If you take the interstate across southern Pennsylvania, you miss the chance to stop for a loaf of bread at the Wild Goose Grocery in Intercourse; you probably won’t see the Amish farmer outside the small burg of Bird-in-the-Hand standing on his wooden disk plow, pulled by stout, tawny horses, six abreast; or the 10 year-old Amish girl driving a horse carriage down the side of the road in the early morning. You might miss taking in the soybean fields, a depth of green that would be impossible were it not for the limestone that sources the mythically rich soil near Lancaster, or the fairy-tale beauty of rolling farmlands, tall white-washed barns, and round-topped silos.
While the early Puritans up around Boston were drowning “witches” and beheading Quakers, William Penn threw out a welcome mat to people of all faiths to come to the land chartered to him by the English King. And they came: German, English, Dutch, Swiss, and more, often in pre-formed communities of like minded families, landing in New York or Philadelphia and quickly making their way west into rolling hills of virgin forest, which, once cleared of trees and Natives who had been using the land for centuries, proved fruitful beyond their hopes.
Amongst the many brands of Christians to make that early leap to the Americas were Anabaptists, often marginalized in various parts of a Europe torn by religious wars for hundreds of years. Anabaptists commit to a deeply devout Christian life, and share a common belief that it is wrong to baptize a child as a baby; that people should make an informed decision of their own about formally joining a church community The Amish, the Mennonites, The Brethren, and others settled and grew in Pennsylvania, spreading with fellow European colonizers across the steep ridges and swift streams that stood between the Atlantic coastal plains and the Ohio River valley.
The Anabaptists are people of deep faith, and it is without flippancy that I suggest that faith in both God and very well-trained horses is showcased every time you let your child drive the carriage, alone, along the shoulder of a road where cars and trucks are whipping by at 45 miles per hour. And special thanks to my new friends Ben and Mary Riehl, who fed me supper, chatted on the back porch well after sunset, and roundly admonished me for not bringing my wife, Julie, to meet them!