We recently asked various Amish romance writers to tell us a bit about Amish wedding traditions. Both RT staff and readers were so fascinated by what we learned, that we decided to take a look at a similar, yet entirely seperate, community's wedding customs — the Mennonites. Author Nancy Mehl is known for her uplifting fiction about Mennonite culture, including her latest release Inescapable. Today she shares what she's learned about how Mennonites celebrate their big day.
Describing a Mennonite wedding is difficult since traditions are widespread throughout the church. Modern Mennonite churches aren’t much different than most Protestant churches therefore their weddings are very similar. However, a Conservative Mennonite wedding has some distinct differences from modern ceremonies.
Getting married starts with serious courtship. Before dating begins, the fathers are approached and permission is requested. Once the couple receives their fathers’ blessings, the relationship begins in earnest. The “official courtship” starts with pictures, roses for the girl, and a special dinner date. The young lady will actually create a new “dating wardrobe.” With new shoes too, of course! If the families live in different parts of the country, there will be trips back and forth so they can get to know each other. During this time, the couple is rarely alone. A chaperone is nearly always along for the ride.
If the couple decides they are ready for the next step, a proposal is presented. Although some Old Order Amish men may approach their bishop first before asking the young lady for her hand, in a Mennonite community the request is made directly by the prospective groom to his intended. After that, the parents are approached. Approval is expected since the vetting of the couple and their families has already occurred. The engagement is announced by the minister in church and published in “The Budget,” an Amish/Mennonite newspaper widely read throughout the United States.
Preparations for a Mennonite wedding are very different compared to a typical wedding in the outside world where frazzled families work hard to make sure a venue is secured, flowers, food, cake and decorations are planned for and purchased, and everyone’s clothing is carefully matched. Bridal gowns can cost several thousand dollars. The Mennonite bride wears a white dress made from her usual pattern, but carefully fashioned out of special material. There may be some slight changes in the sleeves and bodice to add a more formal look. This dress is very special to the bride and may be worn on subsequent anniversaries as a reminder of the day she was married. The groom wears his Sunday best, as do the attendees. Every part of the wedding is important and chosen by the bride and groom together. The bride will select her maid-of-honor and bridesmaids. The groom will decide on his own best man and groomsmen. This is a high honor and bestowed on those deemed as special in the couple’s lives. There are no rings since jewelry is frowned upon. Flowers are not carried down the aisle, but they are given as a gift from the bride to her attendants and are used for formal photographs. Although flowers are not placed in the sanctuary, they are used for decoration at the reception. The bouquets and arrangements are crafted by talented women in the church. Like other families, Mennonite relatives will plan a dinner after the wedding, but it is made up of simple, homemade dishes. No fancy catered menu here!
The ceremony itself is much like a regular church service and can last for several hours. It is almost always held in the bride’s home church. Ordained “brothers” selected by the bride and groom will deliver a devotional followed by a longer sermon. Usually there are two hymns sung between messages. The songs are chosen ahead of time by the couple and led by their requested song leader. Generally the bride’s bishop offers the wedding vows unless the couple plans to live in the groom’s community. Then the groom’s bishop may conduct this part of the service. Sometimes, before the vows, church members will stand and give advice to the young couple about marriage. Following the ceremony, the bride and groom spend the rest of the day celebrating with family and friends. The meal served may be roast chicken or ham. Side dishes are simple and accompanied by homemade desserts. The wedding cake is not ordered from a bakery. Instead, it is made by a talented cake designer from the community. Food for the reception might be served family style, in a buffet line, or on individual plates that are filled and passed to the guests. There are always servers who fulfill this duty. Presents are given to the couple. Lots of kitchenware for her and perhaps tools for him. No one scrimps when it comes to these gifts which are intended to bless the couple and help them start their lives together with everything they need.
This happy couple will spend their lives surrounded by the support of their family, friends and church. Neighbors helping neighbors isn’t a trite expression in the Mennonite community. It’s a serious and sacred commitment by which they live. Weddings are a prime example of putting love, loyalty, and God first. Perhaps the current interest in the Amish/Mennonite way of life stems from a deep desire to simplify our existence and reassess our values. Taking a lesson from these “simple people” can certainly enhance and richen our own lives.
My thanks to Amish Mennonite author, Sherry Gore, for her invaluable assistance with this article.
- Nancy Mehl