Breaking Shaker

Shaker from Sabbathday Lake shares his life with Farnsworth Museum – PenBay Pilot

Shaker from Sabbathday Lake shares his life with Farnsworth Museum – PenBay Pilot.

The only question I have for Arnold is why he has – unabated for over 35 years – chased away one potential Shaker after another. I’d also like to know why the former Shaker Wayne Smith came to be driven out of SDL. Many potential converts also leave to escape Frances’ sharp, biting tongue. And if you hear the call to Mother Ann Lee, and want to part of her love and her teachings but you are not allowed to “join” the remants of Shakerism, I think that the time has come for a better non-Shaker way.

Next post: I was with Wayne Smith all day on his last day as a Shaker. Who knew I was witnessing Shaker history as it was being made? Certainly not me. I had no clue what was coming the next day…

Old vs. Now

I received a message to one post about the “behind the scenes” life at Sabbathday Lake. The message asked the question about the public face of the remaining Shakers vs. their private face, as well as comparing Shakers of old vs. those who live at SDL and who now “run” the Shaker church and/or religion.

The Shakers of today have a direct impact on the numbers who inhabit the village or convert to Shakerism, and there is one particular source of discouragement: Sister Frances Carr.

There is no doubt in my mind that those at SDL have public “face,” especially Sister Frances and Brother Arnold. Sister June, in my opinion, has been too beaten down by her older “sister” to interact much with the public or anyone else for that matter.

Sister Frances, in my opinion, is just plain mean and has always been just plain mean. She has a temper that can be triggered without real cause or for any particular reason. And when she lashes out, her tongue is sharp and quick.

I am not the only former novice who felt that whip, but others who have lived there have reported the same problem with Sister Frances. Sometimes this anger slips out during public times. A friend of mine (and former novice) received such a public tongue lashing from Sister Frances (at a Sunday dinner, no less) that I recently met a Shaker admirer who remembered that particular incident. She was shocked at how Sister Frances screamed at the novice with the thought, “Is this Shakerism?” I had already heard from the novice about this particular incident, and knew how much pain and hurt Frances caused that day. The Shaker admirer wanted to comfort the novice, but didn’t know the “correctness” of this action.

In historic correspondence written in the 1980s from one Shaker historian and author to another, there is mention of Sister Frances’ “violent and virulent” tongue. The correspondence went on to say that the public rarely sees it, but those who live at SDL feel it often. The same Shaker historian and writer also explained that Brother Ted Johnson found Frances’ sharp tongue a source of embarassment. In that same letter it was also written that there were problems with alcoholism, but that is for another post.

For those interested in 20th century and 21st century Shakerism, I am afraid the news is not good. Not to say that late 19th century Shakerism was perfect, but the further Shakers get away from their Mother AND their Father, the less perfection is found in a Church that finds comfort in perfect order. What is disturbing is some modern Shaker historians want to rewrite the truth about Sabbathday Lake, But, as was recently said to me by a well-known Shaker author, “The history of modern Shakerism has yet to be written.”

That’s about as close to the truth about modern Shakers as I have heard or read lately.

Breaking Modern Shaker Myths #1

For decades now both people and historians have reported that the late Theodore Johnson, aka Brother Ted Johnson received a Master’s of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts. After I performed a quick fact check with the Divinity School’s Registrar’s office, turns out this is a myth. Johnson did take two classes at the Divinity School on a “special student” status, but never received a Master’s of Divinity from Harvard. This piece of lore has become so commonplace now that books everywhere report this myth as something that gave Ted Johnson credibility as a spiritual scholar. Not so. My source for this information? Harvard Divinity School. A little fact checking goes a long way.

Spirit Throughout The Year

Merry Christmas! Spirit now, and throughout the year! I spent one Christmas at Sabbathday Lake. It was one evening (Dec. 24th) where I could feel the spirit of Christ and our Heavenly Parents visit the village. I transcended the hardships of my modern Shaker experience and felt the presence of Mother, Father, Shakers of the past, and the true spirit of Shakerism. I did not share this gift, but kept it to myself until now. May the world be blessed by the Universal Truth today and every day.

Kitchen Times

Sister Frances and Sister June would regularly come into the kitchen at 4:00 p.m. to begin putting together supper, in earnest, every weekday evening. Usually, Sister Frances would have begun supper cooking either after dinner was finished or, depending upon what was being served, begin cooking at 4:00 p.m. But, as supper was being prepared, there would be fellowship around the small kitchen table between women.

These were pleasant times of sodas, drinks, crunchy snacks, visits with Chris from down the street, cooking, and talking. Sister June would become animated and chatty, Sister Frances relaxed, and so did I. And I learned how to cook Shaker from Sister during these evenings.

You never knew what the topic would be: old time stories, questions and answers among those present, updates from the White family down the street, troubled times regarding the absence of Wayne Smith. And it was only women who were present, no men.

Those were the moments that I could see what it was like being a Shaker sister among a family. Those were the times that I understood how work, service, prayer, and friendship blended into a loving life of community, celibacy, service, and celebration.

Had every moment of work, play, and fellowship been as simple and prayerful as these moments, I would not have left the Shakers. It would have been easy to recruit more and more people into this loving circle. I saw the future of Shakerism rising from a museum into community.

It was not meant to be.


One cannot become a Shaker without approval of Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister Frances Carr. I feel so much anger towards them and it’s difficult for me to overcome this feeling.

It’s not enough to believe. Nothing is ever enough for them. I think Brother Arnold wants to be the last Shaker.


But I still believe in Mother Ann. And there is nothing Arnold or Frances can do about it. I hunger and thirst after true righteousness.


I’ve been in spiritual pain since leaving the Shakers.

There was no doubt that it was the correct thing to do, that is, to leave. It was so obvious that Brother didn’t want me as a Sister, and others followed his lead. I remember coming home one Saturday night from the regular “Chinese Dinners” the Family would enjoy; eating out meant retreat from the kitchen. I went home that night, not in the Shaker van, but in the car with Brother’s sister and brother-in-law. As they talked on the drive home, I felt invisible. Now, the three relatives didn’t see each other that often, but often enough so that a fourth wheel would not have disturbed the conversation. But I was isolated from this group, in all conversation, even in existence. Not one word spoken between me and the lively conversation between Brother, sister, and brother-in-law.
It was how Brother handled things he didn’t want to handle. He would ignore, not like shunning, but making believe that you didn’t exist.
How does one join a family when one is not wanted? They pray for what Brother calls “competent” converts. Mother Ann, on the other hand, simply wanted your soul.

I kept on hearing, “And all I would ask of you brethren and sisters is just a little bit more.”

Love, more love.


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