Amish interpretations part II, and the end of my trip.
Following my last post, there were a couple of suggestions for events people would like me to look up in the Budget. To satisfy the curiosity of those readers (and hopefully others) I will detail those briefly here, before going over my overall impressions of my time in Sugarcreek, and how I plan to move forward with the material I have gathered.
Tim Miller (@brasseye) asked me to check out any references to the JFK shooting in November 1963. Although the news took a week or two to get back to the Amish communities, the assassination is noted in a sizable number of scribes’ letters, mainly expressing sympathy, but also appealing to church members to recognise a higher purpose in the event. One letter from Farmerstown, Ohio said:
“The news of the ruthless shooting of the President came as a great shock to everyone here, and also to the nation and the world. I know that God permitted it, and I don’t know why, but it did something to the nation, and I hope it was for the good.”
This sympathy, combined with faith-based analysis, also features in letters written at the end of World War I and II . One printed in 1945 following the end of WW2 reads:
“Now that the war is over, it often comes to my mind what a western bishop said in his sermon…if the Christian people will not take this for a warning or chastisement and live better, some kind of epidemic or severe sickness will come.”
Such responses to war and violence are born out of the Amish’s status as a non-resistant, and also non-political people, and this is noted by other scribes:
“During the recent period of war we have had a wonderful opportunity to exercise our spirit of non-resistance, but now that conditions are fast returning to normal again and restrictions are being lessened, we have even greater opportunities. We will be able to promote a constructive program of Christian Service and in doing so we can emphasize ‘The power of love to overcome Evil’.”
Fellow Cardiff graduate Ruth Mosalski (@ruthmosalski) suggested trying to find references to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I looked over quite a few issues from November and December 1989, but failed to find any references, which I was surprised about. The one factor I think might have something to do with this is that by 1989, the local edition of the paper had stopped printing stories of national and international importance, narrowing it’s focus as a local newspaper, but there may be other reasons I am unaware of.
And so after two weeks, my stay with the Budget has come to an end. A highlights of my last week has been an overnight stay with an Old Order Amish family. Spending an evening watching purple martins coming into nest rather than sitting in front of the television, and going to bed by gas and oil lamp was certainly an experience. And the evening confirmed to me that despite the agriculture and family-orientated nature of the pages of the Budget’s national edition, the Amish continue to get international news from somewhere. Melvyn Hershberger, the 74-year-old hardware store owner who hosted me for the evening was keen to know the British government’s position on topics including health care reform, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he remained completely loyal to the Budget as well – a scribe for 40 years, he at least skim reads every letter in the national edition, and pays closer attention to those places where he has friends or relatives – it’s an easy and (relatively) quick way to communicate. One of the young girls who works part-time in the Hershberger store, a 24-year-old school teacher, said while she reads, she reads more selectively – she has friends in Montana, so she’ll keep an eye out for those letters, mirroring the patterns of media consumption throughout the rest of the modern world. As I found out talking to Keith earlier in the week, the Budget acknowledges that such habits among the youth are forcing them to adapt and change. But it’s pretty phenomenal that the circulation of a paper which has barely changed its format for more than 100 years has dipped by just 2,000 copies over the last 14 – something I would put down to having a staff which know the sensibilities of their audience inside out.
Some things I came to find out about I am yet to blog on. This has partly been down to time, but also because when I write my final piece for the Welsh Livery Guild, I still want some of the material to be original. I have spent a large amount of time looking into the development of the Budget’s website, and am hoping to make this a substantial part of my finished article, but I will write a post on it when I get back to the UK.
As far as the Amish people are concerned, I’ve found they are often misrepresented and misunderstood. I have met Amish people who never use the phone, have no running water and no intention of changing. But I have also met Amish men (and women!) who have masters degrees, use the Internet, and have land line phones. The variety is as great as in any other community, and just like all communities, they are not without their problems. Although less prevalent, alcohol and drug abuse, unhappy families and financial desperation appear in the Amish too, and many told me they find it hard to deal with the idealised vision often promoted through the tourist industry. If you’re interested in these people, go to a reliable source – get a copy of the Budget’s national edition if you can. The reliability of citizen journalism is often questioned, but I would argue that in the case of the Budget, it can be an accurate reflection of life in Amish country.