words by: Elam Stoltzfus
— PART EIGHT | ORIGINS —
Back in 2019, I had our old family Ausbund repaired. The person who was recommended to me for the repair was Aaron Petersheim, a well-known historian and book collector among the Lancaster Amish. When I took the old tattered Ausbund to Aaron for repair, we connected over more than just the book. We discussed family connections (freundschaft) and the Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead. Aaron has been a volunteer there since the early 2000s and was the board’s first chairman; at the time, my wife and I were working on moving to the Homestead as on-site caretakers.
When our conversation returned to the Ausbund, he opened up his metal filing cabinet and handed me a list of all American printings since 1742. I was amazed at how many books had been printed since then. From 1742 to 2021, over 400,000 hymnals have been printed in the US.
Aaron also gave me the small book: History of the Amish Book Committee by Benuel M. Fisher. Later the present-day Amish Book Committee gave me the original journals and ledgers from Steffie F. and Jacob Lapp. I visited Aaron several more times and discussed the Committee with him. Through reading and discussion, I gained a better understanding of the importance of the Amish Book Committee. I realized that these early members from 100 years ago—Steffie F. Stoltzfus, Christian L. Fisher, Jacob Lapp, and others—were visionaries. Their early work—and continued grassroots efforts of Committee members through the years—to preserve German books has been key for the Plain people in maintaining their heritage.
In one of our conversations, I mentioned to Aaron that I wanted to see the printing of the Ausbund for myself and write a story about it. We started making plans.
On July 20, 2021, a group of us left Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and headed to Chelsea, Michigan, to see the printing press for ourselves and discuss the upcoming 65th edition of the Ausbund with printer Rinck Heule. I drove my SUV; my passengers were Allen King, Eli King, Jacob Lapp, and Aaron Petersheim. Allen is the Committee’s current chair, and Eli and Jacob serve as members.
On the trip, I shared about my travels to Passau, Germany, with Aaron and the Committee members. It was an honor to tell my stories of visiting Veste Oberhaus, where imprisoned Anabaptists wrote about half of the Ausbund hymns…
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Elam Stoltzfus currently serves as caretaker of the Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead in (Berks County) Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. In 2018, he traveled to Germany to document the history of the Stoltzfus family—this research is documented in German Lutherans to Pennsylvania Amish: The Stoltzfus Family Story. To order a copy of this book, you can mail a $30 check to Elam Stoltzfus, 1700 Tulpehocken Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610.
Sources of research and quotes: History of the Amish Book Committee; Benuel M. Fisher, research and preface; Stephen F. Stoltzfus Journal & Ledger; Jacob Lapp, financial ledger; Interviews with Eli King and Rinck Heule.