Between the Lines: Becoming Amish

Oct 28, 2016

An Amish girl pears out from a buggy as it rides through an intersection Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in Middlefield, Ohio.
Credit Tony Dejak / AP Photo

Imagine unplugging your computer, shutting down your cell phone, and tossing your television. Then you trade in your car for a horse and buggy. Journalist Jeff Smith was fascinated with the changes two friends, Bill and Tricia Moser, were willing to make as they sought faith, community, and purpose. Smith relates their story in his new book, Becoming Amish (Dance Hall Press, 2016).

“Bill was an architect and Tricia was an occupational therapist,” Smith says. “Their careers allowed them to move to Grosse Pointe, outside of Detroit. You could have called them yuppies. But Tricia first, more so than Bill, felt there was a certain lack in their life that stemmed from a spiritual void.”

At first, Tricia’s sense of that void caused conflict in the Moser family. But eventually, Bill also had a religious conversion experience and committed more deeply to the Christian faith. The family initially belonged to a more traditional, mainstream Christian community, but there, too, they came to feel that same void.

“They kept evolving,” Smith says. “They wanted a simpler version of faith, a more direct connection, and more literal interpretation of the Bible. And a community of faith, that was a very big piece of it, too.”

The Mosers began to seek that faith community. The journey ultimately led them to the Amish. Along with their children, they moved to an Amish community, left behind their modern conveniences, and learned the ways of the Amish. Tricia learned to can and preserve foods, skills she hadn’t mastered in her contemporary kitchen, while Bill ran a business that made wooden pallets. As they grew up, their children started thie own businesses and homes.

Credit Dance Hall Press

“When my wife and I visited the Mosers, I expected their kids to be shy, maybe kind of confused and shell-shocked from their new lifestyle,” Smith says. “That came from my earlier perception of the Amish way. What I found was that the children were so remarkably confident and so remarkably engaged in conversation and culturally and with the world. That was one of the biggest surprises to me.”

Smith says another surprise was seeing how connected the Amish community was, not only locally but nationwide. Despite their deliberate lack of electronic technology, their news "grapevine" often more effective and just as quick or quicker than the always online world around it. Smith was also impressed by the level of hospitality and willingness to help one another.

“We’ve almost forgotten what a community species we are,” Smith says. He now makes a point of accepting invitations from friends, and making “yes” a more frequent response to requests for visits or to lend a helping hand.

Jeff Smith is a journalist who's written extensively about the environment, outdoors, and lifestyles. He's the editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Smith and his wife live near Traverse City in northern Michigan.

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