Shunned from her Amish family

Anna Dee Olson, who lived the Amish lifestyle until age 24, describes her journey from growing up Am

What does the world really know about the Amish, a population of over 300,000 throughout the United States? Amish are considered to be the most secretive culture in America. Basically unless you were born into an Amish family or joined them, you can only know the surface of this hidden culture. Much of what is written about the Amish is by people who did not grow up Amish. What I am saying is that unless you are part of that culture you cannot know the Amish as deeply as someone who was raised Amish.

I was born and raised by Amish parents who lived in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the United States. At 24 years old I made my first life changing decision for myself and walked away from the only life I had ever known. I went searching for a life filled with love, peace, and tranquility. One might say, “I thought that is what the Amish life is all about?” Well I am telling you that it was not for me. Certainly there are some things about my heritage that I will always treasure and I still practice today, but, we have to remember that Amish people are human beings just like the rest of us and they do have shortcomings.

My parents had ten children; four still practice the Amish faith and lifestyle today but six do not. I was the first female in my family to walk away. Today I am shunned from my family, community, and most Amish communities throughout America.

Shunning – you will find that this word has a varied meaning depending on the community you are in but I will explain what it meant in my community. When a member of the church (I was not a member until I was baptized at age 18) has gone against the rules of the church they are considered to be in sin. Your name is then announced to all members so they know to impose the shunning upon you. It is a requirement to shun sinners or you are in sin yourself. This means there is no buying or selling with the member being shunned. You cannot sit at the same table and have a meal and, in the case of a married couple, there are no martial relations during the shunning.

The above rules go across every Amish community but the following are some that were specific to my community. They cannot accept gifts from me (as the sinner), they will never visit my home, they can give me money but not accept any money from me, and I cannot attend a church service unless I want to rejoin the Amish.

All rules of the church are not written. The members are reminded of the rules twice a year. The Bishop, Ministers, and Deacon along with the elders of the church and parents are responsible to enforce the rules.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.