SOUTH FORK, Ky. (AP) — A rift in a Mennonite community in central Kentucky has prompted a decision by most of the families to pull up stakes and move to Tennessee.
The Advocate-Messenger (http://bit.ly/10iwDbC) reports that 60 of the nearly 80 Mennonite families established at South Fork in Casey County have bought land near the small town of Spencer, Tenn., and 17 have already moved.
The dispute between the Mennonites revolves around just how much of the outside world to let in, and those who are moving want to get away from the worldliness.
Ammon Weaver, who is a spiritual and financial backer of the move to Tennessee, says he thinks the South Fork community has become too accepting of modern conveniences such as electricity, motorized vehicles and cell phones. He says those things can serve as distractions.
"It's really important that we focus on the true meaning, on serving the Lord more and not so much on lifestyle," Weaver said. "We are not condemning, we are choosing not to participate any longer."
Farmer Paul Martin, who identifies with more liberal beliefs, is staying in Casey County but says the break has been amicable.
"The Amish and Mennonites have a habit of spreading out and starting new settlements," said Martin. "It's still the same church, we still take communion together, but some can't agree on what they want to allow."
The South Fork Mennonite community began under similar circumstances in 1976 when Jacob Oberholtzer led a "reform" group of 16 families to the area to get away from the worldliness in Missouri.
Weaver will be missed by the community when he leaves. The Casey County Chamber of Commerce honored his businesses, Wildcat Ridge Gear Shop and Waldemar Design and Machines LLC, as industry of the year in 2011.
"It's a shame he's leaving," said Blaine Staat, director of the Chamber. "The guy is amazing."
He hopes other Mennonites will be attracted to the area.
"They are good neighbors and friends, just good people, and we hate to see them go," said Staat, "but hopefully others are moving in who are more progressive that will kind of backfill where others have left."
Weaver says his decision is based on resisting temptations.
"The strongest defense against Satan is a strong family," Weaver said. "Anything that tends to tear down strong families is suspect, so you remove the temptation. We're just people like everyone else, and there's a constant tendency to go astray."
Weaver says he sees the hilly undeveloped land in Tennessee as ideal. Nearly $5 million was spent to purchase almost 5,000 acres for the new community.
Weaver says the land in Tennessee is nearly all contiguous in a 7-mile radius, unlike Casey County, where Mennonites live interspersed among other residents. The new setup will mean shorter buggy trips and more insulation from outsiders.
The new settlement won't allow tractors or cars and will have strict restrictions on using electricity and other power sources that aren't solar-based.
People who live near the new Tennessee settlement have so far reacted well to the families that have made the move.
"Our reputation has preceded us. We've been warmly welcomed and are held in high esteem for our work ethic, honest business practices and craftsmanship," Weaver noted.
But that has also raised concern about whether worldliness might seep into the new community.
"We're going to be hard-pressed to prevent it," he said.
Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews