipshewana, Lee and I found the time to visit the Menno-Hoff Cultural Center. It tells the Menonite and Amish story from both a religious and historical perspective and regardless of your religious feelings the historical piece was fascinating. It was also very well done with numerous sections and pre-recorded historical information. The only part I didn’t like was the movie at the very beginning. It is severely outdated and a little preachy, but the rest of the tour was pretty cool
Every group had its own tour guide who guides you from area to area until the end. I always prefer self guided tours, but this building is a bit of a maze so I understood the need for a guide. The most interesting thing he added was telling us that the Shipshewana Amish are called the “Hollywood Amish” by the other communities. Between the RV industry and booming tourism they are much more affluent than many of their peers in other areas. This affluence brings its own issues though because a core tenet of their religion is being humble and as many say it is hard to do that with a ton of money in your pocket.
My favorite part though was the history lesson in particular the importance Martin Luther played in their movement. As a Lutheran I am particularly interested in the role Martin Luther has played in religion, but didn’t pay that much attention to the other groups that sprung up around him. The tour did an excellent job of laying out the timeline of the break from the catholic church.
I didn’t really understand that the crux of the break was over infant baptism. According to the tour, the bible does not mention infant baptism and the Roman Church started it to help the Roman Government with their census. Get baptized and go in the records all at the same time. The Anabaptists were a large group that later splintered into multiple sects and they believe that baptism should only be done after the child was old enough to consent. These beliefs were important enough to these groups to break from the Catholic church which led to significant persecution.
In order to flee that persecution many fled to the Netherlands and eventually to the American colonies. William Penn, a famous Quaker, invited the Mennonites to settle on a piece of property he owned in Pennsylvania. That is why the most concentrated groups of Amish and Mennonites are in the Pennsylvania/Ohio area, although they are all over the world.
This is probably a good time to talk about the groups under the Anabaptist, but keep in mind I found this a little confusing so I may get some of it wrong. Initially there were two main groups, the Mennonites and the Hutterites. The Hutterites live a communal lifestyle and all property is jointly owned. These groups settled mainly in the Wisconsin and Canada areas. The Amish actually came later and broke from the Mennonites in 1693. The split came from religious innovations by the Mennonites and has existed to this day. There was a great display that showed the differences between these two groups. I have included a couple of the panels below.
The one display that helped me the most was showing modern day religions and their relationship to the original Anabaptists. They are more ties than I would have originally thought.
Despite these differences in lifestyle and religion the two groups often work together, with the Mennonites providing services that the Amish cannot provide for themselves (ie: transportation of goods). Speaking of goods, they had wonderful displays of craftsmanship and an example of an Amish eating area. The gift shop was also really great.
Overall we really enjoyed it and I certainly learned a lot. I highly recommend a stop if you are in the area so you can learn more about the Amish and Mennonite culture.
Supporting our Blog
We very much appreciate your support of our blog.