Old Order Mennonite

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Old Order Mennonite horse and carriage in Oxford County, Ontario in 2006.
"Black bumper" car of the 1920s, such as might have been driven by early Horning Church members.

Old Order Mennonites form a branch of the Mennonite Protestant tradition. Old Order are those Mennonite groups of Swiss German and south German heritage who practice a lifestyle without some elements of modern technology, who dress plain and who have retained the old forms of worship, baptism and communion. There is no overall church or conference to unite all the different groups of Old Order Mennonites.

A large minority of Old Order Mennonite use cars (~10,000 members), whereas a majority (~17,000 members) have retained horse and buggy transportation. They are almost entirely of Swiss German or south German descent and the majority of them speaks Pennsylvania German. Very conservative Plautdietsch speaking "Russian" Mennonites, who may have a similar belief and lifestyle are normally not called "Old Order Mennonite".


From the first Old Order division in Indiana in 1872 under bishop Jacob Wisler (1808-1889) until the middle of the 20th century sometimes all Old Order Mennonites were called "Wisler Mennonites",[1] "Old Order Mennonites, Wisler"[2] and the like or even "Wislerites".[3] In a few cases this usage has persisted, but today the term "Wisler Mennonites" normally refers to a certain subgroup, the Ohio-Indiana Mennonite Conference. Old Order Mennonites who do not use automobiles are either referred to as "horse and buggy Mennonites" or "Team Mennonites". The word for them in Pennsylvania German is Fuhremennischte.[4] Sometimes the term "Old Order Mennonites" is restricted to groups that do not use cars. It is common to name groups after a bishop, in most cases the leading bishop during the time of division.[5]


The Old Order Mennonites emerged between 1872 and 1901 among Mennonites in four regions of North America: Indiana in 1872, Ontario in 1889, Pennsylvania in 1893 and Virginia in 1901. The conflicts that caused the formation of Old Order Mennonite churches were about the question if modern practices like Sunday Schools, revival meetings, English language preaching etc. should be introduced. These modernizing trends that changed the form of religious practice were pushed among the Mennonites especially by tho men: John F. Funk and John S. Coffman. The traditional minded people left the old conferences to form new ones, not the modernizers.[6][7]

Between 1907 and 1931 an other wave of church splits occurred among the Old Orders concerning more the use of new technologies, especially the use of cars. The splits occurred in Indiana and Ohio in 1907, in Ontario in 1917 and 1931, and in Pennsylvania in 1927.[8]

The Stauffer Mennonites had already split away in 1845 over several issues, favoring a stricter church practice. Today they and groups that split from them are the most traditional Old Order Mennonite groups concerning technologies and dress.[9]

The Reformed Mennonites, formed in 1812, are a special group that does not totally fit into the "Old Order" group but that has best retained some old traditions, e. g. they wear the most traditional form of plain dress among all Mennonites. Concerns that led to the formation of the new group were "the worldly drift of the church" and "degeneration".[10]

Between the 1940s and the 1960s both the Orthodox Mennonites and the Noah Hoover Mennonites emerged from a long series of splits and reunifications of people among the Old Orders who were no modernizers but sought a purer form of Mennonite life. Both the Orthodox Mennonites and the Noah Hoovers are "intentionalist minded, ultra-plain Old Order Mennonite" groups.[11] Stephan Scott writes about the Noah Hoover Mennonite:[12]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Many practices among the Old Order Mennonites stem from the biblical principal of nonconformity to the world, according to Romans 22:12 and other Bible verses.

The avoidance of technologies by Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish 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 a Mennonite, and a technology or practice is rejected if it would adversely affect it. This means that the prohibitions are not usually absolute; a Mennonite who would not own a car may use a car or other modern transport if a pressing need arises. This basis also means that a Mennonite sees 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 Mennonite life are concerned with plainness. The concept of plainness dictates the distinctive dress of the Mennonite. Plain to a Mennonite 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. It is this aspect of their beliefs that regulates the dress style, giving Mennonites their distinctive look with straw hats or bonnets, and plain dresses or pants. Many Old Order Mennonites do not allow cars. Those who do drive only black cars, like the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference.

Many Old Order Mennonites refuse to accept Social Security, unemployment benefits or state pension benefits. Old Order Mennonites in Ontario have negotiated with the government to gain exemption from paying contributions to many social funds on which they will not collect and from other dues from which they will not benefit.

Many Amish and Old Order Mennonites do not use traditional health insurance with monthly premiums and co-pays. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, some Amish and Mennonites use Preferred Health Care (PHC) Old Order Group coverage (OOG).[13] When an OOG member visits a participating provider (approximately 1100 local physicians and nine hospitals in the Lancaster area accept the OOG coverage), he or she would present a unique white card with red and blue print identifying him or her as a PHC member. These cards are void of any identifying information, as is the custom of their religious belief. After care is rendered, providers submit a claim to PHC for a "repricing" as if the patient had insurance. A PHC statement is then sent to the medical practice and the patient indicating the discounted amount due the provider. The practice then collects the repriced amount from the patient directly, as per practice policy for collecting balances due on self-pay patient accounts. In this way, the Old Order Group has engaged in collective bargaining practices to lower their cost of health care. Additionally, the community will support any member who is sick, disadvantaged, old, or who suffers an accident.

Unlike Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites have meeting houses for worship, typically of very simple design and lacking adornment. In many respects some Old Order groups are very similar to Conservative Mennonites but differ particularly in their non acceptance of Sunday School and Revival Meetings and the predominant use of the German language in their worship services.

Groups of Old Order Mennonites[edit]

The spectrum of Old Order Mennonite groups ranges from groups that differ little from mainstream or even conservative Old Order Amish groups like the Swartzentruber Amish to groups that are barely different from Conservative Mennonites groups concerning the use of technologies. What characterize automobile groups as Old Orders and not Conservative Mennonites is that they have retained the traditional forms of worship, communion, baptism, funeral and leadership structures. In contrast some wedding practices have changed. All Old Order Mennonites do not have Sunday School and normally no revival meetings.[14]

Horse and Buggy groups have retained a rural lifestyle with farming as an important part of their economy. Most horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites allow the use of tractors for farming, although some groups insist on steel-wheeled tractors to prevent tractors from being used for road transportation. Some groups like the Orthodox Mennonites and the Noah Hoover Mennonite still till their fields with horses. The horse and buggy people stress separation from the world, excommunicate, and normally shun in a strict form. All Old Order Mennonite meet in meeting houses or church buildings (when they have full-fledged congregations), contrary to the Old Order Amish, who meet in homes of the members.

Automobile Old Order Mennonites, like the Weaverland Conference Mennonites, Wisler Mennonites, and Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference also evolved from the same series of Old Order schisms from 1872 to 1901. They often share the same meeting houses with, and adhere to almost identical forms of Old Order worship as their horse and buggy Old Order brethren with whom they parted ways in the early 20th century. Although Weaverland Old Orders began using cars in 1927, the cars were required to be plain and painted black. The form of the ban among automobile groups in general is less severe, that means the ex-communicant is not always shunned, and is therefore not excluded from the family table, shunned by their spouse, or cut off from business dealings. All automobile Old Orders have already shifted from Pennsylvania German to English or are in the process to do so. Since some decades family size and growth rate of the Automobile groups have diminished compared to the horse and buggy groups.

In addition to the groups listed below there were also several smaller horse and buggy groups like the Joseph Brubaker group with 58 adult members, the William Weaver group with 55 adult members, the Aaron Martin group with 45 adult members and the Allen Martin group with 37 adult members. All this information dates from 1995. Because splits, mergers and even the dissolution of small groups are not uncommon among Old Order Mennonites, the situation in 2015 may look quite different. Below there is a table of all groups with more than 250 members in 2008/9:

Name Country Membership
in 1993
in 2008/9
tions in 2008/9
Use of cars First language
among members
Groffdale Conference Mennonite Church, "Wenger" USA **5,464 10,000 50 No Pennsylvania German
Weaverland Mennonite Conference, "Horning" USA *4,767 7,100 40 Yes Pennsylvania German,
shifting to English
Ontario (Old Order) Mennonite Conference, "Woolwichers" Canada 2,200 3,200 36 No Pennsylvania German
Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference Canada 1,106 1,400 12 Yes English
Stauffer Mennonite, "Pikers" USA ****700 1,300 13 No Pennsylvania German language
Ohio-Indiana Mennonite Conference, "Wisler" USA *637 925 7 Yes English
Orthodox Mennonites "Gorries" USA, Canada ***220 650 8 No Pennsylvania German
Noah Hoover Mennonite USA, Belize 300 575 8 No Pennsylvania German,
Plautdietsch, English
David Martin Mennonites Canada ***400 *****500 6 No Pennsylvania German
Virginia Old Order Mennonite Conference USA ****400 500 4 No English
Reidenbach Old Order Mennonites, "Thirty Fivers" USA 300 375 10 No Pennsylvania German
Reformed Mennonite USA, Canada 346 300 12 Yes English
John Dan Wenger Mennonites USA 250 300 1 No English
Total 17,090 27,075 206

[15][16][17] * 1994, ** 1992, *** estimate, **** estimate for 1990 ***** this number given by Kraybill is most probably much to low and should rather be around 1,000


State or
Pennsylvania 9,650
Ontario 6,900
New York 1,800
Virginia 1,550
Missouri 1,000
Ohio 800
Wisconsin 800
Indiana 700
Kentucky 400
Iowa 300
Michigan 100
Total 24,000

Old Order Mennonites, who use horse and buggy, also called "Team Mennonites", can be found in the United States, Canada and Belize. More than 70 percent of the horse and buggy people live in Pennsylvania and Ontario, were they emerged through divisions from the main body of Mennonites in the late 19th century and from the division between automobile and horse and buggy groups in the early 20th century. In Indiana, Ohio and Virginia they also emerged through divisions, but in much smaller numbers. Settlements of horse and buggy Mennonites in other states were created by migrations, that started mainly since the 1960s. There are also Old Order Mennonites in Belize (Cayo and Toledo Districts), the only place outside of North where they can be found. The table on the right lists the total population of horse and buggy Mennonites per state or province in North America in the late 1990s.[18][19]

Adherents and population[edit]

According to C. Henry Smith, who wrote in 1908, all Old Order Mennonite groups counted "hardly more than two thousand members".[20] In 1957 the total number of members of all Old Order Mennonite groups was 5,800 members in 44 congregations.[7] For the year 2001 Kraybill and Hostetter give the number 16,478 for the membership of "all Old Order Mennonites groups" in the USA.[21] According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia in 2002 there were approximately 17,000 baptized Old Order Mennonite members in the USA and 3,000 in Canada.[7] There were more than 27,000 adult, baptized members of Old Order Mennonites in North America and Belize in 2008/9. The total population of Old Order Mennonites groups including children and adults not yet baptized normally is two to three times larger than the number of baptized, adult members, which indicates that the population of Old Order Mennonites was roughly between 60,00 to 80,000 in 2008/9.


The Wenger Mennonites, the largest horse and buggy group, have a growth rate of 3.7 percent a year which is comparable to the growth rate of Old Order Amish.[22] The Wengers have larger families and a higher retention rate than their car driving brothers, the Horning Mennonites.[23] In 2005 the average number of children per household was 8.25 among Old Order Mennonites in Indiana.[24] In a sample of 199 people from the Martindale District of the Wenger Mennonites born between 1953 and 1968 there was a retention rate of 95 percent in 1998.[25]

Similar groups[edit]

There are quite a lot of similarities between Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish, especially between the Amish and the horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites, who both speak Pennsylvania German and who have a shared tradition of Plain dress. To a lesser extent there are similarities with conservative "Russian" Mennonites, who are living in Latin America and who speak an other German dialect, Plautdietsch and who have an own tradition of Plain dress. The same is true for the Hutterites who speak Hutterisch. There are also similarities with the Old Order German Baptist Brethren, the Old Brethren German Baptists and the Old Order River Brethren who have some shared Pennsylvania Dutch heritage with the Old Order Mennonites.


The Old Order Mennonites find an affinity with the Old Order Amish publishing house called Pathway Publishers located in Lagrange, Indiana and Aylmer, Ontario. More recently the Old Order Mennonites of Ontario have done some of their own publishing and a private enterprise known as Vineyard Publications has been formed near Wallenstein, Ontario. Members of the Old Order churches tend to use the Pennsylvania German dialect for literary expression more often than Old Order Amish. There are several authors of Pennsylvania German prose and poetry. Well known, for example, is Isaac Horst (1918-2008) from Mount Forest (Ontario, Canada), who wrote the book "Bei sich selwert un ungewehnlich" (in English: "Separate and Peculiar"). Pennsylvania German texts are mostly published in the Pennsylvania German dialect newspaper Hiwwe wie Driwwe.

See also[edit]


  • Donald B. Kraybill and James P. Hurd: Horse-and-buggy Mennonites: Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World. University Park, PA 2006.
  • Stephen Scott: An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Intercourse, PA 1996.
  • Donald Martin: Old Order Mennonites of Ontario: Gelassenheit, Discipleship, Brotherhood. Waterloo, Ontario 2003.
  • J. Winfield Fretz: The Waterloo Mennonites: A Community in Paradox. Waterloo, Ontario 1989.
  • Daniel B. Lee: Old Order Mennonites, Rituals, Beliefs, and Community. Lanham, MD 2000.
  • Donald B. Kraybill and Carl Bowman: On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore 2001.
  • Thomas J. Meyers and Steven M. Nolt: An Amish patchwork: Indiana's Old Orders in the Modern World. Bloomington, IN et al. 2005.
  • Donald B. Kraybill: Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Baltimore 2010.
  • Donald B. Kraybill and C. Nelson Hostetter: Anabaptist World USA. Scottdale, PA and Waterloo, Ontario 2001.


  1. ^ C. Henry Smith: The Mennonites of America, Goshen, Indiana 1909, page 307.
  2. ^ T. F. Murphy: Religious Bodies 1936: Volume I - Summary and Detailed Tables, Washington, DC 1941, page 92.
  3. ^ Henry F. Weber: Centennial history of the Mennonites of Illinois 1829-1929, Goshen, Indiana 1931, page 50.
  4. ^ Fuhremennischt at Pennsylvania German Wikipedia
  5. ^ Elmer Schwieder, Dorothy Schwieder, Tom Morain: A Peculiar People: Iowa's Old Order Amish, Iowa City 2009, page 146.
  6. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. pp. 12–27. 
  7. ^ a b c Old Order Mennonites at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  8. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. pp. 70–88. 
  9. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. pp. 89–104. 
  10. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. pp. 105–119. 
  11. ^ Donnermeyer, Joseph, and Cory Anderson: The Growth of Amish and Plain Anabaptists in Kentucky, in Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 2(2):215, page 231, 2014.
  12. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. p. 104. 
  13. ^ "Patient Financial Information: Old Order Group". Ephrata Community Hospital. Retrieved 2007-12-26. [dead link]
  14. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. p. 77. 
  15. ^ Stephen Scott: An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups, Intercourse, PA 1996.
  16. ^ Donald B. Kraybill (2010). Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 251–258. 
  17. ^ Reformed Mennonite Church at ARDA
  18. ^ Donald B. Kraybill and Carl Bowman: On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore 2001, page 67
  19. ^ Stephen Scott (1996). An Introduction to Old Order: and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. p. 30. 
  20. ^ C. Henry Smith: The Mennonites of America, Goshen, Indiana 1909, page 310.
  21. ^ Donald B. Kraybill and C. Nelson Hostetter: Anabaptist World USA, Scottdale PA and Waterloo Ont. 2001, page 35.
  22. ^ Kraybill, Donald B; Hurd, James P. (2006). Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World. University Park, PA. p. 2. 
  23. ^ Kraybill, Donald B; Hurd, James P. (2006). Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World. University Park, PA. p. 249/50. 
  24. ^ Thomas J. Meyers and Steven M. Nolt: An Amish Patchwork: Indiana's Old Orders in the Modern World. Bloomington, Indiana 2005, pages 149/50.
  25. ^ Kraybill, Donald B; Hurd, James P. (2006). Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World. University Park, PA. p. 107. 

External links[edit]