How a visit to Amish country made me a Catholic

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By Brian Cook

The first thing I noticed during a visit to Amish country in 2013 was that there were no power lines or running water. It was so quiet that the breeze was easy to hear.

And then, the magic happened with the sound of horse hooves. An Amish buggy containing an Amish family soon passed by, complete with kids wearing curious smiles and waving. What a serene moment. The calm washed over me and the stress fell away. We were able to relax, think, explore and feel again.

My wife had been reading Amish romance novels, which she described the Hallmark channel in book form. She liked the fact that she could recommend them to our daughters. If you did not already know, Amish romance novels are very clean and traditional and sorely needed in this sexually confused modern world.

Those novels ignited something within my wife, so for our 18th wedding anniversary she wanted to go to Ethridge, Tenn., to see the largest Old Order Amish Community in the South.

Most homes in the community have front yard stores where one can buy whatever goods that particular family makes or bakes. Everything was excellent. The woodwork was incredible and the breads and jams and jellies were marvelous. And as God would have it, the very first house we stopped at was a home filled with much needed grace for our troubled family.

The reasons for our trouble are personal and private (meaning I’d love to tell you in person and in private), but they were so heavy and painful that we were barely standing. But on this little getaway, the Lord took us by the hand and led us straight towards healing.

Although they were almost old enough to be our grandparents, we became friends with Danny and Annie Gingrich almost instantly. My wife was in awe that all Amish novels she had read were accurate in so many details. I was in awe of a completely different and a hard way of life, and surprised that it produced such happy people.

We eagerly asked questions, and Danny quickly answered them in his Pennsylvania Dutch accent. Danny was impressed that we had five children, remarking, “that’s a lot for an Englisher!” We all quickly realized that we would get along just fine.

Danny ended up showing us his well, his barn and his woodworking shop with no power tools, after which he invited us into his home. Annie sat weaving baskets while Danny brought out a large and aged book that held the history of the Amish. He was very proud of his heritage, and we were impressed and honored by his and Annie’s hospitality.

Eventually a buggy of other Amish men arrived, and Danny jumped up more quickly than I would have ever expected in order to rush out to greet them. As it turned out, we “Englishers” were not supposed to be sitting in an Amish living room, as members are supposed to limit outside influences on the community. I suppose Danny could sense that we were not the influencers, but rather the influenced.

“Intrigued” might be a better word. The Amish have a lived faith that is definitely in the world but not of the world. How is it that a person’s faith could influence every single aspect of their life? The way they work, how they dress, the activities, serving and supporting others, how they school their children, how they participate in church and act as a family, how they date, how they drive their buggies, the things they say “yes” and “no” to are done at the expense of an easier and more entertained life.

I wondered if my faith, which was failing, could revive and also if my family could thrive again. Could our faith grow in strength and be able to withstand trial? Could we grow into witnesses with the strength of martyrs? That trip started an insatiable desire to learn all of the Christian faith – in scripture, in tradition, and in history. After five years of studying our way through all the major religious denominations, my wife and I converted to Catholicism. So, as the headline of this column notes, the Amish made me Catholic!

A Cropwell native, Brian Cook is a graduate of Pell City High School, Gadsden State Community College and Jacksonville State University. He and his wife Hope have five children. A self-described “on-again-off-again bi-vocational part-time” Protestant minister for almost 20 years, Brian converted to Catholicism in April 2021. They attend Saint James Catholic Church in Gadsden. With no formal training (Acts 4:13), Brian active in the Catechetical training of children and adults. His book “The Devotion to Christ” can be found on Amazon. He is available for speaking and teaching engagements in any parish, church, or group setting. He may be contacted at thedtc@protonmail.com or thedevotiontochrist@gmail.com.

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