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'Becoming Amish': Leaving The Modern World For The Old World

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Thirty years ago, Tricia and Bill Moser left their respective jobs as an occupational therapist and an architect in suburban Detroit to join a horse-and-buggy Amish community. The new book, “Becoming Amish,” written by Bill’s childhood friend Jeff Smith, chronicles the Mosers’ journey into, and eventually out of, a restrictive Amish community (they are now members of a Mennonite Amish community). Bill Moser and Jeff Smith speak with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Interview Highlights

On the Amish community:

Jeff: That was one of the most interesting things to me is how they defy the categories we like to use in general, the society. You think of the Amish as very conservative in dress, in lifestyle, but they refuse to fight in wars. Likewise, liberals would love the way that the communities work together and support one another and give freely of their labor and even of their money. But liberals would be repelled by say their stance against abortion or gay marriage. I guess what I found interesting about all that is that we live by kind of all these boundaries that are sometimes put on us and sometimes we don’t always think about them, right? Looking at the Amish they sort of broke all that apart and remixed all those pieces.

On what it was like to transition to the Amish community:

Bill: Well, it wasn’t frightening. It was actually pretty exciting, and probably one of the biggest reasons was we were pursuing spiritual goals, and we saw that they could be fulfilled in a community setting like that. So giving up things wasn’t such a sacrifice compared to what we were gaining.

On different business practices in the Amish community:

Yeah, that’s an interesting aspect of the sharing nature that we as Christians should be practicing, helping one another, not in competition to one another, and even non-Christians. You mentioned the pallet business. Another pallet company that was owned by Amish individuals, they literally gave us the money to get started, gave us the equipment, gave us the orders, just handed it to us on a platter to help us get started.

On seeing the Moser family’s new house and life in the Amish community for the first time:

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I definitely thought, Bill, we have some catching up to do, I think. I don’t know, at first, I didn’t really know what to think but there was such a sense of peace around their home and it was such a beautiful moment and you could simply feel it. I don’t know what all led to me feeling that, but there was just this beautiful sense of peace and spirituality around their family and their home and so I was very proud of them.


On Amish education for his kids:

Bill: That was probably the biggest concern of our relatives. They were concerned about the seeming lack of education but even though their formal training went to the 8th grade, they’re all still learning. In the Amish schools, those 8 grades are very foundational. They give them the tools to learn. It’s a never ending process.

On the gender divisions in the Amish community:

Jeff: The women in Bill’s family are very strong. They’re very strong women. They’re very spirited. And back to your question, what did I expect, well I was thinking when they move from general society to this, will they feel kind of shy and shut out of the general world? And will they be withdrawn or whatever? And I what I found was completely the opposite. And that was actually one of the main things that struck me really early on was how open their children were, all of them, including Sarah, and how spirited and strong and wanting to learn. And yes there is that kind of division of labor that doesn’t really fit with modern society but it seems to work within that culture.

On yearnings for modern conveniences:

Bill: Yeah, there was, but we had already, before we joined the Amish we had home-schooled. We had gotten rid of our television years before we joined the Amish, so we were already used to different forms of entertainment, and because of our unique situation we still had family in general society. So I’m not saying we were 100 percent free of ever watching a movie or listening to a radio because of our contact with our family. But the desire, the yearning, even now, our children are in their early 20s, late teens, there’s just not that strong drive.

On leaving a restrictive Amish community:

Bill: Some of the very things that attracted us to the Amish just got a little too rich. I believe the Bible would tell us that our spiritual lives should be in balance. So, among the Amish, they’re very separate, to the point where it was too separate for us. My children started to have a longing to do maybe a mission project, go to Central America, serve there, things like that that the Amish would stay away from. It was those things that motivated our change more than material things.

On the impact of writing the book:

Jeff: Well, I was most struck by how intentional Bill and Trisha were about their lives and not just the faith aspect of their life, but their family, their community, their business, their technology and that was probably the biggest thing for me, is just kind of forcing me to look at my own life and look at those different pieces of my life and say, well I don’t intend to be Amish but what am I learning from them that can kind of help me assess those really big important things in my own life.

I feel like now in America the idea is that if the individual is good, then the community will be good. What Bill and Trisha’s story has taught me is that if the community is good, then the individual will be good, and that is something that I really carry with me in a much bigger way.


Bill Moser, member of the Mennonite Amish community.

Jeff Smith, author “Becoming Amish,” editor of Traverse Magazine. He tweets @MyNorth.

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