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The Old Order Movement is a religious movement to preserve the old ways of Anabaptist religion and lifestyle. Historically, it emerged in the second half of the 19th century among the Amish, Mennonites of South German and Swiss ancestry as well as the Schwarzenau Brethren in the United States and Canada. The movement led to several Old Order divisions from mainstream Anabaptist groups between 1845 and 1901. All Old Order groups that emerged after 1901 divided from established Old Order groups or were formed by people coming from different Old Order groups.[1] The highly conservative Old Colony Mennonites and the Hutterites were not directly connected to this movement.[2]

Sandra L. Cronk writes about the Old Order Movement:

The Old Order Amish and the Old Order Mennonites [...] are not premodern relics from a bygone era. The Old Order movement is a conscious attempt to maintain a style of Christian living based on principles different from those of the larger society.[3]


Belief and practiceEdit

Old Order groups do not have seminary trained pastors and never developed written sophisticated theology. Many practices among the Old Orders stem from the biblical principle of nonconformity to the world, according to Romans 12:2 and other Bible verses.

The avoidance of technologies by Old Order communities is based not on a belief that the technology is in some way evil, but over a concern for the nature of their communities. Community is important to members of Old Order groups, and a technology or practice is rejected if it would adversely affect it. This means that the prohibitions are not usually absolute; a member who would not own a car may use a car or other modern transport if a pressing need arises. This basis also means that Old Orders see no contradiction in having electricity in their milking barn, since that is necessary to comply with regulations on milk cooling, but not in their house.

Other aspects of Old Order life are concerned with plainness, which dictates their distinctive dress. Plain to Old Orders is the opposite of showy or ostentatious, and is considered a virtue. It is based on the belief that a person's true worth does not lie in their clothes or appearance.

Nonresistance is a belief held by all Old Order groups.

According to Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman the following additional practices are common among the Old Orders:[4]


All Old Order groups dress Plain and all their forms of dress share the same roots in the Pennsylvania Quaker dress style.[5]

Buggies and carsEdit

All Amish Old Order groups are horse and buggy groups, including the New Order Amish. Among the Old Order Mennonites, there are both horse and buggy and car driving groups. The same is true for the Old Orders among the Schwarzenau Brethren. The Old Order River Brethren are a car driving group, except a small subgroup of about half a dozen members, that still use horse and buggy transportation.[6][7]


All Amish Old Order groups speak a German dialect in every day life, either Pennsylvania German, or one of two Alemannic dialects (Swiss Amish). Among the Old Order Mennonites, all horse and buggy groups, except the Virginia groups, speak Pennsylvania German. The car driving groups of Old Order Mennonites shifted to English in the second half of the 20th century. The groups from which the Old Order Schwarzenau Brethren and Old Order River Brethren split, had already started shifting to English in the 19th century and mostly completed it in the first half of the 20th century.


There are about 300,000 Old Order Amish, 60,000 to 80,000 Old Order Mennonites, about 7,000 Old Order Brethren and about 350 Old Order River Brethren. The Amish and Mennonite Old Orders have growth rates between 3 and 5 percent a year, in average about 3.7 percent. Old Order Schwarzenau and River Brethren groups in contrast have low growth rates and were even shrinking during the 20th century. All English speaking groups tend to grow much slower than their German speaking brothers.


The Old Orders comprise the following groups:


  1. ^ Donald B. Kraybill, Carl Bowman: On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren, Baltimore and London, 2001, pages 10-11.
  2. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites, Baltimore 2010, page 158.
  3. ^ Sandra L. Cronk: A Network of Loving, Caring Relationships in John A. Hostetler (editor): Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore, Baltimore and London, 1989, page 286.
  4. ^ Donald B. Kraybill, Carl Bowman: On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren, Baltimore and London, 2001, page 201.
  5. ^ Stephen Scott: Why Do They Dress That Way, Intercourse, PA 1986.
  6. ^ Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites, Baltimore, 2010, page 247.
  7. ^ Stephen Scott: Plain Buggies: Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren Horse-drawn Transportation, Intercourse, PA 1981.