Authors contemplate Amish tradition of forgiveness
Public curiosity about Amish culture, heritage, and faith
peaked last October after a gunman stormed the one room
Nickel Mines schoolhouse in rural Lancaster
County. Word of the tragic event spread quickly—five
Amish girls seriously injured and six lives lost, including
the gunman and five schoolgirls. While this violent
act against a peaceful people stunned the world, many
observers seemed equally mystified by the quick extension
of forgiveness offered by the Amish community to
the family of the gunman.
"Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy,"
a book exploring the religious beliefs and habits that led the Amish to forgive so
quickly, was conceived by authors David Weaver-Zercher, Donald Kraybill, and
Steven Nolt. Each author, including Weaver-Zercher, chair of the department of
biblical and religious studies at Messiah College, had been contacted extensively
by media in the days and weeks following the tragedy at Nickel Mines. They
agreed that the cultural complexity of the Amish warranted more than soundbites
on the evening news or a few short sentences in the morning newspaper,
and they embarked on writing "Amish Grace" together.
Though the extent of violence in the Nickel Mines community was uncommon,
the Amish response was not, according to Weaver-Zercher. In the opening
chapter of "Amish Grace," the authors write, “The Nickel Mines Amish certainly
didn't anticipate the horror of October 2. They were, however, uncommonly
prepared to respond to it with graciousness, forbearance, and love.” The following
chapters trace their response to the tragedy but also explore the habit, roots,
spirituality, and practice of forgiveness among the Amish—a practice they have
demonstrated time and again in surprising ways in their history.
“The story of Amish forgiveness eclipsed the story of schoolhouse slaughter,”
the authors write about the swell of op-ed pieces and countless commentators
trying to dissect this seemingly peculiar action. While the world attempted
to absorb this act of forgiveness, the family of the gunman spoke publicly about
the impact of the grace extended to them by their Amish neighbors: “Your compassion
has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing
our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
Amish Grace will be available nationally in bookstores on September 21. All
of the author royalties from the book will be donated to the Mennonite Central
Committee to benefit their children’s ministries around the world.
David Weaver-Zercher will present a public lecture, “Amish Grace: Reflections on the Nickel Mines
School Shooting One Year Later,“ on September 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Hostetter Chapel. Messiah
College alumnus and professor, Weaver-Zercher ’83 is the author or editor of six books, including The
Amish in the American Imagination (2005). He began studying Amish culture in graduate school. “The Amish are extraordinary in many ways, and I became particularly interested in how outsiders
talked about them,” he recounts. Weaver-Zercher, who has been teaching at the College for 10
years, lives in Mechanicsburg with his wife, Valerie, and three sons, Sam, Isaiah, and Henry. Prior to
teaching at Messiah, Weaver-Zercher was an associate pastor at Grantham Brethren in Christ Church.