In Search of an Amish Church

Plus: Atheists at Anglican weddings and Christian Science funerals

 

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I'll be in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a weekend and want to go to an Amish church. How can I find one? Would the Amish mind if I attend?

You won't find an Amish church because they don't exist. Amish meet for worship in homes. Their worship is only for community members or for non-members who have been invited. Another group in the Lancaster area you shouldn't try are the Old Order Mennonites. They dress similarly to the Amish and drive buggies. They do have churches, but these are closed even to more modern Mennonites.

That leaves you with the more mainline Mennonites, whose churches are open to non-Mennonites. Their services last one to one and a half hours and differ from Amish ones as follows:

  • A piano or organ is played near the beginning of the service (Amish and Old Order Mennonites shun all instruments).
  • There's one sermon, instead of the usual two.
  • The service is in English, not German.
  • No signs outside Mennonite churches indicate whether they're mainline or Old Order. But go to a Mennonite church shortly before 9 a.m. If cars are in the parking lot, it's mainline; if there are buggies, it's Old Order.

    But even if the church is mainline Mennonite, ask someone--as a courtesy--if you can attend the service. After worship, by the way, Mennonites love to talk informally for quite a while. So there'll be plenty of good conversation--and a fair chance you'll be invited to someone's house for lunch.

    A cousin is getting married at an Anglican church in Toronto. I'm an atheist and think all this "God stuff" is nonsense. Is it OK if I just sit in the last row at the wedding and mind my own business?

    You sound like a pretty grumpy atheist. Maybe a tad of this "God stuff" would mellow you out a bit.

    What you do at the wedding is pretty much up to you and your conscience, as well as the sort of relations you have with your cousin and the rest of your family. If you want to hide in the shadows at the rear of the church, that's your business. The probability is that no one will pay attention to you, anyway, since all eyes will be on the bride and the groom. But when everyone pivots to watch the blushing bride walk up the aisle and later watches the newlyweds stroll down the aisle, a few people might catch you out of the corner of their eye. At that point, try to perk up a bit.

    If you can't get a seat at the rear, and your "sit-in" is more visible to the guests, be aware that the only behavior in an Anglican church that's considered really offensive is not standing for the reading of the Gospel. No offense is taken if you remain seated when the other guests kneel, or if don't read prayers aloud or sing hymns. But sitting during the Gospel reading is taken as a slight against the truth of God and Jesus.

    You do know that Canadian Anglicans are the same as U.S. Episcopalians? And that both denominations originated with the Church of England? (After church leaders sided with the Crown during the American Revolution, it was considered wise to drop the "Anglican" name and lay low for a while.) But as non-doctrinaire as Anglicans and Episcopalians may be--north or south of the border--it's still best to be respectful toward their beliefs, especially at a wedding, where no one wants a wet rag as a guest.

    An old friend who was a Christian Scientist just died. I've heard that funeral services are optional for Christian Scientists. How can I find out if one is being held?

    Simple--just call the home of the bereaved. They might be mourning the loss of your friend, but they also want to know that other people are thinking about him and how his memory will be honored.

    Christian Science churches are used only for public worship. Funerals or memorial services are usually held in the homes of immediate family members or in funeral homes or at graveside. Since the church has no clergy, the service will be led by a Christian Scientist who's a Reader, by a practitioner, or by a friend of the deceased. (Readers are elected for one- to three-year terms by congregants and lead the weekly Sunday service. Practitioners devote themselves full-time to a Christian Science healing ministry.)

    Services are tailored to the wishes of the family, although they usually include the Lord's Prayer, organ or piano music, a hymn from the "Christian Science Hymnal," and readings from the Bible and "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science in 1879.

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