Midwest Beachy Amish Mennonite Church
The Midwest Beachy Amish Mennonites are an Old Beachy denomination, having never accepted the fundamentalist emphasis prevalent among the Beachy Amish Mennonites since the 1960s. Midwest Beachys have supported the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith and also maintained a set of distinctive practices and limits on lifestyle choices. Their limitations were the strictest of all the Amish Mennonite denominations from the Beachy movement. In the early 21st century denominational structure was largely informal; the group had neither constitution nor regular ministerial meetings.
During the 1960s, the Old Beachys and the revivalist Beachys vied for influence in many Beachy congregations. As the revivalists came to dominate, the Old Beachys gradually withdrew from participation in the denomination. Many Old Beachy churches persisted in historic Amish settlements for a time, but the movement was not well organized. Either gradually or at a time of church crisis, members of Old Beachy churches transferred to other congregations nearby or emigrated.
However, the Old Beachy churches in Paris, Tennessee, grew rapidly through the 1970s and 1980s. The original settlers came from Mt. Zion Amish Mennonite in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, in 1971. When the faction that started Pilgrim Christian Fellowship refused to move out of Stuarts Draft (per an investigative committee’s recommendation), a majority of Mt. Zion members opted to do so themselves. They were wary of the liberalizing influence of Pilgrim on subsequent generations and preferred a single-church community. The Paris group was joined by Bishop Noah Wengerd of Cochranton, Pennsylvania, whose home congregation wanted to switch from German to English in services, a change Wengerd would not endorse. The Paris Old Beachy population peaked at approximately 230 between two districts around 1990.
In 1985, Wengerd and a small faction divided and established a more lenient Beachy church in the vicinity. Wengerd’s faction chose not to emigrate, contrary to the recommendations of an investigative committee. This sparked a massive exodus from the community, mostly from 1991 to 1992. By 2000, the Old Beachys had completely vacated the Paris region. Three Old Beachy churches started directly from Paris, and two of those churches started outreaches several years after; all were in Illinois and Kentucky. They were joined by migrants from dying Old Beachy churches in historic Amish settlements to the north. In addition to the five Old Beachy churches, the church in Liberty, Kentucky (originally from Maryland’s eastern shore) associated with the network.
These Old Beachy churches associated informally, having neither constitution nor routine ministers’ meetings. Only two programs formally tied the congregations together. First, an annual school meeting was held each autumn. While the topics were mainly for those involved in the local church schools, the meeting provided an opportunity for ministers and other attendees to intermingle. Second, the churches established a Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (C.A.S.P.) division for their young men. Because of legal technicalities in registering a C.A.S.P. unit, the network needed to pick a denominational name; at that time, they chose Midwest Beachy Amish Mennonite.
Theology, Structure and Culture
The Midwest Beachy Amish Mennonites would think of themselves as Beachy in the sense of the broader Amish Mennonite movement, but not the organized denomination. Their standards of living resembled that of the original adherents of the Beachy movement, prior to the revivalist era of the 1950s. They persevered in the usage of German in church services, a defining boundary of their group. They also refused to be photographed, except as a concession to state demands for a drivers’ license. Men wore suspenders, broadfall pants, and hats, while women wear full cape dresses, aprons, and caps and bonnets. However, unlike some early Beachys, they did not tolerate tobacco and they maintained a close guard on adolescent and courtship behavior. Services resembled the early Beachy pattern. Sunday school services and preaching services were alternated. Preaching was in German and singing from the Liedersammlung. Automobiles must be black.
The six churches in 2012 were located in very rural areas; as a result, many households were engaged in farming. Carpentry and construction were the other primary occupations for men, and the church schools employed men and women from the community. Schooling was through eighth grade; members did not seek higher education. Family sizes were large by American standards.
Amish Mennonite Directory. [Various editions since 1993.] Edited by Devon Miller. Millersburg, OH: Abana Books.
Anderson, Cory. "Retracing the blurred boundaries of the twentieth-century 'Amish Mennonite' identity." Mennonite Quarterly Review 85 (2011): 361-412.
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MLA style: Anderson, Cory. "Midwest Beachy Amish Mennonite Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2012. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/midwest_beachy_amish_mennonite_church.
APA style: Anderson, Cory. (January 2012). Midwest Beachy Amish Mennonite Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/midwest_beachy_amish_mennonite_church.