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Students travel to Old Order Amish community

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Posted on Friday, June 21, 2024

Students from Westminster College Religion and Society class traveled to Middlefield, Ohio, this past spring to learn about the fourth largest Old Order Amish settlement in the country, the Geauga County Old Order Amish Settlement.

Sixteen students and Dr. Kristin Park, professor of sociology, toured the Geauga Amish Historical Library where they learned about 16th century Bibles and 18th century Ausbunds—hymnals—used in Europe by the relatives of Geauga community members. During the tour the group learned of the Anabaptist persecution in Europe and their migration to the United States and Canada.

The Geauga County order was founded in 1886 by settlers from Holmes County, Ohio, located 80 miles south. Since 1960, the Old Order Amish community of Geauga County in northeastern Ohio spilled over into Ashtabula and Trumbull counties. This expansion made the order the second largest Amish settlement in Ohio and the fourth largest in the United States. Early families of the settlement noted that the land initially was in poor condition for farming. Through hard work they nourished the soil to make the land productive for agriculture and created a thriving community around it. Today, dairy farming, cheese and maple syrup have become the primary products of Geauga County farmers.

During the visit, contemporary ways of life became the focus of discussion. They spoke about modes of transportation, internet usage, popular leisure time activities, child adoption within the settlement and how an Amish family’s past and present needs are mostly self-sufficient.

Park focuses much of her research on Amish communities, examining the perceptions that non-Amish individuals have relating to their interactions with Amish community members. Park uses Maslow’s Motivational Theory to analyze content expressed in an Amish scribes’ letters to Amish and English newspapers. She identifies themes and uses the theory to provide a model to better adapt it to a collectivist culture.

"I arranged the field trip so my students and I could learn about life in a more change-oriented settlement and from Amish community members themselves. This fits in with my emphasis in the class that there are hundreds of Amish ‘societies’ which can be quite different from each other depending on their affiliation.  I think we all felt more deeply the value and enactment of community among the Amish and how that affects most young people's decision to join the church," said Park.

The day ended with a traditional Amish-themed buffet at Mary Yoder’s Amish Kitchen.