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.
Because he deals with numerous non-Amish customers, he accepts credit cards, a practice that was already in place when he took over the business 13 years ago.
"If I don't, then they can't buy it that day," Otto said of the Red Wings and other shoes he stocks in his shop.
Like almost all Amish businesses in the Arthur area, Otto has a telephone. His is located in a storage area in the back of the business.
"Very few businesses have very far to go to their phone," he said.
He checks his messages periodically depending on his daily schedule. If needed, he can be available to take calls at certain times.
A fax is used to communicate with some of his vendors, and he most often stays in contact with them via their cellphones, he said.
"Salesmen don't really care how you get information to them," he said.
Recognizing the limitations on how the Old Order Amish communicate with the outside world is a part of life for those who live and work alongside them.
The Amish area in central Illinois is located roughly within a 7-mile radius of Arthur. Currently, there are between 4,000 and 4,500 Amish in the area.
"We try to honor that this is their way of life," said Bob Doan, community development coordinator with the Arthur Area Economic Development Corporation.
Even those who have cellphones use them discreetly for business purposes only, Doan said.
"They are very practical and what they do is very applicable," said Doan, who is also the assessor for Bourbon Township.
He said they are willing to try some new things and work together to make opportunities for each other.
"They stay within their culture," Doan said. "They are very creative but very practical. The Amish are just like other people."
Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, http://www.jg-tc.com
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