When you travel to New Gloucester, Maine, you may come across a village called Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village. Inside, you’ll meet its two inhabitants. One is named Arnold Hood and the other June Carpenter. They’re the remaining two members of a nontrinitarian charismatic Christian sect called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing also known as Shakers. The Shakers are members of a religion. The Shakers Lifestyle is a life of celibacy and communalism. Brother Arnold Hood and Sister June Carpenter weren’t the only members of this sect. The Shakers have a long history that stretches more than two hundred years across two continents.
History of the Shakers
In 1747, James and Jane Wardley separated from the Quakers and founded the Wardley Society in the Northwest of England. The Shakers originated from the Wardley Society. The Shakers became known as the Shaking Quakers primarily because of their twitching, shouting and marching during worship. Church meetings were held in the city of Manchester and places near the city.
A little girl named Ann Lee and her parents were one of the first members of the sect. Ann later became the leader of the community. In 1770, Ann received a revelation. She claimed that she was the second coming of Christ. She was subsequently named Mother Ann by her followers. Ann and her followers left England for America after facing persecution. After reaching America, the Shakers settled in New York. Following Ann’s death, a Baptist minister named Joseph Meacham took over leadership. He alongside a woman named Lucy Wright preached the sect’s form of communalism (religious communism) and celibacy. The two helped grow the religion.
Growth of the sect and the shakers lifestyle
Between 1820 and 1860, Shakerism was at its peak having thousands of members all the way from New England to the Midwestern states. This period was known as the Era of Manifestations. However, during the 20th century memberships started to decline. Many left after deciding not to conform to the celibate and communal lifestyle that was being preached. In 1957, the Shaker covenant was closed. This was the place that kept records of new converts. Its leaders stated that the religion would no longer accept converts. However, the leaders of the Sabbathday Shaker Village disagreed. They still welcome new converts.
The Shakers don’t accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Instead, they believe in a form of dualism stating that God is both male and female. The Shaker doctrine states that Jesus, son of a carpenter was the male manifestation of Christ and the first Christian Church; while Mother Ann, daughter of a blacksmith, was the female manifestation of Christ and the second Christian Church. Shakers believe that Adam’s sin of eating from the forbidden tree was a symbolic representation of sex. As a result, they preach against sex and lead a life of celibacy. They disagree with materialism and implement communalism. Therefore, private ownership is prohibited.
Crafts, Innovation and Pacifism: Pillars of the Shakers Lifestyle
During their peak years, shakers were excellent craftsmen. Shaker brethren engaged in trade while sisters engaged in weaving and sewing. They sold the items they produced. The money raised from the sale of these items would be used by the whole community. Shakers are responsible for many inventions that advanced the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. These people were known for their cleanliness and frugality. The Shaker religion preaches pacifism. Any form of violence is sin in their view. During the American civil war, Shaker brethren refused to participate and became one of the first conscientious objectors. The sect teaches the equality of men and women since God is both male and female. Men and women equally lead in the communities. They equally make key decisions.
20th century and beyond
The 20th century rapid decline in church memberships became the turning point for Shakerism. After the closure of the Canterbury Shaker Village in 1992, only three members of the sect remained. Sister Frances Carr died in 2017 due to a car accident. This has left Brother Arnold Hood and Sister June Carpenter to be the only two remaining members of Shakerism. The Shakers embody many liberal values like communalism and gender equality. This has led many to call the sect, a failed liberal utopian experiment. They say that the Shakers lifestyle was the main reason their numbers dwindled. Brother Arnold and Sister June don’t agree with this notion. They state that they’re just worshipping God and that they will be looking for new converts so that the sect survives.
Written By Yisac Tsegaye