Old Order Mennonites in The Shenandoah Valley


Yesterday I worked in the garden as horse and buggies clipped by on their way to a wedding in the Old Order Mennonite Church.  Many of our neighbors are Old Order Mennonites, gentle, hard-working people, and good friends to us.  The sight of a horse and buggy passing our farm, or meeting one, or a stream of buggies, on the back roads is a frequent occurrence here.  Little girls and small boys in the hats the men wear peering out from the back window of a buggy is always a delight, as is seeing women and children collected on a wagon on their way to a gathering…or riding old-fashioned bikes, at work on their farms, and sometimes even at play.

Long lines of wash flapping in the breeze with pants and dresses in graded sizes from large to tiny is a picturesque addition to the community.  Across the meadow and up the hill from our farm is a small Old Order school.  Last fall I spotted a line of children holding hands out for a walk along the country road  with their teacher(s).   Darling.  At the end of recess and lunch time, I hear the bell ring to summon the students back indoors.  Reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her ‘Little House‘ books.

The Old Order neighbors on the farm up the road from us have a produce stand with fresh vegetables from their garden for sale.  They use the honor system for customers to leave money in the box; the prices are listed on a handmade sign and the produce ready and waiting.  If you have a question, likely you can find someone about on the farm or wielding a hoe.  Normally I grow my own veges, but if I run low or have a crop failure I know where to go.  Their garden is always perfect. They have many children and a great deal more help than I.  Sigh.

I admire The Old Order Mennonite’s unique way of life and very much hope they are able to continue as they are.  The economic hardships facing many family farms, including ours, and the growing demands made by a burgeoning federal government with all its rules and regulation imposes yet more stress on a people already struggling to survive.  Imagine trying to live like it’s the 1800’s in 2011.

For example, they have no health insurance, but band together and support each other in times of illness and injury.  Doctors and hospitals make some concessions in regards to billing Old Orders, but the cost of medical care is still staggering.  These people do not, however, want to be forced into a government health plan as this goes against their religion.  They have as little as possible to do with government and the secular world in general.   I believe their unique way of life must be respected and protected or the day may come when buggies no longer pass our house.~

*Old Order Mennonites are one of the aspects of rural life in the Shenandoah Valley I touched on in my nonfiction book entitled Shenandoah Watercolors

*Pics of Old Order Mennonites and their farms by my husband and mother.  Old Orders do not like to have their pictures taken if their faces are visible so we are careful not to reveal them.

11 responses to “Old Order Mennonites in The Shenandoah Valley

  1. My grandmother’s family was Mennonite, and they settled in the western part of Virginia several generations ago. Long after most of them moved to Ohio, when I was a little girl, I remember my great-grandmother sitting in her rocking chair in her long black dress and her little white cap with the strings hanging down on either side of her face. She was in her 90’s then. I often wonder what my grandmother would think of the kinds of books I write now.

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  2. I haven’t visited the Shenandoa Valley since I was 12 years old. My parents used to have friends (both dead now) who owned land in the valley and we went there a couple of times and camped out. It was beautiful. I wanted to go back and take my girls when they were growing up but never made it. We did get to Dixie Caverns and Natural Bridge, but never made it to the valley. I hope to go again before I die. It’s beautiful there!

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  3. Loved your post. The pictures were beautiful. I will have to add your book to my reading.
    Sue B

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  4. Beth thanks for sharing this little piece of life in the valley with us. This makes me want to visit your valley. We drove through that way several years ago, but didn’t venture down into the valley. What we saw from the expressway was beautiful.

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  5. Caroline Clemmons

    Beth, this is such a nice post. I’ve been reading Marta Perry’s books set in Lancaster County, Pennsylviia Amish. The principle characters are not Amish, but there are a lot of Amish characters. I’ve always been fascinated by Amish and their culture.

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  6. The largest population of Mennonites is in but Mennonites can also be found in tight-knit communities in at least 51 countries on six continents..The Anabaptists and the Mennonites and Amish coming out of the Anabaptist movement have usually maintained a strong sense of their group as separated from other people or groups whether Catholic Protestant Jewish pagan or anyone else. This came about partly because of their rejection of infant baptism and of participation in the state and its institutions and partly because they were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants but largely because they saw and still see themselves as a separate priestly group set off from the rest of humanity. Mennonites often use the phrase Separated Unto God for their stance citing such Biblical passages as Come out from among them and be ye separate saith the Lord and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you and will be a Father unto you and ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord Almighty 2 Corinthians 6 17-18 ..Some Mennonites are evangelical actively seeking converts and others are not.

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