Shunned: An outcast's lonely mission

QUARRYVILLE, PA. — QUARRYVILLE, Pa. -- The old Amish farmer lay helpless in the hospital, too weak to reach for water. His son handed him a glass.

The father accepted, but then looked nervously toward the door, mustering the strength to say: "I'm glad you helped me. But don't ever let another Amishman know I took a glass of water from you."


That fearful plea 11 years ago still gnaws at the son, Aaron S. Glick, a 72-year-old farmer and dairy owner in this picturesque area of Pennsylvania Dutch country. The glass of water was the first thing his father had accepted from the hand of his son since spring 1947.

That's when Mr. Glick was excommunicated from the Old Order Amish church and ostracized by the Amish community. His offense? Using a tractor to plow his fields.


From that day on, the Amish, including his own relatives, were not to eat at the same table, conduct business with him or ride in a car he was driving. He was "shunned" for life -- unless he repented before his church congregation. He never did, choosing instead years later to fight back.

For Mr. Glick and his wife, Susie, the shunning has lasted 47 years.

"We never ate with our parents after that, never, at the same table," Mr. Glick says.

Branded as condemned sinners, the Glicks were forced to move from his father's farm near Lancaster, settling 15 miles south in Quarryville. They joined a Mennonite church that embraces the modern conveniences rejected by the Amish, such as electricity and cars. The Glicks raised seven sons, ran a large farm and opened a dairy and convenience store, the Maplehofe Dairy, on Route 222 just north of the Maryland line.

But Mr. Glick carried the hurt of strained relations with his Amish parents for nearly half a century. The pain and humiliation, coupled with a defiance that hardened through the years, impelled Mr. Glick to challenge this most basic tenet of Amish doctrine: shunning.

Complaint filed

Four years ago, he filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, charging that two Amish businessmen near Quarryville refused to sell to him. Both were Old Order Amish who acknowledged that they shunned Mr. Glick because he was "under the ban."

The dispute with one man, who ran a hay auction, was resolved when the man apologized to Mr. Glick and went out of business.


The other, Christ B. Stoltzfoos, persisted in his shunning. He owns Valley Hardware in nearby Christiana, a dim, well-stocked store with no electric lights that is open to the public.

No member of the insular Amish community attended any of the commission meetings. But Mr. Stoltzfoos wrote two letters in his defense. One reads, in part:

"We understand the Pa. law says we should sell [to] anyone regardless of race or religion but we also must abide of the rules of the Amish church.

"We have had quite a few people in our store since we started in business in 1970 that we shun but always before we could explain to them and they would not bother us anymore. However, with Aaron it don't seem to work that way."

On a mission

That's because Mr. Glick believed he was on a mission.


"The Amish have a lot of good family values. They take care of their elderly relatives, and they keep their children home," Mr. Glick says. "It's just that evil shunning I wish they'd eliminate. It ain't biblical. . . .

"One night I got awake, and I know this sounds strange, but the Holy Spirit talked to me. Let me put it this way: I knew then I had to do something to bring this shunning out in the open."

The Human Relations Commission ruled on July 27 that Mr. Stoltzfoos' refusal to sell merchandise to Mr. Glick is "a denial of equal treatment because of religion."

The commissioners acknowledged that the ruling would have an impact on Mr. Stoltzfoos' religion, but that the impact would be "neither unreasonable nor extreme." They ordered him to sell to Mr. Glick and others shunned by the Amish.

One day last week, as Amish farmers baled hay in neighboring fields, Mr. Stoltzfoos declined to talk about the ruling. A middle-aged man with the customary beard, straw hat and plain clothes, he answered questions with a severe "no comment."

When a woman working in the store started to speak, Mr. Stoltzfoos, with the snap of his wrist, pointed a stern finger at her. The woman's mouth snapped shut.


Asked, finally, whether anyone in church leadership would talk about shunning, Mr. Stoltzfoos grunted "no," and walked out a door.

That doesn't surprise Merle Good, who, with his wife, writes and publishes books about the Amish and operates The People's Place, an educational center for Amish and Mennonite culture. The center is in Intercourse, east of Lancaster.

"There's very little public relations among the Amish. There's no Amish Defense League or anything," Mr. Good says. "You might ask them, 'Don't you care what Time magazine says?' And they'll say, 'What's Time magazine?' "

The debate over shunning is not new. It was a driving force in the group's formation in Switzerland in 1693, when it split from the more moderate Mennonites. The Amish advocated the strict shunning of ousted members; the Mennonites took a more charitable view.

Amish doctrine says shunning is meant to pressure errant members to return to the fold. But Mr. Glick says it's a weapon for keeping members in the church and punishment for former members who defy the church.

What is new is that Mr. Glick challenged the practice in public. The Amish have reluctantly become embroiled in public battles before -- about serving in the military, attending school past the eighth grade, paying Social Security taxes and placing orange safety signs on their carriages.


But this is the first time anyone outside the group has publicly challenged shunning in Pennsylvania, Mr. Good says.

Nevertheless, he says, the ruling will not significantly alter Amish practices. Many Amish districts have already tempered their treatment of those under the ban, he says. Some in the Midwest have eliminated shunning. It happens that the Amish in southern Lancaster County, home to Mr. Glick, are among the most conservative in the country.

When the Glicks moved here after being shunned, there wasn't an Amishman within 10 miles, Mr. Glick says. But since World War II, the growing Amish community has migrated from the northern part of the county.

Families traveling in horse-drawn carriages began slowing traffic along Route 222 near the thriving Maplehofe Dairy. Bearded farmers plowing with horse-drawn equipment appeared in the fields.

Mr. Glick was once content to farm the Amish way and live in a house with no telephone and electricity, no links to the outside world.

He joined his parents' Amish church when he was 18. That's the custom among Old Order Amish; children don't join until the late teens, when they're old enough to decide for themselves about their religion.


Mr. Glick was baptized upon his confession of faith and vow of obedience. He wasn't obedient for long.

"You get brainwashed to their culture, that you're the ones and everyone else is worldly," Mr. Glick says. "You're made to believe RTC you have to farm with horses, that if you use tractors, the ground will get so hard it won't produce."

But after marrying Susie, who grew up Amish, he watched his neighbor -- an Englishman, as outsiders are called -- farm with tractors and "get 10 times more done than I did with a pair of horses." And, he says, he was troubled by inconsistencies in church rules and hypocritical behavior by some church members.

"Well, I seen all this and I got a tractor and started farming with it," Mr. Glick says. "I knew they thought it was wrong, but I didn't think it was wrong. So I challenged them."

Church leaders patiently counseled him for about a year, but to no avail. Finally, one Sunday morning in spring 1947, they summoned him to church and, when he refused to repent, excommunicated him and, shortly after, his wife.

"I said many times it didn't bother me," Mrs. Glick says. "I felt sorry for them, because they're so tradition-bound."


The Glicks bought a farm in Quarryville with the help of their new minister.

"From the day we moved here, the Lord blessed us -- crops, health and good family," Mr. Glick says. "We prospered. I can't be thankful enough. I got the feeling we were supposed to make that move."

Their Amish friends stuck by them -- in private at least. They were cool in public, afraid they'd be seen by church leaders as supporting someone under the ban, Mr. Glick says. Family relations were downright chilly.

Table in the corner

"The Amish are great for eating -- good food, the best food," Mr. Glick says. "At weddings and holidays they put a little card table in the corner. That's where Susie and I sat. And all our relatives and everybody else sat at the table having a good time."

Their parents visited them, but only if one of the grandsons drove the car to pick them up. They never rode in a car while Mr. Glick drove. And even at the Glicks' house, they refused to eat at the same table.


Mr. Glick and his father occasionally worked side by side around the farm, but his father would not take anything from his hand. If he needed his son's screwdriver, he'd say, "Set it down." Only then would he take it.

At the same time, he continued shaking hands with his son. All the Amish did; they are great for shaking hands. That was one of the inconsistencies Mr. Glick never understood.

"It's pretty far-fetched, some of this stuff," he says.

Sam Glick, the oldest son at 48, says the children didn't suffer. None became Amish. They ate at their relatives' table and got used to their parents sitting in the corner, he says.

Merle Glick, 36, remembers being about 15 and riding with his father to a feed mill. The Glicks sold hay and straw to farmers and needed to know how much their truck weighed.

Dollar on the ground


The weighing cost a dollar. Merle remembers his father putting a dollar bill on the ground because the man at the scales wouldn't take it from his hand.

Now Merle runs Maplehofe Dairy, where the Amish seldom shop, and Sam manages the farm. Both say they didn't understand why their father kept challenging Mr. Stoltzfoos at the hardware store.

"I said, 'If Christ doesn't want your money, go somewhere else,' " Merle says. "But then I haven't lived with it for 50 years like my father has."

"Now different Amish are telling him, 'I'm glad you stood your feet,' " says Sam, using an expression particular to Amish culture. "They're tired of this shunning. Maybe this will loosen things up."

Mr. Glick needs paint and plans on buying it soon at Valley Hardware.

He says he's confident that Mr. Stoltzfoos will obey the Human Relations Commission. Local church leaders want to put the controversy behind them, he says.


If the hardware store owner complies, Mr. Glick says, he'll feel vindicated.

He'll feel as if he did his part in challenging an Amish practice he believes is wrong.

But he regrets not feeling a "forgiving spirit" from his parents, he says. And he won't forget the painful memory of his father's fear in the hospital.

That was the first time, and last time, he took anything from the hand of his shunned son.

The next year, his father died.