People kept asking me - why are you going to Shakertown and my answer was "Chuck wants to " and so we went.
And it was perfect for us - what we needed and really made me consider a lot of things.
It was a nice bookend to the beginning of this trip - our visit to Gettysburg.
The Shakers were (and are - there are 3 living Shakers in Maine!) a group of Christians who felt called by God to live in community. They started in England in the last 18th century but came over to the US to start a group in the Albany NY area. Three of their members were in Kentucky - Cane Ridge in 1804 during the great revivals that happened there. These revivals were the beginning of Barton W. Stone's conversion which helped begin my denomination the Disciples of Christ. For the Shakers it was further proof that they were living in the Millenium - that Christ would come again soon and that their job was to prepare for his coming. And the community of the Shakers was that preparation. It was a group of people who were egalitarian, pacifist, celibate (that's the one thing everyone knows about the Shakers!) and living in a worshipful working community that was always striving for perfection. And so Shaker furniture is still widely regarded as were their seeds and songs. Their worship did not have a minister (egalitarian) and it was characterized by music and dancing. They are known as mystics.
Wednesday Chuck and I went to many lectures plus a demonstration of Shaker music (we danced too!) We stayed at the Inn and ate two meals there.
There was much to admire about the Shakers - their community was caring and kind and there was a place for everyone. During hard times, people had a better life there than on their own. I had always heard or maybe assumed that they died out because of the celibacy - no one is a born Shaker - everyone is a convert. It was no cult - because they made it hard to join (have to be 21) and easy to leave.
It turns out that there were other reasons why it died out. (the last Shaker from KY died in 1923) There were some issues about who is going to be in charge. Even though they were egalitarian - they were not a democracy. The elders in charge - 2 men and 2 women - were selected by the leaders in NY. The leaders chose the leaders and they lost a lot of people over the years over this.
The times changed as well. After the Industrial Revolution, men could make more money and have more autonomy doing other work than farming. Over time, there were more women (widows from the civil war) and not enough men to do the work.
And the leaders and the kinds of people that were drawn to the Shakers changed over the years. In the beginning, it was some very faithful and devoted and intelligent people. At the end, sometimes people would want to come for the winter and then leave when the spring planting had to be done.
The Shakers in Kentucky had a good run - from 1811 - 1911. And that may be enough. The Shakers foundation was formed in 1960 that bought back the land and put together the Inn that we stayed at and all the lectures and displays. It is fascinating to consider these people and their dreams and their commitment to what they believed God was calling them to do.
And so, I am left to ponder all of this. I see the Shakers as having the same issues as the church of today. There seems to be a theme here - about the "seasons" of our lives. It was a time for this kind of communal living, perhaps. And everything does not have to last forever to be successful. We all live in the tension between the needs of the individual and the community. And then there is our idealism - as our notions of perfection bruch up against our humanness.
The Inn where we stayed was quiet and peaceful. We watched no television and just allowed the beauty of the place to nourish us. (plus some delicious buttermilk fried chicken!)
One last thought - the civil war. They were pacifist and lived on Rte 68 where soldiers passed by. They were known for their kindness and generosity - so they were left alone to feed and to help heal the soldiers who came along - both sides.
Like I said - much to admire about these people.