June 17, 2013

Shakers' history alive and well

Two men work diligently to bring awareness of the Sabbathday Lake village, founded in 1783, to new generations of people.

By Deborah Sayer dsayer@pressherald.com
News Assistant

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click image to enlarge

New York City students try gardening during a recent visit to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester. The students lodged at the village and participated in prayers and chores on the farm. They also took field trips to other attractions in the area.

Photo courtesy Leonard Brooks

A celibate community, comprised of adult converts, the number of Shakers has dwindled over the years to just three remaining members in Maine.

The leader of the group is Sister Frances, now in her mid-80s, who came to the community as a 10-year-old orphan from Lewiston.

While Brooks and Graham oversee the running of the historic aspects of the Shaker Library and Shaker Museum, they report to Sister Frances and Elder Arnold, who oversee the overall spiritual, physical and financial welfare of the community.

Brooks said, "There are two entities at work here: the Shaker Society is a church that exists to educate others about what Shakers call the 'Christ life' and the museum and library are nonprofit corporations that educate people about Shaker traditions and history but are not involved in religious decisions."

At 10 a.m. each Sunday, the Shakers invite the public to join them for worship services that are centered around testimonials, punctuated by Shaker-penned hymns that correspond to the particulars of a person's story.

"One of the most beautiful aspects of meetings are the songs offered up as an accompaniment or complement to the individual testimonies being offered during services," said Brooks. The Shakers have composed thousands of songs during their history, including the song "Simple Gifts" written by Maine elder Joseph Brackett (around 1948 in Alfred).

The village is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, offering six guided tours daily.

A Shaker store and gift shop sells items such as homemade herbal oils, vinegars, soaps and yarn made from the sheep raised there. Books, quilts and other items made by local artisans are sold in the museum shop.

Brooks will retire at the end of this month, passing the director's baton to Graham, who also will continue to serve as curator.

Graham said Brooks, who will transition to a part-time role as coordinator of the Shaker retreat center, has done a fine job of laying the groundwork to build on.

"(Brooks) has provided Sabbathday Lake with a great deal of stability through a very carefully designed, forward-thinking plan of attainable goals that allows us to continue moving forward with the preservation of the buildings, increase the museum and library collections and expansion of our educational programs," Graham said. "He has a personal passion for Shaker heritage, is part of the Shaker family and brings an entirely different perspective to his job, his goals and objectives. He has really given this his all."

Brooks remains hopeful for the future of the village, saying "(Graham) is a kindred spirit with the Shakers. And that's how a good job begins. To discover the Shaker history, you must begin with a knowledge of their religious life, which is the core of their history."

Brooks said he is not concerned that the Shakers are destined for extinction, noting that after 250 years of history in Maine there is always something new to discover about them.

"They work and labor so that there will always be members here as a profession of faith to honor the trust, as they see it, that is in the Shaker church," said Brooks. "I follow their lead. As long as they remain hopeful, I will too."

Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:



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