An Iowa woman’s new book describes her life growing up in an Amish community and leaving it. While the traditional life looks peaceful to outsiders, Irene Garrett wrote “Crossing Over” to tell the story of a painful separation from not only her family, but a society that “excommunicated” her for leaving. She says some who leave move to a conservative Mennonite group, but the Amish will excommunicate or “shun” anyone who simply leaves for the world of the “English,” as they call everyone outside the Amish community. They view Irene as basically dead, and think they shun her out of Christian love, to show her the error of her ways. The Amish live a very traditional farming life, but also try to close off the oustide world, and Garrett admits there are similarities to a cult, with the isolated small groups centered on a system of beliefs. In order to keep that way of life, she says they have to use control and even fear to keep people in line, and she says the shunning and excommunication of those who leave are all part of that control to keep people in the group, as a cult would do. Garrett isn’t an “Amish deprogrammer,” and says she never seeks out people or tries to convince them to leave an Amish community, but those who DO leave often contact her. She says she’ll help anyone who comes to her to ask for help leaving or after they’ve left an Amish community, but it’s a decision every individual has to make on their own. Garrett married a man who worked as a driver for the Amish, who can’t drive anything but a horse and carriage themselves. She says joining his family’s Lutheran church was important, as she’s still deeply religious. She says that helped her to discover that there was more to Christianity than her Amish upbringing had taught her, and “you don’t have to be Amish to get to heaven.” Garrett is on a book tour and will be talking with readers and signing copies of “Crossing Over” at Barnes & Noble bookstores in West Des Moines tonight and Davenport Saturday morning.
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