In Ontario, the "Amish" in "A. M." (Amish Mennonite) is a name not at all limited to "Old Order Amish." When Mennonites of Ontario hear the word Amish, at least in local context, they are just as likely to think of a certain group of Mennonite congregations west of the towns of Kitchener-Waterloo whose roots are in Amish and Amish Mennonite history--congregations begun by Amish who immigrated from the Alsace province of France mainly between 1822 and 1860. These Amish and some related groups in Ontario have established their own particular version of a mutual aid organization: the Amish Mennonite Fire and Storm Aid Union, commonly known as "A. M. Fire and Storm" (or, hereafter, the "Aid Union"). The Aid Union is designed to meet its members' needs without compromising their faith principles. In many respects its organization remains rather informal, especially in contrast to the ever more complex and bureaucratized manner of many institutions in the modern world. Yet it has thrived, aided by the face-to-face ethos of the communities who sponsor it and by some indulgence from government. In some respects the Aid Union, by its very existence, reflects the modern urge to become more systematic in matters such as mutual aid; yet it also has defied some patterns of development that we have come to expect in modern institutions.
Clearly the Aid Union's aim is to provide a necessary service to a particular set of faith communities in a manner consistent with the communities' theological principles. These Christian principles and the commitment of the communities to them determine the Aid Union's form and content. Any "unique features" of the Aid Union were not intended to be so; yet together such features do offer an alternative to organizational patterns in the larger society. Similarly, if they embody so-called "Anabaptist" themes, they also do that rather inadvertently. Most likely, the Amish immigrants were not as familiar with the writings of such early Anabaptists as Menno Simons, Pilgram Marpeck and Bernhard Rothmann as they were with the scriptures on which such Anabaptists drew. Early Anabaptist writers perceived the necessity and practicality of scriptural "mutual sharing and burden bearing" among a community of believers. (2) The Aid Union is in fact only one of a number of forms of mutual aid practiced in its community.
The Aid Union serves primarily members of a cluster of churches and fellowships who are quite traditional in an Amish and Mennonite sense. They are the "old Western Ontario churches" (MC congregations whose roots are in the nineteenth-century immigration from Alsace and who abandoned the name "Amish Mennonite" only in 1963); the so-called Beachy Amish; the Church of God in Christ Mennonites (Holdemans) who settled around St. Mary's, Ontario in the 1950s; various Old Order Amish districts (some derived from the 1822-1860 migrations from Alsace and others resulting from fairly recent migrations to Ontario's Lakeside, Chesley and Tiverton areas); and several unaffiliated congregations. Any person accepted for membership by one of the participating churches or districts is eligible for the Aid Union's mutual aid coverage; these groups provide the Aid Union's backbone.
However, some other individuals participate, largely due to kinship ties, even though they may have joined other Anabaptist-derived groups. Commonly, persons voluntarily withdraw if they leave the Anabaptist-related churches altogether, and Mennonites who have become highly acculturated into modern methods of business and organization very often do the same. The pattern does not prevent participation by many congregations of the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada, which is jointly affiliated with the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church and whose people do not stand out with plain attire. To date, the pattern has worked quite well to define the Aid Union's boundaries. …