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Plain people

An Amish family.

Plain people are Christian groups characterized by separation from the world and simple living, including plain dress. Most Plain people have an Anabaptist background with the exception of the Old German Baptist Brethren and Old Order River Brethren. All but the Old Order River Brethren are of German, Swiss German and Dutch ancestry.


  • Plain groups 1
  • Plain customs 2
  • Origins 3
  • Religious practices 4
  • Trends 5
  • Health 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Plain groups

Notable Plain groups are:

A small number of Quakers still practice plain dress.[2][3][4] The Shakers also dressed plain, but today there are almost no Shakers left.[5]

Plain customs

Customs of Plain people include:

  • Plain clothes, usually in solid, normally dark colors.
  • Plain church buildings, or no church buildings whatsoever.
  • A utilitarian view of technology, similar to the precautionary principle of technology in that unknowns should be avoided, but the emphasis was on the results in the eyes of God. If they were unsure of how God would look upon a technology, the leaders of the church would determine whether it was to be avoided or not.[6] The degree to which this principle was supported varied among the congregations, but in general, the Amish people believed that the Mennonites had not done enough to separate themselves from the rest of the world.


The Mennonite movement was a reform movement of Anabaptist origins begun by Swiss Brethren and soon thereafter finding greater cohesion based on the teachings of Menno Simons 1496–1561, and the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith. The Amish movement was a reform movement within the Mennonite movement, based on the teachings of Jacob Ammann, who perceived a lack of discipline within the Mennonites movement by those trying to avoid prosecution. Ammann argued that Romans 12:2 prohibited that.

William Penn, having experienced religious persecution as a Quaker, offered asylum to others who were suffering religious persecution, an offer that many followers of Jacob Ammann accepted, starting with the Detweiler and Sieber families, who settled in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1736. Many of them settled near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which offered some of the most productive non-irrigated farmland in the world. By 1770, the Amish migration had largely ceased.

Religious practices

Plain groups typically have a bishop presiding over one congregation (Amish) or over a district (group of congregations) (Old Order Mennonites). Mennonites mostly meet in church buildings, but most Amish meet in members' homes. Services among Amish and Plain Mennonites are mostly held in Pennsylvania German, a language closely related to Palatinate German, with extra vocabulary. Bishops are commonly chosen by lot as a reflection of God's will. While the Bishop tends to be influential, he tends to rule by building consensus rather than by issuing edicts.

Most Plain groups have an Ordnung that among other things regulates clothing. The Ordnung is a largely unwritten code of behavior, covering such items as clothing, vehicles, and the use of technology. The Ordnung varies slightly from congregation to congregation, though is in essence the same. Violations are not considered sins, although wilfulness is considered to be a serious violation of the faith. The congregation can change the Ordnung if there is a majority to do so. Exemptions to the Ordnung can be provided. In one instance, one farmer was granted permission to buy a modern tractor since he had arthritis and no children to help him harness horses.


Amish women at the beach, Chincoteague, Virginia.

The Old Order Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in the world. They prohibit the use of contraception and have low infant mortality rates. The average Amish woman can expect to have at least seven live births.[7] Other Plain sects with the same or similar doctrines can be expected to have similarly explosive growth.

Despite this, the Pennsylvania Dutch, which includes Amish, Old Order Mennonite, and Conservative Mennonites are expected to become a smaller percentage of the population as the sects respond to high prices of farmland by spreading out all over the United States and internationally, and the English population spreads out from Philadelphia into suburban and rural areas. Donald Kraybill believes there are Plain sect communities in 47 states.

Among people at least five years old living in Lancaster County in 2000,

  • 89% spoke English at home;
  • 7% spoke Pennsylvania Dutch;
  • 4% spoke Spanish.[8]

Most Plain sects do not admit children to their church, and impose no sanctions on those who do not join, but shun those who fall away from the church once becoming a member. Among some groups of Old Order Amish, teenagers who are not yet baptized are not bound by the rules and go through a period of rumspringa, often with a certain amount of misbehavior that would not otherwise be tolerated.


The Pennsylvania Dutch generally do not proselytize and discourage intermarriage. Because of close consanguinity, certain genetic problems occur more frequently. Dr. D. Holmes Morton has established the Clinic for Special Children to study and treat families with these problems.[9]

The Plain sects typically prohibit insurance, and they assist each other charitably in case of sickness, accident, or property damage. Internal Revenue Service Form 4029[10] allows one to claim exemption to Social Security taxes under certain very restrictive conditions, and members of the Plain groups neither pay these taxes nor receive death, disability, or retirement benefits from social security.

See also


  1. ^ Hostetler, John (1997). Hutterite Society. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 105.  
  2. ^ Savage, Scott (2000). A Plain Life: Walking My Belief. Ballantine Books.  
  3. ^ Cooper, Wilmer (1999). Growing Up Plain Among Conservative Wilburite Quakers: The Journey of a Public Friend. Friends United Press.  
  4. ^ Quaker Jane website
  5. ^ The Shaker Manifesto. N. A. Briggs, Publisher. 1878. 
  6. ^ Zimmerman, Diane (2000). Holding the Line: The Telephone in Old Order Mennonite and Amish Life. Johns Hopkins University Press.  
  7. ^ Meyers, Thomas J. (1990). "Amish". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  8. ^ United States Censues, 2000, Population and Housing Profile: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
  9. ^ Kate Ruder, Genomics in Amish Country Genome News Network, July 23 2004
  10. ^ Internal Revenue Service Form 4029; Application for Exemption From Social Security and Medicare Taxes and Waiver of Benefits

Further reading

  • Donald B. Kraybill, Carl Desportes Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7089-5.
  • Stephen Scott, An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups. ISBN 1-56148-101-7.
  • Stephen Scott, Why Do They Dress That Way?. ISBN 1-56148-240-4.
  • Who Are the Plain Anabaptists? What Are the Plain Anabaptists?Cory Anderson:
  • Amelia M. Gummere, Quaker: A Study in Costume. ISBN 0-405-08585-0.[2]
  • Donald Kraybill, Puzzles of Amish Life. ISBN 1-56148-001-0.
  • Margaret C. Reynolds, Plain Women: Gender and Ritual in the Old Order River Brethren. ISBN 0-271-02138-1.
  • Charles D. Thompson Jr., The Old German Baptist Brethren: Faith, Farming, and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge. ISBN 0-252-07343-6.

External links

  • GAMEO: Plain People
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