At the beginning of the Anabaptist movement in 1525, all Mennonite groups were united. This group was first known as Anabaptists (rather than Mennonites) because of their belief in adult baptism. In 1536 a Catholic priest from The Netherlands, Menno Simons, joined the Anabaptists. His prolific writings and moderate leadership did so much to unify the Anabaptists who had been scattered because of persecution that the group soon was nicknamed “Mennonites.”
In 1693, a young Swiss Mennonite elder who felt that the church was losing its purity left the Mennonite Church and began his own group. His name was Jacob Amman and his followers were known as “Amish.”
The Amish and Mennonites are devoted to the Christian faith and life. Their basic beliefs are the same as most other Protestant groups but there are also several distinct beliefs. One of these is the belief that a forgiving love is necessary in all of life and therefore most persons do not participate in war. Another is that Christians are different from the world, traditionally known as non-conformity. This is the area where Mennonites and Amish believe the same thing but put it into practice very differently. Most modern Mennonites believe that we do not need to appear different from the world, but emphasize living a lifestyle that is different.
The Amish believe that this means you must appear different from those around you. They have very distinct guidelines for clothing. Most Amish men wear dark suit coats which have no lapels and fasten with hooks and eyes. Pants are made in an old style with a flap in front rather than a zipper, and are usually held up by suspenders. Shirts are made of solid colored fabric. Shoes are black for dress-up, but often brown for work. Broad-brimmed hats made of either straw or black felt are worn outdoors. The hair is blunt cut and combed front in bangs. Long beards are the mark of an adult man but mustaches are not worn.
Women and girls wear dresses with full skirts made of solid colored fabric: frequently green, blue, brown, gray, purple and for some occasions, black. An apron is nearly always worn and a cape often covers the bodice of the dress. Black shoes and stockings are proper for going out. The women and girls do not cut their hair. They wear it parted in the middle, and combed back from the face, then twisted in a bun at the nape of the neck. A white, or in some cases black, cap-type head covering is worn in obedience to scripture in I Corinthians 11.
Amish groups tend to be more cautious about technology and involvement with the larger world. They drive horse drawn carriages and use horses for pulling farm machinery, do not use electricity, emphasize occupations close to the farm and home, and forbid higher education.
Amish are excellent farmers. They have a profound sense of stewardship to care for God’s creation. They also believe that work is healthy and enjoyable. They usually produce bountiful crops by investing long hours and careful planning.
Amish families are usually quite large because they like to have children to help with farm work. Children are wanted, loved, disciplined, and taught to respect others. Extended families tend to live close to each other so there is a lot of interaction with cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents.