Rumspringa which is the German term for "running around" is an important rite of passage occurring between courtship and marriage in which which community rules are relaxed and Amish teens are allowed to experience worldly activities before deciding to commit to the Amish church.
Just as with all young adults, the late teen years are a confusing time in Amish life. It is a time when the youths swing between the innocence of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. It is doubly difficult because Amish boys and girls skip high school and college and, therefore, miss out on a valuable period of self-discovery.
Rumspringa is an Amish tradition in which the community rules are relaxed and Amish teenagers are allowed to experience worldly activities. It is believed that by doing so the youths will be able to "find themselves." It is believed that only with such self-knowledge can one make a fully informed choice to accept the lifelong rules of the
and the requirements of the Amish church.
From Courtship to Marriage
This rite of passage of Rumspringa begins at the age of sixteen when Amish boys and girls tend to begin courtship. The relaxation of Amish community rules allows the young people to gain knowledge of the larger community, to socialize and meet prospective mates.
It is during this period that they decide how to live the remainder of their lives.
Having chosen a mate and just prior to marriage, the young adults prepare for
where they declare their Christian faith and vow to be faithful members of the church for the remainder of their lives. Those who break their baptismal vows face
excomminication and shunning.
Although Rumspringa comes from the German term for "running around," it has often been misinterpreted to mean "running wild" or "rebelling."
Most Amish teens live at home during this period. Many of the teenagers in Lancaster County join one of two dozen or so youth groups that crisscross the region. Some of the groups have adult chaperones while other groups determine their own activities.
Each group tends to have 100 to 200 members and has evocative names such as the Drifters or the Shotguns or the Bluebirds.
The different groups engage is assorted community activities such as softball, volleyball, skating and hiking. On Sunday evenings they tend to gather at a member's home for supper and singing.
Having said that, there are instances where Amish teenagers test the boundaries and snub traditional Amish beliefs and values by sampling worldly commodities such as alcohol, tobacco, television, radio and movies.
Some dress in non-Amish clothing and use automobiles. Some go to the city; socialize in bars, and go to the beach. Some of the groups even rent buildings in the city and where members meet and have parties.
If the actions are handles prudently, the parents will ignore these digressions with the expectation that the teens will mature and voluntarily reject these worldly ways and return to the church.
Every now and then, a sensational story reaches the media of some Amish youths being arrested for buying and selling drugs or some other scandal. Fortunately, such incidents are rather rare. Unfortunately, they cause a great deal of embarrassment and pain for the parents and church leaders
Freedom of Choice
The practice of "running around" during Rumspringa gives the young Amish women and men the impression that church membership is a free choice.
The perception of free choice encourages Amish adults to to uphold the
in later life. After all, they were given the chance to explore the outside world and weigh the cost of membership before joining the church.
However, some argue that the lifelong conditioning of Amish life such as the ties of family, friends, education, and economic incentives often prove too strong and pull the young back to their community.
Young people who choose not to be
gradually drift away from the community. However, unlike those who break the vows of
they are welcome to continue socializing with their family and friends without the stigma of
Nevertheless, despite the flirtations with worldliness during the period of Rumspringa, it is estimated that nine out of ten youths eventually end up joining the Amish church.
To learn more about the Pennsylvania Amish Community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,
Return to an Introduction to the AMish People of Lancaster County
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