Surging Amish Spreading Out

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Amish are often portrayed as the most rooted of communities, seldom venturing off the farm except for short trips by horse and buggy.

In fact, nearly 11,600 Amish households have picked up and moved to a different state since 1992, according to a new study. And that doesn't include migration within states, said the study's author, Amish expert Donald B. Kraybill.

Even though more than 2,000 Amish households left traditional settlements in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the communities there grew by at least 60 percent, owing to extremely high birth and baptism rates.

The Amish population continues to explode, growing 84 percent from 1992 to 2008, without the help of immigration or many religious conversions. Kraybill counts 231,000 Amish adults and children spread throughout 28 states.

The Amish believe that the Bible calls on them to refrain from using many forms of modern technology, such as cars and computers, and to keep separate from the rest of the world, said Kraybill, a senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa.

So Amish households, typically two or three at first, have been moving farther afield from rapidly suburbanized communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania in search of cheap farmland and pastoral isolation elsewhere.

"The Amish feel the rural setting nourishes their way of life," Kraybill said. In search of such outposts, he said, the Amish have founded communities in seven new states: Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Washington and West Virginia.

Ten states had their Amish population increase by more than 100 percent between 1992 and 2007, led by Virginia (a 400 percent increase) and Kentucky (a 200 percent increase), the study found.

As the Amish establish communities, however, their ways sometimes create misunderstandings with local officials. Often, it's the more conservative Amish groups that relocate, hoping to avoid the squeeze of the suburbs and finding new trouble with local laws on building codes, selling produce and traffic issues raised by horse-and-buggy travel.

"Often the local officials don't know what to make of the Amish," Kraybill said, "and they don't know how to make exemptions on the basis of religious freedom."

Thus, some Amish choose to stay where they're comfortable. Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania remain home to more than three in five members of the community. But that's a decline from 1992, when nearly 70 percent of the Amish lived in those three states.

Kraybill said his data include all Amish groups who call themselves Amish and use horse-and-buggy transportation.

Founded in the 17th century in Europe, the Amish are Anabaptists, a Christian sect that believes in baptizing only adults. They moved to Pennsylvania in the 1730s and saw modest growth until the 1950s, when the population began to increase rapidly, Kraybill said.

The bulk of that growth comes from within the Amish community and is attributed to the largeness of their nuclear families, with five or more children on average, and retention rates of 85 percent or higher, according to Kraybill.

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