Monday, September 15, 2008

I was a stranger and you invited me in...

Just a little reflection about my weekend.

I went to Pennsylvania with the girlfriend and another couple.

We saw Abraham and Sarah at the Living Waters Theater. Good stuff. Not my favorite but some good stuff. Then we went for a buggy ride. We saw some Amish people working there. Got excited to have a real Amish person give us the ride/tour.

Saw a young blonde woman wearing jeans walking around looking for who her next customers were. We wanted to hide. "She's not Amish! We want our money's worth." It felt worse than when I ordered a large #3 yesterday and got a small fry.

But thats who we got and it turned out great. She had just bought the company from an Amish guy because Amish aren't supposed to profit from tourism. The guy felt guilty and sold it. She runs it with her boyfriend who grew up Amish, but left the church right before having to choose to join. If he HAD joined and THEN dropped out he would have been shunned. But left before officially joining so not so bad a thing.

The four of us enjoyed an hour long ride courtesy of Smokey the horse. Smokey was a slow mover but that was fine by us.

Stopped for a few minutes to buy some lemonaide from some Amish children who had a stand. Freshly squeezed and the best lemonaide I ever remember having.

Stopped at a home where an Amish family lived. They had deer as pets in a large pen. Don't think could do that where I live.

We went to a church service the next morning. Found an Amish-Mennonite church. Not Amish. Not Mennonite. Amish-Mennonite. They broke away among other reasons as I understand it, that they did not believe in the practice of shunning people that leave the faith.

They also have cars. When we got to the church we parked in spaces up front marked visitor. Shortly an Amish dressed woman apprached our car to tell us when to come in for service. We walked in at 10am and were very warmly greeted. We signed in the visitors book and then noticed one thing I did not think about. The men were sitting on one side while the women were on the other side of the church. Our greeter told us we could of course sit together and an usher would seat us. He sat us on the left side with the women. Ladies in traditional Amish dress and "kaps" were all around us as we were smack in the middle with our "modern" clothes. Once seated the service was already into singing. They use no instruments other than the voice. The worship leader was asking for requests. We would turn to that page in the hymnal and he would blow into his pitch pipe and then start us into the singing. One song had a very nice, women sing first and then men harmonizing part that was quite beautiful.

One song was on a handout and people from both aisles that surrounded us were giving us theirs. Then when the sermon began the speaker began immediatly reading verses from Romans and Exodus. We did not have any bibles with us and there were no "pew bibles." As soon as they realized, our Amish neighbors handed us their bibles to use for the rest of the service.

One Amish boy in front of me was coloring and not really paying attention. Kids in church are same wherever you go.

The message was a good one. (maybe told a bit slowly but good) We found out instead of one preacher there is a team of four men that take turns preaching.

After the sermon which was at least 35 minutes (whole service maybe hour and a half) as I remember, they had one of the 4 team members sum up the sermon. Then we prayed by kneeling but turning around so your arms are clasped on the seat of the pew.

Then they had another member do a sort of commision for lack of better word. Then they asked for any testimonials or anything the congregation would like to share. One member (grabbing the microphone..yes they had a sound system) gave a good 5 minute talk on what was on his mind and that was that. As soon as we were told "You are excused" The Amish women around us tell us how nice it was to have us and one lady invited us to lunch. We had to accept of course.

The Kaufmann family were wonderful hosts. Six children (which is the average) 3 boys 3 girls and their parents could not have been nicer. When we got there Mrs. Kaufmann was already pealing potatoes. One of the girls argued she wanted to set the table, so another task had to be found for the youngest sister.

Now we had just learned the day before from our buggy ride that Amish lunch is more like our dinner. They go all out for lunch. And it ended up being one great meal. I even took seconds on the green beans. I do not think I have EVER done that.

Mashed potatoes? Best I ever had. Meatballs. Apple sauce. Corn pudding was it? Another one of those things I rarely eat but was delicious. The kids were personable and considering 4 strangers were in their house, remarkably well behaved. Mrs. Kaufmann would make note on two occassions that her children were quite "mischievous" which made me think she was unsure what that word meant.

The conversation was light and easy. In explaining where we were from, the girls seemed excited about Chincoteague and hearing about the Pony Swim. They had read "Misty Of Chincoteague" and expressed an interest in going for a visit. Mr. Kaufmann found out my friend Pete was a firefighter (as was he) and they exchanged stories. His day job was involved in an apple orchard, and we noticed many beautifull red apple trees around the house

Finally there was pie and a bowl filled with icecream passed around as well as the option of coffee.

Part of my point on all of this? The most welcoming church experience I have ever had. I was just talking to a friend of mine about this same kind of thing. Some churches overdue it. But we were not made to stand up (though we obviously stood out) and tell who we were. On the other side, we were not ignored as I have been often at new churches. They seemed to do it just right. It was a weekend I will remember, and most of all from the way we saw God's face through strangers that welcomed us warmly.
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