The Last Shakers

Dinners at Driscoll with the Cross Country team can often lead to some deep thoughts; last night our topic was the Shakers. A Christian sect originating in 18th century Maine, the Shakers were known for their strict chastity, simple living, hand-made products, great theme song, and extreme physical reactions to the presence of the Holy Spirit (from which their name comes). With the help of Wikipedia, we learned a lot about the sect, from their “Three C’s” of celibacy, communal living, and confession to their belief in a dual male-female God. I found all of this fascinating, and I’ll probably look into the group some more, but the most interesting discovery for us was the present state of the Shakers: as of now, there are two living Shakers, Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter.

These two Shakers are the only remaining members of a sect that once boasted a membership of thousands. Both are also getting up there in years, meaning that there is a very real possibility that the Shakers could go extinct in the near future. Additionally, since refraining from engaging in sex (or even passing the opposite sex on the stairs) is a core tenet of their religion, Shakers cannot be born, only converted. And as you might imagine, there aren’t too many people in this day and age who are willing to give up their present and future lives to join such a radical, strict community. However, I was shocked to find out that the Shakers receive an average of two applications a week! I thought, “Why aren’t they accepting any of them? They could save their religion!” And it’s true that they do accept some people, who quickly realize that the Shaker life is not for them. But it struck me as incredibly noble that these two remaining Shakers would not just open the floodgates of their compound to any interested malcontent. They would rather see their sect die than see it be poisoned, twisted, made less than it was supposed to be. That sounds like true devotion to me, and I definitely have deeper respect now for the Shakers, one of America’s most iconic religious communities.

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