Arthur's Amish stay in touch

By Sarah Miller

The Mattoon Journal-Gazette

Published: Friday, July 27 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this July 16, 2012 photo, Lorene Helmuth, of Beachey's Bookkeeping, reads out a message to an Amish client by telephone from the company's office in Arthur, Ill. They provide service to Amish clients in the area.

Journal Gazette, Ken Trevarthan, Associated Press

ARTHUR, Ill. — The "English," or non-Amish, in Arthur and the surrounding communities may have access to high-tech smartphones that provide nearly every means of communication possible, but their Amish neighbors don't seem to mind living without the latest gadgets.

In Arthur's Amish Country, everything, including communication, moves at a slower pace. But over the years, the Old Order Amish have had to accept some forms of technology for communication with the "English" world.

Guidelines as to the types of communication devices that Old Order Amish can use for their businesses are set by the bishops of the 29 Amish church districts in the area.

During annual meetings, the church bishops discuss the types of technology that are acceptable for the Old Order Amish community.

Telephones, including cellular phones in some cases, and fax machines are the only communication devices that are approved by the church districts, according to an Old Order Amish gentleman who spoke anonymously to the JG-TC.

"We believe we need guidelines to go by to help serve God," he said. "Having church guidelines gives us obligations and responsibilities. They help us stay away from many temptations in the world."

Telephones and fax machines are located outside, but take messages through voicemail or answering machines, he said.

Cellular phones are allowed for Old Order Amish who work in the areas of carpentry, he said.

"English" visitors may misinterpret the use of cellular phones, and even cars, by some in the area due to the groups that belong to the local Beechy churches.

They look and dress similar to Old Order Amish, but their guidelines are more lenient, he said.

Computers are not allowed in the homes or businesses of the Old Order Amish, but "are acceptable if someone does it for you," he said.

They are asked not to have a website, he said.

Some Old Order Amish do utilize the computers at the library or use services such as Beachy's Bookkeeping in Arthur, he said.

"It's encouraged to go through someone else to do that, he added.

Brad Yoder has operated Beachy's Bookkeeping for five years. He took over the business from former owner Junior Beachy, who started the service in the early 1980s, offering a telephone message service and faxing, Yoder said.

"That was before they had phone shacks," he said describing the building the Amish have their phone outside their home that can be used by one family or shared by multiple families.

Yoder now offers payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable services for his Old Order Amish clients.

He also sends and receives email for his Amish clients, which can entail driving to their business to pick up or drop off hand written documents. Items are also dropped off or mailed to his business.

"The way the business world has evolved, it's very difficult to run a business without a computer. It's amazing how well they do without the communication like everyone else has," Yoder said.

Richard Otto, who operates Country Shoe Shop south of Arthur, has his own "computer" system — a well-stocked Rolodex that provides him with customer information.

"There's really not a whole lot that goes down on a Rolodex," he said. "You just have to know your alphabet."

Otto doesn't see computers entering the Amish world anytime soon.

"There are too many horror stories of immoral things on the Internet. It really scares a lot of people of what is readily available," Otto said.

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