Shunned: An outcast's lonely mission

August 22, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

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?' "

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