The Knepps: Simply Believers

Stanley Knepp along with his wife, Shannon, and their children — Bryant, 12, Cody, 11, Darius, 10, Tyler, 8, Zachary, 5, and Andrea Rose, 3 — sang “Be Present at Our Table” as a song of grace before eating dinner in their Loogootee home Dec. 30. Stanley, who described his family’s beliefs as on the more conservative side of the Mennonite faith, said the family will sometimes sing a “grace song” before a meal, as opposed to a nonmusical prayer. He said his family will always dismiss from the table with a song.

Story by Bill Powell 
Photos by Jacob Wiegand

Stanley Knepp hears it all the time from friends and acquaintances outside the Church.

Questions about avoidance of technology, beard styles and the differences between Mennonites and the Amish.

“If I don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you I don’t know the answer,” he says before breaking into a big grin. “It never gets old.”

The 40-year-old turkey feed hauler from rural Loogootee is but one of this area’s many Christians of the Mennonite faith, but it’s hard to fathom there could be a better point man for dispensing wisdom, explaining church standards and dispelling cultural ignorance.

Stanley, spiritually-centered and gregarious to the point that giggles constantly bulge his cheeks and make his eyes squint, enjoys sharing his experience.

“I’m that type of person who hasn’t met a stranger,” Stanley says. “A stranger is only a friend I haven’t met yet.”

Stanley, who cuts the hair of all five of his sons, trimmed Tyler’s hair Dec. 16. “A lot of the Amish and Mennonites cut their own hair,” Stanley said. “It’s very rare to see any Mennonites or Amish go to a barber.” Shannon said that as a general rule for conservative Mennonites, women don’t cut their hair.

He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of all the farming family names from Duff to Dale and points in between thanks to more than 10 years hauling feed. His work history also includes years selling seed and operating his own excavating business.

His father, Ervin Knepp, 65, was a general contractor who did lots of farm construction in the area, so Stanley can point to a barn west of Huntingburg or a milking parlor in St. Henry and say it was dad-built.

Stanley is married to the former Shannon Yoder (“I de-Yoderized her for life”), 36, whom he met in her little hometown of Montezuma, in Macon County, Georgia.

Their initial meeting was at a Bible school in her hometown.

“That’s something you’re going to find,” Stanley says. “A lot of Mennonites will have a winter Bible school.”

Lasting anywhere from 10 days to several weeks, the Bible schools allow young Mennonites 18 and older an opportunity to network and grow spiritually.

Shannon worked with her sewing machine as her children played, did chores and tended to their studies after school Oct. 31 at their home. Shannon said the dresses worn by Mennonite women are sewn by other women in the faith, while the clothing for the men is bought.

“When I turned 18 I started going and went for about seven years,” Stanley says. “I got into different communities all over so I actually have a broad network of Mennonite friends.”

Stanley says it would be rare for him to not know at least someone in another Mennonite community anywhere in the country.

In addition to the Montezuma school, Stanley attended Bible schools in Leitchfield, Kentucky; Belvidere and Crossville, Tennessee; Calico Rock, Arkansas (where he rappelled off bluffs); and Cullman, Alabama.

Stanley and Shannon did not date until several years after their initial meeting. They eventually wed at a ceremony in Montezuma.

The couple has six children. Their boys are Bryant, 12; Cody, 11; Darius, 10, Tyler, 8; and Zachary, 6. But the public may remember encountering a certain picture of the family’s baby: 3-year-old Andrea Rose. She was the first baby born at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center on New Year’s Day 2014.

“She’s our miracle baby,” Stanley says.

“She had open heart surgery,” Shannon explains. “She spent 88 days in the hospital.”

Stanley balanced Andrea and Shannon Wagler of Loogootee, 6, on his lap following a Sunday morning service Oct. 29 at Mt. Nebo Mennonite Church near Newberry, on the Scotland-Newberry Road. Stanley said Andrea and Shannon are two of three girls who attend Mt. Nebo who have Down syndrome.

Andrea has Down syndrome, goes to speech therapy and gets invited along with her family to an annual Daviess County holiday meal and Christmas party the Amish and Mennonites host for special needs kids. Stanley says an annual benefit supper and auction raises money for the dinners and events like a therapeutic riding experience last August in Corydon. Stanley, who was working nights at the time of the Corydon event, missed two nights of work volunteering as a driver as two charter buses and two wheelchair-accessible van transported children.

“I told my wife, just to see what I saw was worth losing a week of sleep,” Stanley says.

The Knepps are fairly conservative by Mennonite standards and are members of the Mt. Nebo Mennonite Church near Newberry, on the Scotland-Newberry Road.

“The church and the school are kind of the hub of Mennonite relationships and community,” Stanley says.

Andrea watched as members of Mt. Nebo Mennonite Church gathered to sing following a Sunday morning service and lunch Oct. 29 at the church. Stanley said Mennonite women start wearing the headship covering around kindergarten age, although the age varies in some churches. Mt. Nebo Mennonite Church also practices segregated seating where women and men sit on different sides of the church aisle during the service.

At Mt. Nebo, men and women sit on different sides of the church, hymns are sung a cappella in four-part harmony and there is communion twice a year, preceded by what Stanley calls a council meeting.

“What it amounts to is every member of the church expresses where they are with their relationship with God and where they are with their relationship with their fellow man,” he says.

In those meetings, Stanley says, members welcome input and questions about their behavior.

“There’s an openness there as far as our relationships,” he says. “Our ministers aren’t salaried. Everything is done volunteer.”

Smoking and drinking are prohibited at Mt. Nebo and members disconnect their radio if their vehicle comes with one. Vehicles are plain, without contrasting colors. Mt. Nebo’s standards reject sports models or vehicles modified according to the present trends.

Jonathan Beachy of Flat Rock, Ill., showed hunting videos to the Knepp children — Darius, Tyler, Zachary, and Cody — on his phone during a wedding reception Dec. 22 at Berea Mennonite Church in Cannelburg. The Knepps do not have a television or radio in the home and computer access is limited to roughly 20 minutes per child each week. Although the Knepp family does make use of email and the internet, Stanley said social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are prohibited by their church.

“We’ll know how conservative your church is if your vehicle still has a radio pole (antenna),” Stanley says. “The bottom line is, you use your vehicle for what it’s for. It’s not necessarily to be a showpiece.

“There are some Mennonite churches that still have radios,” Shannon says. “And what we call liberal Mennonites also watch television.”

Most, but not all, Mennonite churches have computers, Stanley says. “There are some churches where the technology side is taboo,” he adds.

Mostly, Stanley says, Mennonites and the Amish live simply. He says much of their life is as Jesus states in John 17 and other Bible verses that talk about being “in the world” and “not of the world.”

Mennonites and Amish formed as part of the Protestant Reformation in the German and Dutch-speaking parts of central Europe. For the Mennonites, one of their early theologians in the 1500s was named Menno Simons. Stanley says Menno was a priest but other church founders were common men.

Mennonites are committed to pacifism, believe in the mission and ministry of Jesus and, because they reject infant baptism in favor of what Stanley calls “the believer’s baptism,” are known as Anabaptists. Stanley says Mennonite baptism comes “upon the confession of their faith. In the Mennonites, there is not a set age of accountability. When I say age of accountability, that’s when you start understanding what is right and wrong. That’s around the age of 12, give or take.”

Darius helped carry goods into the Knepp home Dec. 30 after returning from a trip to Jasper with his father and siblings to shop and grab a bite to eat. The family makes the trip to Dubois County about twice a month to shop and also travels to the county for things like doctors’ appointments.

Stanley says the Amish drive buggies, meet for Sunday services in farmhouses and many hold services in High German but there are some Amish groups less conservative than some of the Mennonites. A Mennonite’s beard is usually not as long as the full beard worn by Amish men. Some Mennonites will grow mustaches, Stanley says, but some don’t.

“You look back at the history,” Stanley says. “The mustache by itself used to be a kind of military statement. The Amish and the Mennonites, we take it serious about the separation of Church and state and living a separated lifestyle.

“If you look at Ephesians, Chapter 6, there’s a verse about honoring your father and mother ... so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth. I know my dad would be pretty disappointed if I actually wore a mustache even though, in and of myself, I don’t really have a conviction to not wear a mustache. It’s out of respect.

“That’s another thing you’ll see with the Amish and the Mennonites: The values they place on honoring their ancestors.”

Stanley grew a beard before he was married.

“It’s a personal choice,” Shannon says. “But, by the time (men in the church) are married, it would be expected of them.”

“When you come to the church,” Stanley says, “you obviously accept our standard of practice. The biggest thing you need to do to be a Mennonite, at least in our church, is simply be a Christian.”

Stanley played Rook with his sons — Bryant, Cody, Darius, Tyler, and Zachary — to pass time before dinner Dec. 30. Because they don’t have a television, reading books and playing games like Rook are common occurrences in the Knepp household. During the warmer months of the year, the children spend more time with outdoor activities.

The Mennonite tradition is divided into different subgroups, with many of those named after their founding bishop. Stanley says Mt. Nebo is part of the Beachy Constituency, named after Moses Beachy, the founding bishop of the Beachy Amish Mennonite churches.

“He wanted to clean up the smoking and the tobacco (allowed in some more liberal congregations), that sort of thing,” Stanley says.

Stanley says Fellowship Churches are a strict branch of Mennonites.

“All those churches will drive black vehicles,” he says. “Their men will wear suspenders all the time, kind of like Amish.

“To some people, that may sound like different denominations but it’s really who they fellowship with. When you ask who you’re church associates with, that’s when you come up with some of these names.”

It’s similar to a church conference in other faiths, according to Stanley.

Nicknames are telling for Mennonites like Stanley.

For instance, there are 18 nicknames (Bottle, Codger, Clown, Slats, Slick) for members of the Graber family in Stanley’s neck of the woods. “They tell me which line of Grabers you come from,” Stanley says.

“The family line,” Shannon explains. “If you just say John Graber there may be five John Grabers.”

Bryant and Cody worked on their chores and helped out their grandfather, Ervin Knepp, near the Knepp home in Loogootee after returning home from school Oct. 31.

“They called my grandpa (Albert) Knepp ‘Bud,’” Stanley says, although he doesn’t know how he got the nickname or what it stood for. He does know that, in Pennsylvania Dutch, Knepp means buttons.

“That’s the reason, when I went to Bible school, these guys who knew Pennsylvania Dutch called me Stanley Buttons,” Stanley says.

“I’m glad my mom didn’t name me Roy.”

Then Stanley laughs because Roy stands for row in Pennsylvania Dutch, meaning he would have been known as a row of buttons.

Just as nicknames have evolved by necessity, so has the Mennonite approach to technology. Necessity forces the use of some technology, according to Stanley, but much is avoided in order to preserve the nature of their traditional communities.

There are no radios or televisions in the Knepp’s home — “The bad outweighs the good,” Stanley says — but you will find a computer and they do carry smartphones.

“The filter we have on our internet is a Mennonite company to filter to the strength we want,” Stanley says. “If you have a business, your sales tax, fuel tax, all that stuff has to be done online. That’s some of the things we’re faced with.”

Stanley and Shannon chatted with other members of Mt. Nebo Mennonite Church during a luncheon following their Sunday morning service Oct. 29 at the church near Newberry.

The family refrains from social media and the kids’ screen time is limited to some recreational use, like playing a farming game.

The Knepp boys attend school at Mt. Nebo and will until the eighth grade. Stanley says the children will be home-schooled during high school and their trade will be their choice, even if that vocation requires college. That is the plan for Andrea, as well, Stanley says.

“It’s all going to depend on how she does,” Stanley says. “If she struggles or needs more therapy, we’ll probably develop another plan.”

Trends come and go, Stanley says, but Mennonites stick with tradition.

“The Bible says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” he said. “We’re held accountable if we do something to cause our children to go astray and miss the mark. That’s why we hold the conservative viewpoint.

The whole point of the conservative lifestyle is to be like the way we think Christ wants us to be, while at the same time being accountable for our family and our church members. That’s the sad thing about the world today. There’s not that brotherhood accountability.”

“There are so many lost people around us,” Shannon says. “That’s another reason for living the way we do, to let others know there is hope in Christ.

“The answer to all of life’s problems — all the discouraging things out there — is Christ. There’s hope in him. That’s what we want to show to other people. There is a better way. There is a life of joy and peace.”

Shannon is quick to add that she and Stanley are far from perfect and she does not wish for anyone to think otherwise.

Darius watched a candle burn before setting the dinner table Oct. 31.

“We’re human like everyone else,” she says. “We have our own problems. And no problem is too big for God.”

Stanley agrees, saying you’ll discover issues in Mennonite families and in churches “but the biggest difference is how we approach those issues.”

“We allow God to work in our lives,” Shannon says.

When he and his wife answer questions about their faith, Stanley says, their goal “is to point people toward Christ and help them understand why we do what we do.”

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