What is the difference between Amish & Mennonite?
We hear this question on a daily basis. Living in the heart of Amish country–Kalona, Iowa–we often have tourists who come with many questions. [And we love questions so comment with any you may have from this blog post!] Because Kalona is one of the largest Amish-Mennonite settlements west of the Mississippi River, our area is starkly different from most American neighborhoods. Iowa and the Midwest in general, is typically rural. In this corner of southeast Iowa, we pride ourselves in a simple way of life. We have rolling hills, flat plains, all four seasons (most of the time), and endless corn fields.
Quite simply, it is a breath of fresh air.
When a customer steps into our gallery, we are often met with the question: “Are you Amish?”
Please know that this question is never offensive and we welcome inquisitive guests! We are not Amish, however, but attend a Mennonite church in Kalona. This is where things get interesting. We often explain it like this: All Amish are Mennonite, but not all Mennonites are Amish.
Still confused? When we (Joel & Karma Brokaw) moved to Kalona from Iowa City in 1986, we were just as confused as anyone. Karma has Mennonite in her family tree, but grew up attending a Baptist church. Joel grew up attending a Methodist church throughout his childhood. When they moved to Kalona, they visited the local Mennonite churches. Their variety of experiences left them with many questions indeed.
Through local conversations with Amish and Mennonite people alike, my parents settled on the idea that in fact, all Amish are Mennonite, but not all Mennonites are Amish. The simplest way to explain this idea is to start at the Protestant Reformation. During the Reformation, many groups were splitting off of the Catholic church and forming their own denomination. Mennonites were one group to split, following the radical ideas of Menno Simons who believed in adult baptism and pacifism. Another group began to see the Mennonites as becoming too worldly and then split off of them. They would be named the Amish after their founder, Jakob Amman.
Today, there are many different types of Mennonites and Amish just as there are different types of Presbyterians or Lutherans, etc. In our area, there are a dominant presence of Old Order Amish which means they would not use electricity, cars or any modern commodities. Their outward dress would be plain with no buttons or unnecessary decoration. Women would wear a cloth or mesh white bonnet (worn at all times) underneath a black bonnet to be worn when leaving the home for errands, school, etc. They drive a horse and buggy and farm equipment with steel wheels.
In contrast, most Mennonites in this area use electricity, drive cars and wear modern clothing. In our family, the women wear makeup and jewelry. Men wear baseball hats (especially the St. Louis Cardinals) compared to the Amish straw hats.
These are just a few of the outward appearance differences. For sake of long-windedness, come and visit Kalona. There is a rich history of tradition and hospitality here. There are tours that drive through the countryside with up-close encounters with the Amish. The Amish bakery is reason alone to visit! We’d love to see you encounter the differences and similarities of Amish and Mennonites for yourself. Welcome to Kalona!
All photos were taken by the talented Shelby Graber.