Research shows diversity among Amish groups

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Conservative Amish groups have larger families than other Amish and their children are far less likely to leave the church, a trend that is expected to bring dramatic changes for them in the coming years, according to a book on the distinctive religious group being published this week.

“ The Amish,” a 500-page overview of the Christian followers known for traditional dress and the use of horse-and-buggy transportation, identified 40 distinct groups and a variety of permitted practices.“They may all look alike on the outside from an external perspective, but the fact of the matter is there are over 2,000 different ways of expressing Amishness in terms of daily practice,’’ said co-author Don Kraybill, senior fellow at Elizabethtown College’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.

The researchers found that more traditional Amish have families of nine or 10 children, while comparatively progressive families are just over half that size, suggesting some are using birth control.

“Couples in more liberal communities, shaped by the modern impulse to control the circumstances of one’s life, are more likely to practice family planning, whether by natural or artificial methods,’’ according to the book.While many outsiders may view the Amish as monolithic, the study found sharp differences in such matters as civic engagement, farming practices and the use of modern technology.

At Lancaster Central Market, Amish woman Lydia King said she has seen differences even within her 30-family church group in New Providence, farmland about 12 miles from the busy county seat.

“I wouldn’t say one church is more traditional than another,’’ she said, tending a plant seedling stand last week. “It goes by the family.’’

Amish are defined as using a horse and buggy, worshipping in their homes and speaking a German dialect. Local church groups of a few dozen families determine congregational lifestyle rules and there is no single authority that brings together the 2,056 churches located in 30 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario.

When young people get to their late teens or early 20s, they must decide whether to remain in the church and adopt its austere rules, and the researchers found more traditional Amish families currently experience defection rates of less than 6 percent, compared to about half of the children of the most progressive Amish.

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