Amish church and Singing

Amish fall break continued.

So the next day, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. to have breakfast and get ready for church.

Breakfast was wonderful! Naomi prepared an egg casserole that had sausages and mushrooms and lots of cheese. Super yum! There was also homemade bread, plus butter and homemade jam. Their jam is really good, it’s more watery than the usual ones that I’m used to, and they taste more… natural? I don’t know.

After breakfast, the girls whom we met last night and had helped us with our dresses, came over to help get us dressed up for church. There was Ruby and Mary, who are sisters, and Sarah, who’s a teacher in one of the Amish schools, and there was Loreanne, whose hair reaches all the way till the middle of her calf.

In the interest of time, some of us tried to pin our aprons on ourselves instead of waiting for help. And even though it looked all right to me ’cause I couldn’t tell the difference, the Amish girls were like, “No, it’s not on straight! Something looks wrong!” Well I guess they should know, since they put them on every day.

I felt quite like quite an incongruous Amish person, because: 1. I was Asian; 2. I had an eyebrow piercing, and Amish do not wear jewelry, not even wedding rings!; and 3. I had on Converse shoes.

Obviously fake Amish

The Amish wear black shoes all the time, but I had no black shoes other than my black Converses. It looked so weird that I ended up borrowing one of their shoes to wear. I mean, if I’m going to church, I should wear as appropriately as possible, right?

It was so interesting to see each other dressed up in Amish clothing! Three other people in my group are also in the same Religious Studies class that I’m taking, and since it’s an 8 a.m. class, I’ve only ever seen them in sweatshirts and jeans, and one time, in pajama pants. Now they look so proper, so…. Amish!

Happy Amish family

(Here, the inside of an Amish house! Even though we expected it to be more different from a non-Amish American home than it is, there is still something quite distinctly Amish about it. Or maybe it’s just the lack of TV and installed lighting LOL.)

The reason that the strings on our caps are tied is that we’re going to church. Otherwise, they usually just leave it hanging.

Probably everyone already knows this, but I thought I would mention it anyway just in case — this is what the Amish wear every day. All the girls wear these dresses, they never wear anything else. Even during their own weddings, this is what they wear. The only thing then that differentiates the bride from the guests is that the bride would wear a white apron, which no one else would be wearing. The men all wear the same thing — a work shirt, and long pants, sometimes suspenders. They all have the same hair cut — a straight line across the fringe above the eyebrows, and another straight line at the back, cut across at the neck. Sorry my english is not good enough to write up a better description with. All married men have beards. Sometimes, you can tell that a young person is just married by spotting the faint lines of facial hair.

So anyway. Left for church at 7:45 a.m. That weekend, church service was hosted at a family’s barn less than a mile away, which was good because we could all walk there, since it would be impossible to fit us all in the buggy.

It was so beautiful that morning! The sky was SO ORANGE! Orange skies and dramatic clouds. Hmmm.

Beautiful morning

It was a lovely walk. There was the 10 of us, plus Naomi and Orva, Naomi’s parents Jake and Dorothy, Sarah, Ruby and Mary, the girls who helped us get dressed, and William, a young man who’s dating Ruby and is staying at Jake and Dorothy’s place.

At church, we were one of the earliest there, so we formed a line and shook hands with the women as they arrived. Their tradition for greeting is to briefly shake the other person’s hand, and if both women are married, they would then lean in for a peck on the lips. The same thing happens with married men, too. They knew we were not one of them because they pretty much know everyone who goes to their church. However, one of our guys haven’t been shaving, so he had a bit of stubble going on. Some men from church thought he was just married, so they would automatically lean in towards him, then pause, and become really confused. Once, one guy actually gave him a peck on the lips! LOL he said it was so awkward! After that experience, he was clean-shaven every day!

The men, women, boys, and girls all sit separately during church service. And service was 3 hours long. Yes, you read right, 3 hours! And it was in Pennsylvanian Dutch, so we couldn’t understand any of it!

They sang the scriptures VERY SLOW; there was no predictable meter, each syllable was drawn out over MANY notes, and people sung in a very slow, droning way, without harmony. Like, a passage could take 20 minutes to finish. We were told that this was because they wanted to emphasize on the message of what they sing, and not the way they sing it. Twice they stood up, turned around and kneeled on their own benches for a prayer. The main preacher was Jake (Naomi’s dad), and he spoke for a long time. We were very surprised when he stood up to speak, because he never told us he was preaching!

After the service, some of the benches were taken away to be stored back into the wagon, and long tables were brought in for us to have lunch on. They covered the tables with plastic sheets, and we ate on that because no plates were used. Lunch was bread, jam, peanut butter, meat slices, cheese, pickles, and pickled beet. I tell you, their peanut butter is SO SO GOOD! It’s actually regular peanut butter, mixed with maple syrup, marshmallow cream, and a bit of water, and I dunno what else. But it was so fluffy, it was sweet, and it was just YUMM! Throughout the week, whenever we met new Amish people and they asked if we went to church, we would always, ALWAYS say we tried the wonderful, wonderful Amish church peanut butter. I say “church” peanut butter, because that’s pretty much where they have it most often — at church, after service.

By the time we left church, it was past 1 p.m. Went back to Naomi and Orva’s place, because they had invited a bunch of young people over to play volleyball with us. They were very, very much better than us, but they were very, very nice about it. “Good try!”

The funny thing is, they would play and be encouraging even towards people on the opposing team, and we didn’t think they were keeping score, until suddenly someone would say, “Game point!”, and you’d be like, oh wait what?

After volleyball, we had some time to rest, shower, nap, before we left for Singing. Oh, Singing!

It is one of the most interesting things ever!

It is supposed to be the primary way for young Amish men and women to meet each other. Again, the Amish take turns hosting Singing at their places each Sunday.

We arrived at the house that was hosting Singing that week, met a lot of girls our age. In pretty much all social events, when people are piling in and waiting for everyone else to arrive, the males and females always hang out in separate rooms. I once asked if this was a rule, but they said no, they don’t have to separate, they just do ’cause they talk about such different things. Guys talk about factory work and buggies, while women talk about house chores and child-rearing.

We were told that the group who were hosting Singing that night was very excited that we (“the college group with some foreign exchange students”, lol) were there the week that they were in charge of hosting it. We felt so honored that people were excited for us to come!

After everyone had arrived, we went downstairs to the basement, which was pretty big. There were rows of benches on either side of the room; the boys sit on one side, the girls on the other, but they both sit facing each other. There was a long table on which a buffet-style dinner was laid out.

Dinner that night was haystack, as it would be several meals after that night, because it seems that haystack is one of those popular Amish meals. They have dinner haystack, lunch haystack, even breakfast haystack! All very similar, except for a few ingredient changes. I guess Haystack for the Amish is sort of like mac and cheese for Americans — easy to make, good to eat, and perfect as comfort food.

Haystack, of course, is not really a stack of hay. Basically, it’s like this: You go to the serving table, you scoop cracker crumbs onto your plate, pile on some mash potatoes, some meat, some onions and green peppers, and top it all off with melted cheese gravy. Mmmmmmmm delicious!

It doesn’t always have to be the same ingredients, but it always starts with a base of cracker crumbs, or biscuit crumbs for breakfast haystack. (I mean the American biscuit, which is basically something like scones to the rest of the world.) Almost always, there’s mash potatoes. Meat can be ham, can be ground beef. Onions and green peppers (or capsicum, as I have learned to say it prior to college) make regular appearances, too. And haystack-stacking always, always end with pouring a ladle-full (or two!) of gravy, mostly cheese gravy, on top of everything.

So, it’s called “haystack” because you’re supposed to stack everything up together in a pile. Except I didn’t realize that; Ida, a 20-year-old Amish girl we were friends with, told me it’s called haystack, but it didn’t occur to me you’re supposed to assemble everything like a haystack. So I ended up eating everything separately on the plate. Every time we had haystack meals after that day, I would tell this story, and the Amish would find that so hilarious!

After dinner, packets of several lyrics books (lyrics printed on paper, stapled together to resemble a book) were handed out. I was sitting next to Ida, so we shared a packet. Then Singing officially started.

What happens is this: someone, anyone, can start a song. You just start singing. Then everyone else will follow along. Most of the people there know the songs very well, so when a person starts a song, they join in almost immediately, without needing to look at the lyrics. I obviously would not know the songs, so Ida helped me with finding them in the lyric booklets. Thank goodness they were in English, so we could all sing along.

The songs are so beautiful! They are slow, no tempo, no beat, no rhythm, no accompaniment of any instruments. Just pure, slow singing. Almost all of the songs are religious. I really felt as though the Amish were really putting their heart into the singing, and into appreciating every word of the song. I mean, imagine singing a sentence like “I love my mom, she is the best” in a Lady Gaga way, with techno beats and auto-tune voice, and then imagine singing it pure, and slow. Which do you think has more feeling, more soul?

I think people who start songs are very brave. The leader of the song sings the first word of every line, and that would be whenthe whole room is hearing your voice, and only your voice. Ida started a song once, and she sang very well. I actually found it hard to completely follow along to them at times, ’cause the girls sing in soprano. Certain notes, I just go way, WAY off.

We didn’t know any of the songs that were sang, except “Amazing Grace”. We found out later that Kudi, one guy from my group, had asked an Amish boy whom we met that afternoon during volleyball to start that song, because he knew it was the only one we (the rest of the group) were familiar with.

At about 8 p.m., someone will start to sing a parting song, which is pretty much any song in the lyric books that is about parting. That signals the end of Singing. Some people hung around, but most people started getting their coats, hitch their horses to the buggies, and got ready to leave for home. Because, you know, it takes a LOT longer to go home by buggy.

What surprised us was that there were not a lot of real interaction between boys and girls during Singing, even though the main reason for Singing was to meet young people of the other sex. We pointed this out to Naomi after we got home, and one of the girls in my group was like, “But actually, I did see a guy talking to a girl, just the two of them.”

And Naomi immediately went, “It probably was his sister.”

LOL so funny. It was like she didn’t think anything else was possible!

Anyway. It was a lovely, lovely night. I loved Singing, because it was so new to me, this way of singing. Slow, drawn out vocals.

At 10 p.m., we were all TIRED, so went to bed. End of Day Two!

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