September 9, 2016

The Bishop at Rest…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


They had been young and full of pain and combat,
and now all this was dead in them; they smiled
mildly, feebly, gently…spoke in thin voices…
looked at one another with eyes dead to desire,
hostility, and passion…

—Thomas Wolfe

I had heard about him a few times over the years, from my Amish friends. He was the senior bishop in all of Lancaster County. Enos Beiler. The Amish pope, some called him. Not that I remembered his name for long. But still, my friends got ever more quietly persistent. He’s still sharp as a tack, mentally. You really should stop by, sometime, just to talk to him. And it happened again last weekend, as I was hanging out with some good Amish friends. The bishop came up again, in the conversation. He’s a hundred years old, now, they told me. You really need to stop by and see what he has to say to you. And finally I agreed. All right, all right, I said. I’ll go on Monday. On Labor Day. Stop pestering me. Still, I thought to myself. If you’re going to see a man who’s a hundred years old, you better get it done.

And it’s not that it would be a hard thing, to go see an old man like that. But still, I flinched a little when Monday morning came. What would old Enos think, when a total stranger came knocking on his door? And I knew from the little snippets I’d heard. He used to be all hard core, years back, when he was young and strong. He still had the reputation as one of the strictest of the strict, when it came to bishoprics. And I thought to myself. What will an old hard core guy like that do, when an ex-Amish renegade like me walks in? Lord knows I’ve had my share of bad luck over the years when it comes to Amish bishops. The mad bishop of Ligonier always comes to mind in such a moment, scowling darkly at me from the recesses of my memory.

I figured to play my “Dad” card, this time. Old Enos knew Dad years back, when my father was a Conscientious Objector during WWII. Dad served in camps at Sidling Hill, and later, in Boonsboro, MD. And I remember him telling me. The people from Lancaster County came around, just about every Sunday, to hold church services. And I wasn’t sure how it had happened, but I knew they had met, old Enos and Dad, back in those years. The bishop remembered Dad well, from what I heard. Surely he wouldn’t mind meeting Dad’s son. With such thoughts as these I calmed myself as the day came at me, then the hour.

Right at midmorning, I was fixing to head out. I loaded a few things into my trusty canvas messenger bag. My iPad, just in case. A notebook and a pen. And a copy of my book. You don’t walk into a new place like this unprepared. Play it all by ear, sure, but have what you need when you get there. That’s what I figured. I punched the address into my GPS and took off. West to Leola, then south. Then west again on Eby Road. It was a beautiful sunny morning. Old Enos had no idea I was coming, but I figured he’d be home. The Amish pay no attention to a holiday such as Labor Day. It’s like any other day to them.

On then, past vast rich fields of corn and tobacco and hay. The breadbasket of the east, Lancaster County is. The Amish are woven into the very fabric of the land, who they are and what they are. The blood of all their generations in America is buried here. The road curved and twisted, and soon I saw the old farmstead, off to the left. Where Enos lived. Enos Beiler. The elder statesman of all the Amish bishops in Lancaster County.

Oh, well, I thought. Here goes. I turned into the gravel drive and drove up to the big farmhouse. The big white barns with slatted sides were bulging with hundreds and hundreds of bundles of drying tobacco hanging from the rafters. Only in Lancaster County, I thought. The Amish have always raised tobacco here. And they’ve never made any excuses for it. I’ve always respected that about them. Just be who you are. Walk before God, like you always have.

I parked, then slung the messenger bag over my shoulder and walked up to the big farmhouse. I knocked. A rather plump Amish woman opened the door. She looked at me quizzically, but smiling. I’m looking for Enos Beiler, I half stammered. I’m Ira Wagler, one of David Wagler’s sons. The writer. My Dad was, I mean. I just wanted to meet him and visit a bit.

And she smiled. “He lives on this farm, but not in this house,” she told me. “He lives in that red brick house, halfway out the lane.” Is it OK if I stop and see him? I asked. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Just knock on the door. He should be home.”

So far, so good, mostly, I thought to myself. I thanked the plump woman and walked back out to Big Blue. A few minutes later, I was approaching the screen door of the little brick house. The inside door was open. Looked like a washhouse in there. I lifted my hand and knocked hard on the door. No one seemed to be stirring inside. Maybe the old man wasn’t home. Maybe the bishop had gone out to visit someone this morning.

And right then the plump Amish lady from the first house came walking up. She smiled. “I’m not sure if he’ll hear you knocking, so I came to help you get in.” I looked grateful. She opened the door and walked right on in. I followed closely. “Dad,” she hollered toward the back of the living room. There was a shuffling noise. And a few seconds later, he came rolling out of the back room in his wheelchair. Enos Beiler. The Amish pope. The oldest living bishop in Lancaster County, and probably the oldest living bishop in all the Amish world.

He wheeled up and greeted his daughter, and looked at me. I held out my hand, and he took it. I’m Ira Wagler, I said. One of David Wagler’s boys. He beamed and his eyes flashed, and I saw my father’s name evoked something strong in him. I heard you met him years ago, at the CO camp during the war, I said. And he seemed all eager to talk. He settled down in his wheelchair, and I sat down on a chair by the kitchen table. And we just went at it, the old man and me.

And he told me. He remembered my father well. From way back in the 1940s, when Dad was in service in Boonsboro, MD. The people from Lancaster County went down there and bought the farm, where the young COs would stay. They enlarged the house, and sent a married couple to act as house parents. Enos told me. His parents were house parents. That’s how it happened that he ever even went down to visit.

And I looked at him, as he talked to me. In those first few minutes, the thought flashed through me. Here he sat, an old man, a hundred years old, all ready and excited to visit with a stranger. As a bishop, years ago, he was the strictest of the strict. He observed every jot and tittle of the Amish Ordnung. And I wondered, there. How many innocent lives had withered under his rule? How did the fire of all that ever die in him? Was it for him as it had been for my father? Dad held onto the fire of who he was for as long as he could grasp it. Only with age did the flames die down and recede, only with age did a certain mellowness creep in. I think that’s the way it goes with a lot of those hard core prophets of long ago. The fire dies down, simply because they get too old. No other reason. But I guess that’s a better reason than none.

We settled in then. His daughter sat off to the side for the first ten minutes or so, just listening. “This is all so interesting,” she smiled as she got up to leave. And the old bishop and I talked about a lot of things. I asked the questions, and he spoke his answers.

There were eleven districts in Lancaster County back in 1916, when he was born. Eleven. That’s pretty small. Now there’s probably more than two hundred. And he told me of how he remembered walking on the dirt road to the little country school half a mile west. The road was dirt. “Today, the young people get fussy when their buggies get a little dusty,” he said. “And I always think. They have no idea what real dirt is. Not dirt like we walked over back then.” I laughed, and he laughed, too.

He was born on this farm, he told me when I asked. Not in this house. Up there in the bigger house, where his youngest daughter lives with her family. He lived on this farm all his life, except for a brief period after he got married. He rented a small place across the road. But he worked this old home farm all his life. That’s just amazing, I said.

And I asked him, then, about the Amish culture and where he thinks it’s going. He thinks it’s moving too fast, away from the old ways. I pulled out my iPhone. What do you think of this, that the local Amish people have them? “Oh, they’re not supposed to have cell phones,” he told me. But they do, I said. I deal with them every day, out in the field. He didn’t know quite what to make of that. But he half grinned at me. “I like to hold back a little,” he said. “I’ve always liked to hold back.” Yeah, I bet you did, I thought. I didn’t say that, though.

I asked him. Do you still preach? He smiled a little shyly. “Yes,” he said. “When it’s my turn, I do.” I half gaped. Do you preach sitting down in your wheelchair? I asked. “No,” he said. “I have a walker. I can stand pretty well and when I lean on the walker.” I marveled. Here was a man, a hundred years old, telling me how he still takes his turn, how he still gets up and preaches in the Amish church he was born in.

And he spoke of his memories of my father, there at camp. “He had dark hair, and he was a striking young man. The first time I saw him, he was typing. He was the editor of the little camp newspaper, The Sunbeam. He sat there and typed away so fast that I told him. You’re typing faster than I can think.” I laughed again. Yeah, I said. I know all about the sound of that typing. I grew up going to bed with that sound clacking away downstairs. It’s a fond memory for me.

And somewhere in about here, I pulled out the copy of my book I had brought. I handed it to him, and he looked at it. I wrote this book, I said. “You mean, your Dad wrote it?” he asked. No, I said. I wrote it. I’m not sure if he grasped it, what the book was. But I asked him, kind of shyly. Would you take the book as a gift, if I gave it to you? He told me. “My eyes are still good enough to read.” I took that as a yes. So I signed it to him, and gave it to him.

And at that moment, I fiddled a bit with my iPhone. I snapped a few pics of the man. He had no clue at all that I was doing it. And yeah, I don’t know the ethics of all that. I walked into his door uninvited. He was giving me his attention and hospitality. So how right was it, to invade his space and take a photo I knew he would have objected to? I don’t know. All I know is I wasn’t going to leave that place without snapping a few pics of the old man. I just wasn’t. The Lord will judge my heart.


He never asked the nosy questions, like he probably would have thirty years ago. He never asked if I had ever joined the Amish church. He knew I was David Wagler’s son. We spoke PA Dutch about half the time in our visiting. But he never went there, to find out how much of a heretic I am, or if I am excommunicated (I’m not). The fire of all that had burned out in him.

It was soon time to wind down, then, I figured. I asked what he does with his time. He beamed and smiled some more. “Come and I’ll show you,” he said. And he wheeled into the back room, where he had emerged from earlier. And there he showed me what he does, all day. He hand-weaves little baskets. Two sizes, both fairly small. He had a stack of each size off to the side. Some retailer takes all the baskets he can make. I never asked what he gets for them. How many can he make a day? Three. I guess that hand weaving is a lot of work. But still. It’s so typical of the Amish people. When you get old, for as long as you’re able, you work with your hands. You keep busy. His little work station looked very comfortable. And it was right by a large window, where he could look out over the farm he’s lived on almost all his life.

We moved back out to the kitchen, then, and I made noises to leave. “But wait,” he said. “I think I have an old picture of the camp house where your Dad served, down there in Boonsboro. Let me look.” And he wheeled over to a cabinet drawer and pulled out a large binder. Dozens and dozens of plastic slip-in pages, all containing old letters and old correspondence from long ago. Slowly and painfully, he paged through, while I stood there beside him. He could not find the picture. It’s OK, I said. It’s OK.

I took the book from his hands, then, and placed it in the drawer and slid it shut. It was time to leave now. I walked to the table and he wheeled along beside me. Thank you, I said. Thank you for taking the time to visit. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed talking to you. I reached out my hand again, and he shook it. He was smiling, half beaming. “Thank you for stopping by,” he said. “And thank you for the book. I’ll look at it.”

He turned, then, and wheeled to his little workshop, back to weaving his baskets. And I turned to the door, and walked from his world back into mine.

And it’s that time of year, again. Beach Week. It seems surreal, almost. We head out tomorrow. A whole week of not doing anything I don’t want to do. It’s been a crazy year. I have seen and walked through many things since last year’s Beach Week. And in my heart, I am grateful for all of life.

I don’t know if the boys plan to go shark fishing this year, or what. Guess we’ll figure all that out when we get down there. I do know I’ll be doing some serious writing. I’ve got about a fourth of those fifty pages roughed out for Chip, my agent. I just need the time to sit and feel them in, the details. I’m giving myself until New Years to get it done. Maybe if the next week is productive, I might beat my own deadline. No pressure, though. We’ll just see how it goes.



  1. Indeed, the legendary bishop Enos Beiler! Remember that name well from my teenage days. Yeah, he sure was a stickler for obeying the Ordnung, no doubt about that. I’m amazed that he still preaches, would love to hear him. I guess he now holds the record for oldest age and still preaching. Bishop Aaron Esh was oldest previously, preached one sermon at age one hundred, died at age 100 years, 3 months. It was Aaron who baptized my mother in 1932. He was also from Bird-in-Hand area, practically neighbors with Enos Beiler.

    Comment by jon fisher — September 9, 2016 @ 6:35 pm

  2. Thanks for the blog, Ira. Well done! You confirmed a thought: Very seldom do I say, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t stopped to visit that person.” And you inspired me to stop in to visit some local folks who are not able to get out. I’ll be interested to hear his take on your book.

    Comment by John Schmid — September 9, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

  3. This sounds like a very nice visit. He must have enjoyed your company, as you did his. It will give him something to think about as he weaves his baskets, and it’s already given you an interesting blog and maybe a chapter in a book. You are an adventurer, and everything is an adventure and a story for you, and us readers are lucky to hear your stories.

    Comment by carol ellmore — September 9, 2016 @ 8:37 pm

  4. Wow, you went to visit Enos Beiler, sounds like you had an interesting visit. I grew up in his church district until it was divided because of the size. He still continued to be Bishop over our district the summer my brother Mike and I went through instruction class. He baptized us. I’m not certain but I believe he baptized my father as well. From the stories I heard, his earlier years as bishop he was pretty rigid. And so by the time he baptized us he would have been 80 years old. as that was 20 years ago and it was the last year he took care of our district. Thanks for sharing Ira!

    Comment by Allen Miller — September 9, 2016 @ 9:42 pm

  5. Sorta stuck on, “How many innocent lives had withered under his rule?” Probably wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t lived my own version. Even now, it’s still hard to comprehend. Feels like I’m racing to make up for lost time. Trying to squeeze 100 new adventures into every day. (From learning guitar, to doing a cartwheel, to paddle boarding, to zip-lining.) Suddenly, sky’s the limit. Guess freedom comes at a price. Making it all the sweeter. Thank you for giving me hope when they told me I couldn’t make it alone.

    PS. Soooo glad you decided to post this. Since your big announcement it’s kind of felt like I lost a friend.

    Comment by Phyllis — September 9, 2016 @ 9:56 pm

  6. Thanks for sharing this to people like me, living in another country…another world. Raised in the Dutch Reformed church in Africa.

    Comment by Janie de Bruin — September 10, 2016 @ 7:14 am

  7. Lovely story-just my guess, but I bet he mentions you in his next sermon.

    Comment by Pizzalady — September 10, 2016 @ 7:18 am

  8. Would have loved for him to find those pictures.I grew up in Boonsboro, MD and would likely have recognized the place. Interesting to know there were Amish there at that time.

    Comment by Rodney — September 10, 2016 @ 1:02 pm

  9. Wonderful post! There is something about suffering and getting older that makes you mellow and softer. That is a good thing. Hopefully he will read your book and learn from it. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — September 10, 2016 @ 2:57 pm

  10. Enos’ many great-great-great grandchildren will appreciate the picture you took of him.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — September 10, 2016 @ 4:31 pm

  11. I enjoyed your story of the trip to Bishop Enos Beiler and it precipitated a thought. There have been multiple books about the “greatest generation” and their WW11 and after experiences. It seems to me that the experiences and sacrifices of those that served as Conscientious Objectors would be of value. What did they do? What was it like? The story of David Wagler and John Wenger (my father) and hundreds of others is about to fade as this generation passes the baton to their children. Subsequently, the record will be in the Bishop’s book or in baby boomers heads. Seems to me a book would be in order.

    Comment by Preston Wenger — September 11, 2016 @ 9:28 am

  12. I enjoy your blogs so much and have read and own your book. I left the Amish 60 yeas ago and I was excommunicated. However, after all these years most of my family doesn’t practice any of the shunning.

    My question is this: I have always wondered if you can still speak the Pa Deutch when you are with family or do you speak only English? I can still speak it quite fluently and enjoy doing so when I am with my family.
    Wishing you God’s richest blessing.

    Comment by Mary Ellen(Yoder) McKnight — September 11, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

  13. I glad that you shared the experience of visiting the 100 year old Bishop. I can imagine just how interesting it was to you. I love your blogs and I wait on them, however this time I have been so busy with showers and tea’s for my Granddaughter’s wedding, I forgot to see about it.

    Thanks again for your writings.
    God Bless you Greatly.


    Comment by Linda Morris — September 12, 2016 @ 2:25 pm

  14. The greatest gift you can give to an older person is to just sit and listen to them. You can be sure he appreciates your gift. And it sounds like you deeply appreciate the gift he gave you in return.

    Comment by forsythia — September 13, 2016 @ 11:32 am

  15. Ira, Enos invited you into his house, when you arrived unannounced. He took the time to listen to you and answer your questions. He was very kind and polite to you all the time you were there even though he must have realized that you have rejected all he stands for. Then you repay him by secretly snapping his picture and posting it online for all the world to see, even though you realized that this would be against his wishes. To me this is very rude.

    Comment by Ray Miller — September 16, 2016 @ 8:45 am

  16. Yes sir, a courageous move on your part to go see the old bishop. And I can relate to it all. My late grandpa was one of those, a hard nosed “Ordnung” to the core. I wasn’t comfortable with him growing up, actually afraid of what he was or seemed to be. He had a style of preaching that kept people awake and brought him acclaim from far and wide. He was a “fixer”, out of state Amish churches would bring him in as a mediator. The sad part was that when he was old there was so much fear that he didn’t want to leave his house. And he did mellow out some.The “no pictures” makes me laugh a bit. Some years ago my uncle’s, his son’s told me that grandpa had kept a picture of his first wife when she was a young woman. And growing up in that culture any number of Amish people had pictures squirreled away in spite of the ban on photos. Who knows, the old bishop in PA. might have had a few pics himself. If the technology would have been available I would have snuck one of grandpa. To me it’s a bit selfish with a whiff of false piety to deny future generations a glimpse of what the forefathers looked like..just sayin’..peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — September 23, 2016 @ 4:53 pm

  17. Sweet little story. Sweet of you to make the effort for a visit. Confession-Had to look up “bishopric”. Sounded like something you would make up. ;)

    Comment by lisa — September 23, 2016 @ 11:55 pm

  18. 30 years ago I was marshaled up to this man to be brutally interrogated….my crime?…trusting my salvation to SOMEONE other then the Amish church. Years later I voluntarily went to see him again with an apology for my fear and wrong attitude.

    Comment by Ben Girod — October 10, 2016 @ 9:04 pm

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