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Shaker Communities Essay

1372 words - 6 pages

Shaker Communities

During the 1800’s many utopian societies sprouted in the United States. Most of these societies blossomed and faded quite quickly, but one group did not fade away like the others. This society successfully combined their faith with the reasoning of the changing times and kept their communities going strong. They are or known as the Shakers, or more formally as the members of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. The Shakers were inventors and thinkers who challenged many traditional thoughts and beliefs. Even today, people marvel and wonder at the Shakers and their communities, which have survived for over two hundred and twenty years and whose ...view middle of the document...

There they bought the land that maintained one of their longest living communities in what came to be known as Watervliet.2

At this point Shakerism as it is known today was born. The original Shakers who came to America believed that God had a dual-nature, which meant that he was both male and female to them, and that Christ would come again and be embodied in a female. Many of these early followers of the Shaker Way saw Ann Lee as being Christ embodied as a woman. Therefore the Shakers could not deny women equality with men. A woman founded Shakerism and women were able to maintain equal standing with men as religious leaders.3 The Shaker Way generally called for a fundamental transformation from its members, asking them to "turn from the narrowness of individual self to the Union of all of us together in the One Christ in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28)".4 Specifically, Shakers were supposed to grow by learning to recognize gifts and relating them to each other. They also needed to work together in an attempt to live their daily lives as simply as the early Shakers had through hard work.

Shakerism favored celibacy and went against common American Christian beliefs, yet it both prospered and grew from the late 18th through the 19th centuries. The community laid aside in obscurity for three to six years before an extraordinary revival broke out in New Lebanon, New York, from which the Shakers gained a larger group of followers. During the American Revolution, the colonial government arrested and imprisoned Ann and nine of the most influential Shaker men for treason. Strangely enough, their arrest and imprisonment helped further spread the Shaker’s peculiar ideas. Over time they successfully created societies of their order in various parts of the United States. Oddly, none of the people in these new Shaker village communities were actually brought into the order until after the Death of Mother Ann in 1784.5

The structure of the Shaker communities consisted of one large community or village that was dived into smaller. Approximately 30-100 people lived in each of these family groups. Both men and women resided under the same roof, but their activities were different and separated. Individual Shaker families supported themselves economically and spiritually. The larger Shaker settlement had spiritual and economic leaders and so did the individual family units. They had two elders and eldresses and two deacons and deaconesses. A hierarchy similar to many found in the outside world existed within the communities, but at each level man and woman shared equal power and responsibility.6

During the 19th century, Shaker life changed from its simple founding principles. The early shakers had willingly shared all their possessions with one another and worked together because they shared a natural spiritual connection. To many of them it seemed like the natural thing to do. However, this...

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