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A Bill Moyers Essay — On Amish Grace
Amish mourners
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October 5, 2007

October 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the shootings in an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania that left five girls dead and five wounded. Non-Amish observers have expressed surprise at the community's quickness to forgive the murderer — a sentiment the community reiterated in an anniversary statement, a statement which also stressed the community's wish for privacy:
"The Amish do not wish publicity for doing what Jesus taught and want to make sure that glory is given to God for that witness...forgiveness is a journey... you need help from your community and from make and hold on to a decision to not become a hostage to hostility. It is understood that hostility destroys community." -- read the full statement. (PDF)

There will be no public memorials to mark the tragedy, but the community has opened a new schoolhouse — the New Hope Amish School.

>Respond to this essay on the blog here

The Girls
Five girls died in the attack: Naomi Rose Ebersol (7); Marian Fisher (13); Anna Mae Stoltzfus (12) and sisters Mary Liz (8), and Lena Miller (7). The girls wounded in the shooting have made measurable progress in the year since the shooting. Rosanna King had serious brain injuries and does not walk or talk — she was not expected to survive. Sara Ann Stoltzfus, now 9, does not have full vision in her left eye but is back at school — she also was not expected to survive. Barbie Fisher, now 9, pitches in the school softball but just underwent another shoulder operation in hopes of strengthening her right arm. Rachel Ann Stoltzfus, now 9, returned to school in the months after shooting. Esther King, now 14, returned to school in the months after shooting, graduated and is now working on the family farm.

The Comfort Quilt
The Amish have long been famed for their beautiful quilts. Their stark and simple patterns are featured in museums around the globe. Amish women quilting, National ArchivesHowever, it was not an Amish quilt which hung in the local firehouse in the aftermath of the tragedy. Soon after the shooting the community received "The Comfort Quilt," first given to children of 9/11 victims, who in turn passed it along to survivors of Hurricane Katrina. A delegation of community members took the quilt to Virginia Tech to share its message of comfort with the grieving campus. View a news report about the quilt

Amish Grace
The Amish journey to forgiveness is documented in the book AMISH GRACE. When reading the book, Bill Moyers was struck by the following passage about the Amish and their ability to heal:
...The Amish are better prepared than most Americans to deal with a tragedy like this. The Amish are a close-knit community woven together by strong ties of family, faith and culture. Members in distress can tap this rich reservoir of communal care during horrific events. The typical Amish person has seventy-five or more first cousins, many living nearby. Members of a thirty-family church district typically live within a mile or so of each other's homes. When tragedy strikes — fire, flood, illness, or death — dozens of people surround the distressed family with care. They take over their chores, bring them food, set up benches for visitation, and offer quiet words of comfort. The Amish call this thick web of support mutual aid. They literally follow the New Testament commandment to "bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). So while no one is ever ready to deal with a tragedy like this, historical practices had prepared the Amish well.
-- read more from AMISH GRACE.
Find out more and Amish life and belief below.

Published on October 5, 2007

Related Media:
Are fear and violence the inevitable consequence of clashing beliefs, or is a more tolerant world possible? BILL MOYERS ON FAITH & REASON explores this question with leading thinkers on the relationships between religious fundamentalism and democracy, equality, and human rights.

References and Reading:
The Web site for the book included excerpts, study guides and author profiles as well and resources.

BBC Faith and Reason: The Amish
Detailed information on Amish customs, worship and belief.

Bethel College: Mennonite Library and Archives: MARTYR MIRRORS
Images and text from MARTYR MIRRORS, a history of early Christian martyrdom from Christ to the Protestant Reformation. Amish, as direct descendants of European Anabaptists, trace their spiritual lineage to these martyrs, and most Amish families have the book in their homes. The book's full title is THE BLOODY THEATER OR MARTYRS MIRROR OF THE DEFENSELESS CHRISTIANS WHO BAPTIZED ONLY UPON CONFESSION OF FAITH, AND WHO SUFFERED AND DIED FOR THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS, THEIR SAVIOUR, FROM THE TIME OF CHRIST TO THE YEAR A.D. 1660.

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online provides reliable, freely-available English-language information on Anabaptist-related congregations, denominations, conferences, institutions and significant individuals, as well as historical and theological topics. Secular subject articles from an Anabaptist perspective and full-text source documents are also included.

"Nickel Mines legacy: Forgive first," By Ann Rodgers, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, September 30, 2007

OYEZ: Supreme Court Media
Guide to the case Wisconsin v. Yoder, a 1972 case in which Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller, both members of the Old Order Amish religion, and Adin Yutzy, a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until age 16. The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that individual's interests in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the State's interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade.

RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY: Amish Forgiveness, September 21, 2007
Host Bob Abernathy interviews one of the authors of AMISH GRACE, Dr. Steven Nolt.

Religious Movements Homepage Project: The Amish
Begun nearly a decade ago in conjunction with a course on New Religious Movements taught by Prof. Jeffrey K. Hadden at the University of Virginia, the Religious Movements Homepage Project has grown into an Internet resource for teaching and scholarship overseen by an advisory board of religious scholars from around the globe.

Amish Music

Religious Movements Homepage Project: The Amish
Glenn Lehman at Harmonies Workshop provided Amish music for Bill Moyers essay. You can hear samples of Amish music in both German and English online. In a conversation with Producer Candace White, Glenn Lehman noted: "while their music sounds odd today, 250 +/- years ago, before the advent of the singing schools which brought us hymnals with the music notes printed out, and before most churches had organs, many congregations would have sounded not too far dissimilar....To the degree that this is true, then, when we hear Amish hymn tunes we are hearing a musical fossil similar in DNA to the musical fossils other American groups have hidden (because it was not recorded) past."
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A look at the media frenzy over Iran and its President

A year after the tragic shooting, Bill Moyers looks at what the Amish can teach us about healing.

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