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Religion News Service
Daniel Burke

LANCASTER, Pa. – Wearing the bushy beard and black vest common to Amish men, Steve Lapp stood near the pulpit of a Pentecostal church on a recent Sunday night and offered his services as a healer.
For the next half-hour, according to the handful of Christians who accepted his offer, he performed miracles, repairing broken bones and spirits.
“I believe Steve has an anointing from God,” said Gene Anderson, 48, who attended the healing service, at Manchester Assembly of God in nearby York, and says Lapp mended his broken wrist. “He should continue with his ministry because God has anointed him to do great and miraculous things.”
Not everyone wants Lapp to continue, however. About 18 months ago the Old Order Amish church excommunicated Lapp, 37, and everyone associated with his healing ministry, including his wife and two of his brothers.
The Amish bishops said Lapp was practicing “devil magic,” he said, and ordered him to stop. He did, for a time.
But people kept knocking on his door, begging for help, and he kept reading the Bible passages in which Jesus’ faithful are anointed with the gift of healing.
“I realized that this is not right, this is not biblical—turning people away that want help, want prayer,” Lapp said.
When he announced in church that he would resume his ministry, the bishops kicked him out.
With his talk of supernatural healings and events, Lapp seems more at home—at least theologically—in Pentecostal churches than among the Amish. But he is just the most extreme example of an evangelical influence creeping into the Old Order Amish community, according to a number of observers. The trend may be most evident here in Lancaster County, which, with 25,000 members, is one of the world’s largest Amish settlements.
The Amish “are realizing that the Great Commission is about going into the world and preaching the gospel and not just having your little community rules and regulations,” Lapp said.
More and more Amish talk about “a personal relationship with Jesus,
and the “assurance of salvation and forgiveness” while attending Bible studies, sing-a-longs and revival meetings. Alarmed Amish leaders have banned large-group prayer meetings and Bible readings as dozens of Amish families consider joining other churches.
This closer walk with the outside world and emphasis on individual experience challenges the traditional Amish understanding of faith, said Donald Kraybill, a professor at Lancaster’s Elizabethtown College who has written widely on the Amish.
“People may say, `The spirit led me to do this.’ And that becomes a new challenge against tradition, heritage and the authority of church leaders,” he said.
About 35 to 60 families, the equivalent of two church districts, have left or are considering leaving the Old Order, according to a number of estimates. And because bishops traditionally “clean house” of strident members ahead of twice-yearly communion services, as many as 12 more excommunications could be coming, said one Amish man familiar with the situation.
In Lancaster’s tight Amish community, even the smallest ripples of discontent can swell into waves.
“When somebody leaves a church like ours, it’s a lot more painful than it is in mainstream churches,” said one middle-age man, asking that his name not be used, in keeping with the Amish reluctance to elevate one individual over another.
The evangelical uprising has drawn comparisons to the 1966 split between the more conservative Old Order Amish and what was to become the New Order Amish. But unlike that schism, which was over adopting modern farm equipment, no bishops are lining up with the dissenters, who are splintering in a half-dozen directions.
Some Amish are riding the so-called “Anabaptist escalator,” joining more progressive Amish and Mennonite churches, where cars fill the parking lots and praise songs fill the sanctuaries. Others are joining independent churches like Lancaster’s Ephrata Christian Fellowship, which is co-pastored by Mose Stolzfus, who was raised Old Order Amish and still has family in the community.
“These people are looking for assurances that they are saved and for a more spiritual environment,” Stolzfus said. “In the Old Order church, you can never know when you’re truly forgiven.”
That’s not exactly true, say some Amish. The community trusts in a merciful God, but believes that God, not people, determines whether someone is saved, said one man, who also asked not to be named.
Meanwhile, debate continues over the causes of the mini Amish awakening.
Traditionally, the Amish have preserved their ways by separating themselves from mainstream society. The speak their own dialect, run their own schools, don’t join outside organizations or marry outsiders, and reject the mass media.
At the same time, many Amish had earned their livelihood on family farms, which put acres of corn and soybeans between them and the outside world.
But economic pressures and rising land prices have made farming more difficult, and the Amish are moving to factories and small businesses, increasing their interaction from mainstream society and placing them in the middle of a competitive market economy.
“The farmer is at the mercy of the weather, that sets the tone for his whole spiritual life,” said an Amish man from Lancaster. “The business owner, in contrast, has to know how to get want he wants, he has to be assertive. Of course that carries over (to spiritual matters).”
Interaction with outsiders and former Amish men like Stolzfus and Lapp, who are anxious to introduce the Amish to different streams of Christianity, has also had an impact.
Lapp, the healer, said he moved from Lancaster to Indiana’s Wayne County in 1999 to buy a farm and live the ideal Amish life. But a bad fall from a barn crushed his pelvis, leaving him in a wheelchair.
Incapacitated, he started reading about the miraculous healings almost common in charismatic circles. Now he wants to “build a bridge between” those Christians and the Amish. It’s a bridge that many Amish even those exploring more evangelical avenues—have been reluctant to cross.
Still, Lapp remains determined. Though he drives a car, wears a shiny cell phone on his belt and advertises his Light of Hope Ministries on the Internet, he said God told him to continue to dress in Amish attire so he could mingle more easily among the community.
He says his goal is to stoke the Amish revival, and one day, to be accepted by the church that now shuns him.
“I believe the day will come,” he said, “when we are again supported by the Amish.”
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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