Very few of us have ever attended an Amish church service, so it’s natural that we’d be curious about them.
And the rumors we’ve heard just add to the mystery…three-hour church services…hard, backless benches…men and women sitting on separate sides of the room…hymns that have no recognizable tune…
Yes, Amish Sunday services are different from the church you go to, but each denomination tends to have their own worship styles, favorite hymns or praise songs, and style of preaching. The Amish are no different in that regard.
One of the unique parts of an Amish service, though, is their hymnal. You won’t find it used in any other denomination, and you won’t find any of your favorite hymns in it. In fact, there isn’t even any music in the Ausbund – only words. In German.
Who wrote the hymns in the Ausbund?
The first fifty-three hymns were written by a group of Amish men who were prisoners in Passau castle dungeon on the Bavarian border between 1535 and 1540. While in prison, the men wrote these songs to encourage each other. Over the next nineteen years more hymns were written and added to the collection until they were printed in book form with one hundred thirty hymns.
What are the hymns about?
The original fifty-three hymns were about the suffering, loneliness and imminent death of the Passau prisoners, but they also speak of their hope of soon seeing the glory of heaven.
The additional hymns stress Anabaptist beliefs such as humility, nonresistance, believer’s baptism and the suffering of Christ’s followers, as well as many praise songs.
How do the song leaders know which tunes to sing?
Since the Ausbund doesn’t include music, the tunes are passed down through the generations. They aren’t tunes we would recognize, but are reminiscent of music from the middle ages. Many listeners compare the tunes to Gregorian chants or Torah chanting.
When the song leader begins a hymn from his seat in the midst of the congregation, he’ll call out the hymn number, then sing the first syllable, his voice rising and falling over several notes. Then the rest of the congregation joins the singing, the tune as familiar to them as hymns are in any other church.
How long are the hymns?
An Amish worship service is not a hurried affair. When the worshipers have yielded to God and each other, a concept called Gelassenheit, the pervading spirit is one of patience and contentment.
Some of the hymns in the Ausbund are very long, up to thirty stanzas or more, and each note is drawn out, the words following the music in a meditation of meaning and worship.
Do the worshipers care that some of the hymns can last fifteen to twenty minutes, or even longer? I don’t think so.
I’ve heard of a hymn called the “Lobleid.” What is that?
(The video is a recording of Das Lobleid being sung at a youth gathering. You wouldn’t hear the children playing in the background at a Sunday service!)
Das Lobleid is a praise song from the Ausbund and is traditionally sung as the second hymn in all 1900+ congregations across the US and Canada. It has four verses. Here is a translation of the second verse:
Open the mouth of Thy servants, Lord,
And give them wisdom, also,
That they may rightly speak Thy Word
Which encourages a devout life.
Have you ever attended an Amish worship service? Would you want to go if you were invited?
Featured book image: I am privileged to own a copy of the Ausbund as part of my research collection. It is in the original German, but with the English translation included.
Jan Drexler’s ancestors were among the first Amish immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of thirty-five years. She is the author of five books published by Love Inspired, as well as “The Journey to Pleasant Prairie” series from Revell: Hannah’s Choice and Mattie’s Pledge, and Naomi’s Hope. Find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan Drexler.com.