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.